Japanese Gyuto chef knife
How a Cow Sword Became the Most Indispensable Knife in the Kitchen
Japanese version of the Western Chef's knife
WHAT IS A GYUTO?
Gyuto is the Japanese version of the Western Chef's knife. Its origins lie in cutting large pieces of beef, but now it is one of the most popular and versatile shapes, used for a variety of tasks—anything from meat and fish to vegetables and herbs. If you're in the market for an all-around knife, which will excel with any kitchen task, whether that is chopping veggies, preparing fresh tuna, or slicing a steak straight from the grill, look no further.
This is the final stop. It doesn't get better than a gyuto.
What is gyuto in Japanese?
gyuto = 'gyu' 牛 (beef), 'to' 刀 (blade)
The word gyuto is made of 'gyu' (牛) – meaning beef and 'to' (刀) – meaning blade. Put together, 'gyuto' translates to something like »cow sword« or »cow blade«. This comes from the initial use of the gyuto knife, as it was used to cut and take apart larger pieces of beef. This has changed throughout the years, as the gyuto knife became one of the most widely used and indispensable knives produced by the long history of the Japanese knifemaking tradition and is seen as a multi-purpose, all-around knife that can be used for cutting meat, fish, and veggies.
The Anatomy of a Gyuto Knife
The Japanese gyuto looks very similar to a classic Chef's knife, which can be found in virtually any Western professional kitchen. The widest point of the knife is at the heel, which is also where it is the flattest. From there, the belly or the cutting edge starts to curve slightly towards the pronounced tip, which sets it apart from flatter blade shapes, such as santokus or nakiris.
➝ The TIP, designed for intricate work, allows for precision and finesse in slicing, dicing, and mincing.
➝ A slight curve between the tip and the midsection makes the BELLY great for rocking the blade back and forth when cutting.
➝ It has a wide profile for easy food transfer and tends to be fairly flat towards the HEEL, enabling easy and fast chopping on the cutting board.
VERSATILE USE: from slicing to mincing
What is gyuto knife good for?
The gyuto Japanese chef knife is a multi-purpose knife. This means it has a wide spectrum of application in a kitchen environment, anything from preparing fish, meat, and vegetables. The shape of the blade is very universal and can be used for many cutting techniques, anything from push- and pull-cutting, forward-and-down chopping to rocking motion cutting.
Gyuto knives are typically longer than other multi-purpose knives, such as bunka or santoku. This adds another dimension to their universality, as therefore they are also very practical for slicing roasts, grilled meat, and raw fish for sashimi.
➝ Diverse cutting techniques:
Capable of slicing, chopping, dicing, and julienne, accommodating diverse kitchen tasks.
➝ Slicing meat:
Effortlessly cuts through large pieces of meat, creating precise portions.
➝ Chopping veggies:
Expertly handles finer tasks like dicing onions or mincing garlic.
150 - 390mm (5.9-15.4 inches)
Blade length range
➝ 180mm (7.1 inches) – for home cooks
➝ 210mm (8.3 inches) – for home cooks and professional chefs
➝ 240mm (9.5 inches) – most common choice for professional chefs
➝ 300mm (11.8 inches) – ideal for chefs working with large cuts of meat
Gyuto knives vary in shape and size a lot
Shape & Size of gyuto knife
➝ up to 200mm (7.9 inches)
The smaller ones usually pick up where the santoku left off, coming in at 180mm (7.1 inches) and reaching up to 200mm (7.9 inches). Due to their compact size, they are favored by cooks who prefer smaller, lighter, and therefore more agile knives. They can be a great alternative to a santoku knife, as they are lighter, have narrower blades, and have a curved belly that allows for rocking motions.
➝ up to 240mm (9.5 inches)
By far the most gyutos fall into the middle-length category that ranges from 210-240mm (8.3-9.5 inches), which is closest to the ideal length for a single multi-purpose kitchen knife.
They are suitable for a wide range of kitchen tasks, and therefore the go-to for many chefs. For anyone seeking an all-purpose knife that can handle various ingredients and cutting techniques, the middle-size gyuto is an excellent choice.
➝ up to 300mm (11.8 inches)
Larger gyutos can reach up to 300mm (11.8 inches) in length. These are really big, massive knives, truly worthy of being called a 'cow sword'. Geared towards tasks that require longer, uninterrupted cuts, the extended blade length is ideal for slicing large roasts, filleting fish, and breaking down larger cuts of meat. Professional chefs who regularly work with sizable ingredients often prefer these longer gyutos for their impressive reach and smooth cutting motions that they can employ due to their length. However, due to this extended size, they are less suitable for intricate work and feel a bit more unwieldy for the uninitiated hands. Keep in mind: a large knife also needs a large working surface.
