I’m a line cook who spends the first part of every day prepping whatever ingredients have arrived at the restaurant that morning. My chef’s knife is more or less attached to my hand from 9 a.m. until noon, but getting through a vegetable delivery means pulling the best nakiri knife from my roll.
My nakiri knife is lighter, shorter, and more easily maneuverable than my chef’s knife, allowing me to switch from breaking down potatoes and onions to thinly slicing and dicing shallots, tender vegetables, and herbs with ease. I always have it to make vegetable prep easier, and here’s why you should consider adding the nakiri to your knife collection.Our recommendations for the best knives: Mac Knife Japanese Series Vegetable CleaverTojiro Nikiri KnifeWhat is a nakiri knife, exactly?
A nakiri is a double-beveled Japanese knife with a rounded tip, rather than a pointy one. It looks a bit like a cleaver, but the steel is thinner, the blade length is shorter in both length and height, and overall, the knife is lighter. Below is a breakdown of the blade itself—and why I’m so into it:
The blade length:
Most chef’s knives have blades between 8 to 8.5 inches, while a nakiri blade measures between 6.5 to 8 inches. Not only does that make it easier to handle, but it results in speedier and more precise chopping. When I’m dicing a shallot, I find that my nakiri is much faster and accurate because it doesn’t have that extra inch or so of blade. A knife is an extension of your hand, so having the tip of the blade as close as possible to your grip will typically give you the most control. In this case, that means the shortest blade is best.
The blade height:
The nakiri’s slightly taller blade—around 2.1 inches, in comparison to a standard 1.8-inch-tall chef’s knife blade—leaves more room for the knuckles of your nondominant hand, preventing minor scrapes.
The blade steel:
A nakiri’s blade is fairly thin (approximately 1 to 2.5 millimeters) and either made from high-quality carbon steel or Damascus steel, which tends to be harder than that of Western knives. That means it will stay sharper longer, but it is a bit more brittle—so do not be tempted to use it when deboning or carving cuts of meat or when cracking through shellfish claws. The blade is also double beveled, which means both sides are equally sharp. If you’re used to Western knives, this will feel familiar to you. Unlike the similarly shaped usuba, which is single beveled, a nakiri can be used by lefties and righties alike and is easier to sharpen.When do you use a nakiri knife?
Nakiri roughly translates to “leaf cut” in Japanese. Which is probably the most poetic way to say: This is your vegetable knife! That thin blade can slice through sweet potatoes without splintering them as well as cut a precise brunoise. Having a half-foot-long flat blade means you can easily cut larger vegetables—zucchini, eggplant, cabbage—but it’s not too big to be unwieldy when cutting fruit or herbs. Plus, it’s lightweight enough that your arm won’t tire out when you use it to power through the pile of onions for pissaladière or to make chopped salad for 10.
When you’re chopping extra large or tough produce like melon, squash, and pineapple, pick up your chef’s knife or cleaver instead of a nakiri, which lacks the weight or blade length required. Otherwise, a nakiri is the perfect all-rounder knife for produce-loving people.How do you use a nakiri knife?
Three words: push, chop, cut. Because the blade is flat, it’s not suitable for a Western-style rolling chop. Instead, slide the knife forward, pushing the whole length of the blade through the produce, and lift in between each slice. It’s kind of like pedaling a bike backwards.Okay, I’m sold. How do I choose the right nakiri knife for me?
As with any knife, you’ll want to consider how the knife feels, paying attention to handle shape and texture, weight, and blade length. Expect to pay around $60 for a great nakiri. Prices can jump from there quite a bit, but no matter the cost, consider it an investment. With proper care, it will last you decades. Look out for these things when purchasing your nakiri:
The overall feel:
The best way to choose any knife is to hold it in your hand. Is the weight comfortable? What does the handle of the knife feel like, especially the seam where the blade meets the handle? That is where you hold the knife, so, it’s important to place your fingers here and make sure you feel like you’ve got a secure grip. Small variations in length can impact feel too; mime a few chopping motions and see if you feel in control of the blade. For the sake of online shopping, though, compare the knife weight and blade shape against your favorite knife at home.
Most nakiri have a lightweight handle, often in a soft wood similar to those found on other Japanese knives. If you’re used to the heavy, curved, triple-riveted handle of a Western knife, you’ll likely find this alternative a nice break for your chopping arm.
While blade consideration is important, most nakiri have blades with levels of sharpness that are mostly undetectable to a home cook. The one thing worth looking out for is a blade that can develop a patina: Since many Japanese knives have low chromium content, they produce a protective patina with wear. Not every nakiri knife has or needs a patina, but keep an eye out for textured or patterned blades, which are often a sign of possible future patina.
A great nakiri knife starts around $60, which is on par with the starting price point for our favorite chef’s knives. As with any Japanese knives, the price range can go up into the hundreds—and even thousands—but the difference in quality at that level is geared toward professional chefs.My go-to nakiri knife:
This Mac Knife Japanese Series Vegetable Cleaver is a great nakiri for most home cooks. It has a shorter 6.5-inch blade, which makes it more manageable when you want exacting cuts, and isn’t heavy. The knife weight is balanced between blade and handle, so when held at the base of the blade, it feels comfortable in the hand. The blade stays sharp longer than those on my Western chefs knives. Note: It doesn’t require oiling the way a few of my other rust-prone Japanese knives do.
Mac Knife Japanese Series Vegetable Cleaver
Tojiro knives are a favorite among professional chefs, prized for their high quality at a reasonable price. At 4.6 ounces, the Tojiro nakiri is a bit lighter than the MAC’s 5.6 ounces, which makes it a good choice for smaller hands or anyone with limited grip or arm strength. I have four Tojiro knives in my daily rotation, including this nakiri, and I’m always impressed by how long the blades stay sharp and how comfortable they are to use.
Regardless of which nakiri you choose, make sure you show your knife some TLC.
The following tenets of knife care are going to keep your new nakiri in tip-top condition. Here’s a refresher:Always hand-wash and dry after using it.Use blade covers or store your knives in a way that doesn’t allow them to get knocked around, and, in turn, dulled.If your knife has the ability to form a patina, oil it after each use until that copper color has set and be vigilant about keeping it dry.Do not use your knife on frozen food, bones, or shells.Hone your knife regularly and sharpen it at least twice a year.