Are you in the market for a real knife? There’s a vast assortment of knives in all shapes and sizes, so it can be challenging to work out the most suitable choice. If superior quality is paramount, it usually comes down to either one of these knives: Japanese or German.
Do Japanese blades have the edge over their German counterparts, or is it the other way around? Before deciding, make sure to assess the facts. Both knives perform well, in general, but they’re different enough that one should be better for you than the other.
In What Ways Are These Knives Different?
We’ll go over some of the “elements that make the knife” and see how Japanese and German knives differ.
German knives are considered utilitarian or all-purpose kitchen knives that can cut through almost anything. They help cooks accomplish countless meal preparations—they’re workhorses. On the other hand, Japanese knives have more precise blades meant for a specific style of slicing work.
A German knife, or French knife, tends to be the larger of the two. It usually has a thicker and heavier blade that is more rounded at the belly. This gives it an all-purpose design suited to general kitchen use.
You don’t have to worry about using the knife to slice through bones because most of them can, with flying colors. Cutting open a hard-shelled ingredient also isn’t a problem.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Japanese chef knife. Unlike its tougher, made-for-the-masses alternative, it’s not meant for all-around slicing or cutting. Its work is more delicate and precise, and its thinner blade requires utmost care to prevent chipping.
Japanese knives use carbon-richer steel than German knives. While the presence of more carbon in the steel makes them harder, it also adds to the fragility of the blade.
German knives are made of Western-type steel that is softer due to their lower carbon content. This might mean it’s not as sharp as Japanese blades, but it will hang tougher through years of cooking.
The blades of both knives are made of steel, but we know steel isn’t created equal. Certain types of steel are harder than others, as is the case with Japanese knives compared to German knives. The thinness of the Asian knife’s blade may make you think otherwise, but its steel is more solid.
How unyielding is its blade, exactly? While most German knife blades rate a 57 on the Rockwell hardness scale, Japanese knives tend to register from 60 to 63. That said, the hardness that allows a Japanese knife to hold an edge better will be the same quality that makes it susceptible to breaking or chipping.
By contrast, the softer-blade German knife holds up to wear and tear a lot better. Though, it will lose its edge sooner than its harder-steeled alternative.
The blade’s angle heavily factors into a knife’s slicing efficacy. Working in tandem with the blade, the angle adds to the knife’s sharpness.
In a German knife, the blade is typically of a wider angle, in most cases, 17.5 degrees. On the other hand, a Japanese knife tends to have a narrower blade ranging from 10 to 15 degrees.
A knife whose angle is more acute will have a higher level of sharpness. That makes the Japanese blade the sharper of the two and a cleaner cutter of food.
Generally, it is more challenging to create precise cuts with a German knife than with a Japanese one. That said, the German blade is typically more durable and more capable of cutting through tougher, denser slabs of meat.
German knives usually come with a full-tang blade and a bolster just before it connects to the handle. That means the knife’s blade runs from end to end through the tip of the handle. This grants the user extra grip strength for chopping tougher items.
For the most part, a Japanese knife’s blade runs evenly throughout. It won’t be needing a bolster with its precise-cutting function, and its tangs usually vary from one knife to another. This adds to the knife’s lightness and versatility but takes away from its durability and edge endurance.
Don’t Forget About Symmetry
Symmetry shouldn’t matter as much if you’re a rightie, but it does factor a lot into your choice if you’re a leftie. Note that some Japanese blades, unless they’re manufactured in the West, are asymmetrical.
That means the edge of the blade is angled in favor of a right-hand-dominant user. Thus, the knives won’t be of much use to lefties, barring that they’ve trained their right hand to perform knife work.
There are Japanese knives specifically made for left-handed users. However, German or French knives are perpetually symmetrical and are balanced regardless of the user’s dominant hand.