Kiritsuke Chef Knife
Discover the traditional multi-purpose knife, fusing yanagiba and usuba features.
Kiritsuke is an innovative knife that brings together two traditional Japanese knife shapes – the yanagiba and the usuba – resulting in a hybrid single-bevel knife intended for preparing fish and vegetables. Nowadays, the kiritsuke has expanded into a double-bevel form and, due to its thin and flat blade, is used as a multi-purpose chef's knife, made from modern steels, such as powder steels like SG2 and ZDP-189.
Due to the knife's dual nature – combining elements of both the yanagiba and the usuba, which required significant experience and skill to master – wielding the kiritsuke was a symbol of seniority and superior skill. Therefore, they were customarily only used by »itamae« (板前) – the head chef of a restaurant.
single bevel kiritsuke
A single-bevel, multi-purpose knife?!
You read it right! The kiritsuke combines elements of two traditional Japanese knives; the yanagiba and the usuba. Both lend this hybrid shape their characteristic features and therefore also their functionality. This earns the kiritsuke an interesting spot in the arsenal of traditional Japanese knives, since it has a multi-purpose shape, while also being single-bevel. Traditionally, each of the single-bevel shapes serves a specific purpose, for which it is used exclusively. This is due to the highly specialized, thoroughly thought-out designs of Japanese knives, which are optimized for preparing the ingredients they were meant for.
Perhaps due to this multi-purpose direction that the creation of kiritsuke took, it was only natural that the next step in the evolution of this shape would be a double-bevel version of this shape.
This is what led to the birth of the double-bevel kiritsuke, which is closer to a modern chef's knife and therefore similar to the gyuto in its purpose and use. This way, it is more suitable for a fast-paced kitchen environment that requires less of the laser-like precision of single-bevel knives, but keeps the practical reverse-tanto tip and the flat cutting edge that is perfect for chopping.
Double bevel kiritsuke
The double-bevel kiritsuke is sometimes also referred to as the kiritsuke-gyuto, though we tend to gravitate more towards classifying the latter as a variation of the gyuto shape. This is because one of the defining features of the kiritsuke is its flat belly, which, when designing the kiritsuke-gyuto, usually gets scrapped in favor of a blade that curves toward the tip. Therefore, the kiritsuke-gyuto is more often than not just a gyuto that features a K-tip, while a double-bevel kiritsuke is much flatter.
Shape and size
As already mentioned, the kiritsuke is the perfect love child of two traditional single-bevel Japanese knife shapes – the yanagiba and the usuba. Its shape was conceived by combining different elements of the two knives to create a kind of hybrid shape that can fulfill the purpose of both.
The double-bevel kiritsuke's shape is similar to that of the single-bevel kiritsuke. They both usually measure 210-240mm (8.3 to 9.4 inches) in length, feature a reverse-tanto tip, and have a flat cutting edge. The main difference is in the geometry of their blades, and therefore in their purpose in the kitchen. The double-bevel kiritsuke's blade is thinner, lighter, and closer to a modern Chef's knife – it's quite similar to the gyuto, but its blade is flatter and has a reverse-tanto tip.
Shape and size
Yanagiba is a traditional knife used for slicing sashimi. Its long and slender blade glides effortlessly through pieces of raw fish in one smooth cutting motion, which keeps the damage to the cells of the food to a minimum. This is central to Japanese cuisine, which emphasizes the importance of preserving the freshness of ingredients.
Usuba means 'thin' in Japanese, referring to the very thin and sharp edge of the blade. This is enabled by the single-bevel geometry of the usuba, with which the sharpener can achieve a much finer edge than with a double-bevel blade. This enables precise chopping of vegetables on the cutting board, and due to its height and straight edge, the usuba can also be used for peeling larger tuberous vegetables, such as daikon, into long and thin slices.
With a single-bevel kiritsuke, we take the length of the yanagiba and the blade height of the usuba, to create a unique multi-purpose knife that will excel at both slicing sashimi as well as executing the complex katsuramuki technique for peeling vegetables into a single long and thin slice.
Therefore, the single-bevel kiritsuke's blade is flatter and taller than a yanagiba, and longer than an usuba.
lamination and geometry
How are kiritsuke knives made?
To improve the structural integrity and durability of kiritsuke knives, Japanese blacksmiths use various lamination techniques.
As the single-bevel kiritsuke is only ground on one side, it is laminated only on the shinogi (front) side of the blade. The blacksmiths do this by forge-welding a sheet of softer metal (jigane) onto the blade's core steel layer (hagane), which reinforces the blade’s structural integrity, thus making it tougher. We call this technique ni-mai, which translates to 'two layers'.