While gyuto is usually a multi-purpose knife, there are some interesting variations
One of those is a sakimaru gyuto. The name comes from the sakimaru tip, which is a nod to the mighty katana. It's kind of a hybrid between a specialized single bevel and a multipractical double bevel knife. It comes with the geometry and therefore incredibly fine sharpness of single bevel knives, with the universal shape of a gyuto, which is suitable for many cutting techniques and therefore preparing a larger array of ingredients.
Another popular variation is the kiritsuke-gyuto, which is, as the name suggests the love child of the kiritsuke and gyuto shape. Gyuto's DNA can be seen in the long curved blade, with kiritsuke's gene pool contributing the distinctive 'K-tip'.
gyuto vs. chef's knife
What is the difference between a gyuto and a chef's knife?
The main difference between these two knives lies in the underlying philosophy of the two manufacturing worlds from where they originate.
gyuto vs. chef's knife
A Western Chef's knife usually is a bit more curved, and therefore has less of a flat surface for chopping, with its focus on the rocking motion cutting technique, which is prevalent in Western culinary practices. On the other hand, gyuto knives exhibit a longer profile, with the curve beginning around the midsection and extending toward the tip. This provides them with a more extensive flat area that can be used for forward-and-down chopping, but are curved enough to be used for rocking techniques as well.
Due to different steels being used, gyuto knives are also notably lighter and thinner, which adds to precision and agility of the knife. We'll touch on this topic in the next section.
As mentioned above, the core difference between the gyuto and the Chef's knife lies in the heart of the knife – in the steel that shapes them. Two main differences in the steels are A) the sharpness – the molecular structure of Japanese steels is much purer (they include less chromium (Cr) and other additives) which allows them to be sharpened to a much finer sharpness and B) the hardness – Western knives use softer stainless steels that normally have a hardness ranging from 52 to 58 on the Rockwell scale (HRC). Japanese knives use high-carbon steels, which normally have a hardness of around 62-64 HRC, but some are made of advanced powder steels that can be hardened to up to 68 HRC! Why is this so important? The harder the steel, the longer the sharpness is retained and the less you have to worry about sharpening.
Chef's knives have Western style (Yo) handles with rivets, while Japanese are traditionally fitted with Japanese (Wa) handles, though in recent years we can find more and more of them sporting Yo handles to cater to the demands of Western kitchens. The main differences are in weight and materials, Japanese handles are crafted from wood and therefore lighter, while Western style handles are usually made out of micarta, with wood composites such as pakka wood being common as well.
The Difference Between Wa and Yo Handles
When it comes to handle selection, you have two types to choose from, each catering to different preferences.
Japanese (Wa) handle
Traditionally, a gyuto is fitted with an oval or octagonal Japanese (Wa) wood handle, usually from grippy and durable wood types such as rosewood, walnut, magnolia or pakka. Japanese handles are lighter and ensure a very firm grip. Another plus is that they're very easy to replace. So in case you wear it out or you're just looking to refresh your knife's image, replacing it is a breeze!
Western (Yo) handle
For those looking for a more familiar feel in hand, the Western (Yo) style handles are finding their way into the market more and more frequently. These handles offer a sturdier build, are a bit heavier, and therefore offer a better balance to the knife, but they can be harder to replace.
how to use a japanese knife
What not to do with gyuto?
➝ Don’t leave the knife in the sink. Wash it by hand.
➝ Don’t wash the knife in the dishwasher.
➝ Don’t use the knife on glass, ceramics, marble or steel surfaces.
➝ Don’t scrape the food off the cutting board with the edge of the blade (use the spine instead).
Gyuto knives are made out of high-carbon steel, which allows them to be sharpened to the thin and extremely sharp blades they are known for. They can be forged to a hardness up to 68HRC, which allows the blade to stay sharp for a ridiculously long time. More hardness means less toughness, though. This means they're more prone to chipping–therefore, cutting through bones and joints, and slicing sourdough with hard crusts is out of the question. Scraping with the edge of the knife on the cutting board is also discouraged, and is rather done with the spine of the knife.
How are gyuto knives made?
To make their knives more durable, Japanese blacksmiths use various lamination techniques. Lamination is the process of »sandwiching« the core layer of high-carbon steel between at least one layer of a softer, and very often also more corrosion resistant steel. This is used to reinforce the blade's structure and improve its resistance to impacts and other external factors, such as rusting.
