The steel from both Germany and Japan makes quality kitchen knives. But while they both have their advantages and disadvantages, one type of knife remains superior.
Chefs generally agree that German style knives are better. They are made of thicker steel and hold up longer than Japanese style knives. However, both knives are better for certain types of jobs than the other.
The following article is a more in-depth explanation of the differences between German and Japanese knives. It also includes a thorough analysis of the pros and cons of each knife type.
Differences Between German and Japanese Knives
The main differences between German and Japanese knives are:
- The blade features
- Their intended uses
- The steel they are made from
- Their design and construction
Each of these characteristics makes German and Japanese style knives distinguishable and good for performing certain tasks.
While the intended use of both style knives comes down to slicing things for cooking, there are distinct features on each of them that make them unique.
Blade Features of Japanese and German Knives
There are three aspects of the knife blade that distinguish German knives from Japanese knives. These aspects are:
- The thickness of the blade
- The blade’s angle
- The blade’s profile
These blade distinctions make a lot of difference when it comes to slicing and chopping certain ingredients.
Traditionally, German knife blades are thicker than Japanese knife blades. German knife blades are also usually wider near the handles to add balance and weight, making it easier to chop thicker things like meat. On the other hand, Japanese knives are thinner and have the same width from handle to blade tip. This makes them more ideal for thinly slicing things, such as vegetables.
Blade angle refers to how many degrees the bevel (edge of the knife) veers from the blade’s center. The more angled a knife is, the sharper it is. German knives are usually more angled than Japanese knives. The average angle on a German knife set is somewhere between 17.5-20 degrees, while the angle on a Japanese set is around 10-15 degrees.
Lastly, the profile of the blade refers to the shape of the blade. German knives usually have a rounder shaped blade, making it easier for chefs to use their weight as extra chopping power. Japanese knives usually have a straighter blade profile, making them good for slicing and dicing with precise action.
Intended Uses of German and Japanese Knives
Japanese knives are more useful for detailed kitchen work, such as fine slicing. On the other hand, German knives are designed to make chopping thick meats and vegetables easier.
With a thinner blade and sharp edge, Japanese knives are better for completing more precise tasks. For example, they are great for chopping up ingredients in a faster and more efficient manner. They also make cleaner slices than German knives, so they are great detailing knives.
German knives are thicker and wider, which means they are made for chopping up ingredients that may be hard to get through. For example, German knives work great on thick cuts of meat or fruits and vegetables with a hard outer shell.
But while both knives are made for different purposes, German knives are considered the better knife all around. While they are meant for tackling the tougher kitchen jobs, they can also be useful for more detailed work in the hands of a trained chef.
German Versus Japanese Knife Steel
German knives are made with stainless steel, while Japanese knives are made with carbon fiber steel. Both types of steel make for good knife blades, but both have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Stainless steel is the material of choice for German style knives. It's a sturdier variety of steel and won't chip or scratch easily. This is a necessary element since German knives are designed to handle difficult chopping jobs. Furthermore, stainless steel is more resistant to rust, so your German knives will last long despite the tough kitchen jobs.
On the other hand, Japanese knives are made from carbon fiber steel. While it's a heavier variety than stainless steel, it can hold a sharp edge longer than German knife blades. This will ensure that your Japanese blades will stay sharp and precise. However, carbon fiber steel is more susceptible to corrosion. It’s important to keep it away from foods that might negatively affect it, such as foods that are high in acidity.
German Vs Japanese Knife Design and Construction
The design elements that distinguish German knives from Japanese knives are:
- The bevel on the blade
- The tang (or weight) of the knife
- The bolster of the knife
These elements serve specific purposes and make German knives and Japanese knives better for certain things.
German knives usually have a wider bevel designed for easily chopping through difficult ingredients. The wider bevel allows the chef to use their weight and the thickness of the blade when chopping, making it a lot easier to chop up heftier objects.
Japanese style bevels are usually thinner, allowing for a sharper and more delicate blade edge. This allows the knives to cleanly slice through softer ingredients, such as fish and fruits. The thinner bevel also helps preserve the taste and texture of the food, since it’s so light.
The tang of a knife refers to the part of the knife that blends into the handle. German style knives usually include full tang. This means that the metal of the blade blends directly into the knife handle, all the way to the edge. The full tang gives the knife a stronger and heavier blade and makes the knife more durable.
Some Japanese knives are also made with full tang. But they often have partial tangs. This means that the blade ends where the knife handle begins, and it doesn't extend back into the handle. This makes Japanese knives lighter and easier to maneuver for more detailed work.