Double-bevel kiritsuke knives are laminated on both sides, using two layers of softer, stainless steel, also called san-mai cladding. When either one or both sides of a knife are clad with more than 3 layers of two interchanging sheets of steel, we call it a damascus or suminagashi finish.
Single- vs. double-bevel: what's the difference?
When talking about a knife's bevel, we are referring to the shape of the cross-section of a knife's cutting edge. Japanese knives either have a single or a double bevel edge. Traditional Japanese knives such as the yanagiba, the deba, the usuba and the kiritsuke usually have a single bevel edge. This means that only one side of the blade is ground to form the cutting edge, creating a steeper angle. This acute angle allows for a finer, more focused edge, which means that they cut with laser-like precision. On the other hand, in the case of the double bevel edge, both sides of the blade are ground at more obtuse angles, resulting in a wider edge, as the angle also adds up to the sum of both angles of the cutting edge.
This doesn't mean that one is 'better' than the other, though. They just have different purposes and applications.
The sharpness of single-bevel knives is perfect for tasks that demand precision, for example sushi and sashimi preparation, and complex vegetable cutting techniques. Their acute edge angle ensures pristine, delicate cuts that minimize cell damage and preserve food quality. On the downside, they are highly specialized knives and are therefore not that versatile. They also need some getting used to in terms of technique, as due to the single-bevel geometry, the cutting edge tends to »steer« against the bevel, which is great for katsuramuki and slicing sashimi, but less so for chopping a mountain of onions and dicing carrots. They usually also require a little more maintenance and care.
Double-bevel blades offer greater versatility, making them suitable for a wider range of tasks. They are also more comfortable and user-friendly. They don't require as steep of a learning curve to be used efficiently, and are also more durable due to the double-bevel edge. The latter also means that its edge will not be as sharp as the one the acute angle of a single-bevel blade can provide, though, so this versatility might come at the cost of specialized use.
The reverse-tanto tip
Part of kiritsuke's signature appeal stems from its distinctive reverse-tanto tip (or K-tip). Why is it called a 'reverse' tanto, though? Why not just tanto? To answer this question, we have to take a short trip down the annals of history.
Before the Japanese blacksmiths got famous for their excellent kitchen knife-making skills, they were using their artistry and resources for slightly less human-life-friendly purposes. Around the Heijan period (8th to 12th century), samurai started carrying tanto daggers, which were shorter blades with a slight curve that intensified towards the tip and finished in a very sharp point. The latter made the tanto dagger very efficient for stabbing, and therefore popular as a combat weapon, though it later retired to a more ornamental role, as the tachi and katana rose through the ranks as the preferred weapon of choice. The katana also kept the »tanto tip«, which is a fundamental element of its now iconic appearance.
The tanto tip starts at the belly of the knife and curves upwards towards the spine, where the two lines meet to create a pointed tip. The reverse tanto (as its name implies very straightforwardly 😀) does the exact opposite. The angle rapidly changes at the knife's spine instead of the belly and ends in a sharp point, creating the distinctive triangular tip, and giving the knife a badass look.
But as we know, the Japanese don't really subscribe to the 'form over function' philosophy, and it’s no different in the case of the reverse tanto. It enables the user of the knife to execute extremely precise cuts, while also maintaining a clear visibility due to the angled tip. This aspect is why the reverse tanto was adopted by blacksmiths to create knives such as the kiritsuke, bunka, and mukimono (which is used for the Japanese technique of creating decorative food garnishes).
What is a kiritsuke knife used for?
The single-bevel kiritsuke is a traditional multi-purpose knife that is used for slicing fish and cutting vegetables, as well as for preparing other types of meat, for example making thin slices of carpaccio, slicing up some wagyu steak, and carving roasts.
The flat edge works great for the push-chopping technique that we use to thinly slice vegetables. Due to the blade's wide profile, it can also be very effectively used for the katsuramuki technique. his is the magic of the kiritsuke knife – it brings together two different knife shapes and combines their unique aspects into one single knife.
In its use, the double-bevel kiritsuke is similar to a gyuto or a Western chef's knife. It's an all-around kitchen knife that can be used for the majority of cutting tasks. Chopping onions, slicing sashimi, cutting steak, handling large vegetables – you name it! All of these are no match for the kiritsuke. It's lighter and more agile than the single-bevel version and due to its double-bevel blade geometry, it's more suitable for home cooks and fast-paced environments, such as busy professional kitchens, while its single-bevel brother will thrive in the hands of a precise artisan chef.