Gyuto knives are normally laminated using the san-mai method (meaning »three layers«), where two layers of softer steel are forge-welded onto the core steel of the knife. This is also the part where blacksmiths get creative and add their personal touch to the final look of the knives.
They use complicated techniques to create intricate damascus finishes or give the knives a sleek polished migaki look, while some may be left untreated, resulting in a raw, rustic looking kuro-uchi finish. Usually, this is just a cosmetic feature to enhance the knife's appeal, though some also have a functional use. Western-made knives often feature dimples, which allow for easier food separation from the blade. Japanese blacksmiths achieve a similar effect with a handmade tsuchime finish, which is made by striking the blade with a hammer repeatedly, creating small indentations in the blade.
Gyuto knives feature a double bevel cutting edge, with a flat profile (also called a v-edge) which can be sharpened to a very thin sharpness, and ensures an excellent balance between ease of cutting and robustness. Some higher-end gyuto knives can also have a concave profile (or hollow grind), which can be sharpened to an even thinner and extremely sharp point.
santoku vs. gyuto
What's the difference between santoku and gyuto?
Gyuto and santoku are the most popular Japanese multi-purpose knife types. In their general purpose, they are very similar, but they have some differences that set them apart from each other.
As they both originate from Japan, both shapes are usually made by most Japanese blacksmiths, so they do not differ in the quality of their craftsmanship and the steels they are forged from greatly.
Their differences therefore lay in the specifics of their design and subsequently, the needs and preferences they can satisfy best.
santoku vs. gyuto
➝ Blade shape
Gyuto is longer and has a more curved blade that ends in a pointy, pronounced tip. Santoku's blade is shorter, wider, and flatter, and the signature 'sheep's foot' tip is less pronounced.
➝ cutting techniques
This means that due to its flat blade, the santoku is a bit more specialized for up-and-down chopping, but less so for rocking the blade on the cutting board. The latter is just what gyuto is made for, with a curvier blade, that is still flat enough also for forward-and-down chopping.
➝ blade length
Gyuto blades are typically longer and slightly less wide, which is better for handling larger ingredients, and most importantly more appropriate for long, pulling motions used for slicing raw fish for sashimi or carving larger roasts and steaks.
With this in mind, santoku is a great multi-purpose knife, that is most comfortable with chopping veggies and also tackling smaller pieces of meat. If meat is a larger part of your diet, though, and you are passionate about BBQ, you will probably be better off with a gyuto. To put it into rough numbers, we can estimate that the santoku will handle 80% of cutting efficiently, while the gyuto, due to its length will be optimized for around 90% of the tasks we might encounter in the kitchen.
Which gyuto knife for beginners?
For aspiring chefs and home cooks looking to embark on their culinary journey, choosing the right gyuto knife can be overwhelming. There is a lot of new information out there that can get confusing. As a beginner, it's essential to consider some key factors.
➝ Blade Material
An important aspect to keep in mind when buying your first gyuto is steel. It dictates how your knife performs while cutting, how well it resists corrosion, how long it stays sharp, and how easy it is to resharpen.
Traditional high-carbon steels are hard to maintain and can rust if they aren't cleaned properly after use. As this can prove a bit stressful and time-consuming for some, it might make more sense to look at stainless steel or powder steel gyutos.
➝ Blade Length
Another key factor is the size. Mid-range gyutos measuring from 210-240mm (8.3-9.5 inches) offer the optimal ratio between versatility and agility. They can be used to prepare the majority of produce, from vegetables and protein to herbs, all the while maintaining a manageable size that will feel comfortable and won't require a massive cutting board to utilize properly.
If you prefer smaller knives, smaller gyutos in the range of 180-200mm (7.1-7.9 inches) can be worth considering. They are great for households that use a lot of pre-cut produce and don't cut into bigger pieces of meat that often.
The final thing to consider is also the price. Japanese knives might seem expensive at first glance, but they're a worthwhile investment. Keep in mind that you are buying a loyal kitchen companion, that with just a little care and love, will last you a lifetime.
The factors that influence the price the most are the steel that's used, the size of the knife, and which blacksmith had chiseled their kanji into the blade. The latter is a sign and promise of quality and excellence, and therefore the price and value of knives made by heavyweights in the game, such as master blacksmiths Takeshi Saji or Yu Kurosaki, can sometimes reach astronomical heights.
When choosing the right knife, it's important to consider a few factors, such as blade length, steel that it was forged out of, and the handle type.
To find the best gyuto knife for you, take a look at our gyuto collection or complete a quick quiz to see which knife fits your use best.