Finally, the bolster of a knife refers to where the handle and the blade meet. It’s where most people place their fingers and thumb to steady the knife as they chop. German style knives always come with a bolster, and a thick one at that. It helps to steady the weight of the knife and acts as a safety feature by keeping the chef’s fingers away from the blade.
Japanese style knives sometimes come with a bolster, but they usually don’t. The blade continues straight into the handle, without anything to block it. This can be a safety concern, but the design feature allows for more control and more detailed movements. If Japanese knives do come with a bolster, it’s usually fairly thin since they are designed for detail work.
Pros and Cons of Japanese Knives
Japanese knives are meant for more detail-oriented kitchen tasks. Their main pros are that they allow for more control and sharp movements. Their main con is that they aren’t that useful for other kitchen tasks.
Japanese style knives are good knives to have in the kitchen. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few disadvantages that are worth noting.
Pros of Japanese Knives
The main pros of Japanese knives include:
- A sharper blade
- Lightweight and easy to control
- Stay sharper for longer
These benefits make Japanese knives the best knives for detail work and clean slicing and dicing.
Japanese knives are considered to have the sharpest blades of any knife. The steel they are made from is incredibly lightweight, which makes it easier for manufacturers to make a thinner and sharper blade. In addition, the sharpness makes detailed slicing easy, cutting through ingredients with efficiency.
The light blade also makes the knife much easier to control. You can focus your cuts exactly where they need to go, and the knife will slice through without slipping from your hand or the board.
Lastly, Japanese knives retain their razor-sharp edges longer. They can last for ten to thirty years if well taken care of, and still be as sharp as when you got them.
Cons of Japanese Knives
The main cons of Japanese knives are that they are more prone to rusting and chipping.
Fortunately, these cons can be avoided if the knives are well taken care of.
Japanese knives are made from a carbon based material, which makes them more susceptible to rusting. This is especially true if they are used to cut foods that are high in acidity, such as citrus. Japanese style knives are also more likely to chip or crack because of their carbon based steel blades. The material is softer and should be handled with care, otherwise, it may chip and make it harder to work with.
However, the durability issues of Japanese knives can be solved by taking good care of them. They aren’t too high maintenance, and washing them with a soft sponge and mild dish soap is all it takes to maintain them. It’s recommended that you wash them after each use to prevent rust from appearing. You should also sharpen them often to keep the blade strong and sharp.
Pros and Cons of German Knives
German knives are considered the superior style since they are more durable and can be used for a diverse range of tasks. But they can be difficult to control for more detailed work and aren’t as good at preserving taste and texture on softer foods.
German knives are considered the superior style for most kitchen tasks. However, they do have a few drawbacks that are worth noting.
Pros of German Knives
The main pros of German knives are:
- They have a wide and round blade
- Strong and durable steel
- Can be used for multiple tasks
These pros make German knives the best choice for difficult kitchen tasks.
German knives are designed with a wide and round blade that makes it easy to rock back and forth. The purpose of this blade is to chop through ingredients that have tough features, such as thick rinds on fruits or the tendons of meat. The blade is designed with efficiency in mind rather than precision.
The blade is also made of a strong and durable steel, which makes it less susceptible to chipping or rust. Because of this, German knives can last for years despite the constant tough work they are put through.
Lastly, German knives can be used for a variety of tasks around the kitchen. Whether it’s cutting through a thick cut of meat or quickly dicing fruits and vegetables, German knives can accomplish multiple tasks with ease.
Cons of German Knives
The main con of using a German knife is that they are harder to control for more detailed work. If you need to make fine and clean cuts, then a German knife is not recommended.
There are multiple reasons why a German knife is harder to control. The main reason is the thickness of the blade. German knives come with heavy and thick blades for added durability and weight while chopping. They aren’t designed for precise and detailed cuts and can easily slip on the board while you’re trying to cut.
While German knives aren’t useful for more precise cuts, they are able to tackle every other chopping job you can think of. This con may present a few problems with finer work, but that can easily be solved by using a smaller knife or purchasing a Japanese knife in your set.
German and Japanese Knife Differences Explained
German knives are the preferred style of knife among chefs for multiple reasons. They are multipurpose and are useful for tackling any type of kitchen job, especially the tough ones. Their durability and design also makes them last long despite the difficult work.
However, Japanese knives also have their own advantages when it comes to making precise and detailed cuts easily. It all comes down to which knife you need for which kitchen job since they are both useful in their own ways.