Best Nakiri Knife of 2020
The Shun Premier is a high-quality blade, and comes razor sharp right out of the box. It proved again and again that it could handle all of the chopping tests that we put it through. This forged knife is well-balanced, with the center of mass just about a quarter of an inch toward the blade, which also makes it easier to control. It is comfortable to hold, and the hammered Damascus finish also makes for an aesthetically pleasing product.
The downsides to this product are few and far between, but unless you can score a huge discount, this nakiri knife will set you back a pretty penny. We also noticed that though the finished handle is durable, the blade itself needs to be treated with care. All things considered, we would choose this one over all others for its excellent blade and solid comfort.
The TradaFor Usuba is where you should look if you want a decent blade on a budget. It has a decent blade that can charge through onions and herbs and can handle softer veggies like yellow squash. It has a generally pleasant hand feel, with a slightly blade-forward balance. The bolster is comfortable, and the finished pakkawood composite handle is durable.
To be very clear, this model does not measure up in the same way as any of the other award winners. It is comparatively heavy, which limits the user's ability to make very precise cuts. The single bevel reduces versatility, and though its performance is better than we expected, given the price point, there is a sizeable gap between it and the next blade up. However, if the other top contenders are just unreasonably priced, we think that this one will offer more than you pay for.
The Yoshihiro 46 is a lightweight that carries a powerful chop. The thin, partial-tang blade maintains its razor-sharp edge and had no problems julienning carrots, or chopping onions or herbs. This double-bevel blade also has a nice, soft hammered Damascus finish with a mahogany and redwood handle and a magnolia blade cover.
Similar to other knives in its class, this one typically comes at a premium price. It also requires a high degree of care so that the edge doesn't get dinged, and the handle doesn't appear to be fully waterproof, so it will weather over time. If you prefer a knife that feels light but doesn't sacrifice performance, you can't go wrong with this one.
The Shun Classic is a mid-weight, reliable nakiri that is comfortable to use. At 7.5 ounces, it is slightly heavier than the other top blades in this review. During testing, we found that this model sliced through onions like butter and dispatched with carrots with minimal effort. The notch of the forged bolster is comfortable to hold and the finished handle is easy to clean and durable.
Some chefs may not enjoy the heft of this model. It is by no means overwhelming, but the heavier handle and ticker blade are noticeable. For righties, it is comfortable to hold, but the handle is asymmetrical, so a left-handed person may not find it to be quite as forgiving. However, if you want a razor-sharp knife with a little extra weight behind it, this one will treat you well.
The Yoshihiro VG-10 gets the job done. If you are a fan of western-style handles, this knife combines the best of a razor-sharp nakiri with a grip one might find on a chef's knife. It is lightweight overall and has a slender blade that moves through onions and herbs with ease. This full-tang model is well-balanced, with a center point about a half-inch toward the blade.
We found that the bolster is somewhat uncomfortable. The stamped blade and handle come together in a somewhat inelegant way that pinches and rubs on the user's index finger. Though highly effective, it does lag somewhat behind other top contenders in its performance on root vegetables. However, if you are used to a chef's knife and want a similar feel in your hand while trying out a nakiri, this is the one for you.
The BIGSUN Usuba is a mid-range knife with decent handling. The steel blade is durable, and the composite handle is easy to maintain. It has a dimpled lower half, which reduces friction and the amount that food sticks to it. During testing, it made easy work of onions and herbs, with decent performance on sturdier root vegetables.
The weight of this knife makes it somewhat less desirable. It comes in at 8.8 ounces and is almost 50% heavier than most of the top tier models. The bands of resin near the bolster also mean that the handle is not completely smooth, which can be uncomfortable and abrasive for extensive chopping. It is a decent option for those who value aesthetics but don't want to break the bank.
The Happy Sales HSSR200 is a bargain basement option. It performed better than expected during each round of veggie and herb chopping. It is very lightweight, which makes it a serviceable option for a wider range of users. It holds an edge better than some other blades in this review. It can also typically be found at a very reasonable price.
With this knife, you get what you pay for. The handle is roughly cut — it is noticeably (unintentionally) asymmetrical. The wood is also unfinished, which means it is much more susceptible to weather, splintering, and water damage over time than other models. The partial-tang blade appears to be glued into the handle, and the plastic bolster looks cheap. However, when taken all together, this knife performs better than some of its more expensive counterparts. It would be a great choice for someone looking to decide if they like the style of a nakiri — before making a greater investment.
The Kyoku Samurai Series is a high-carbon steel knife. It is balanced reasonably well and is fairly comfortable, owing to its forged bolster. The pakkawood composite handle is riveted, easy to clean, and requires little maintenance.
This knife is about as heavy as they come. The blade is thick and the whole thing is somewhat unwieldy. We found that it makes imprecise cuts and firmer vegetables like carrots guide where the blade goes, rather than the user being able to control it. We would only recommend this knife to someone who is willing to spend the time sharpening it before use and enjoys a much heavier hand feel.
The Hecef Upgraded is a knife that tries to look the part. It has a single-riveted pakkawood handle. The semi-hammered aesthetic adds a touch of elegance and the forged bolster is durable and reasonably comfortable to hold without too much finger abrasion.
There are a few reasons we would avoid this knife unless you are willing to spend the time honing it into shape. During testing, the blade was dull, to begin with, and its thickness severely limited its precision. The balance point is a full inch and a half off the bolster of the knife, meaning that the blade itself is very heavy. It's clunky and we didn't find it particularly enjoyable to use. However, if you have the time, patience, and skill to sharpen this knife, it could be fine for occasional use.
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead reviewer Ben Applebaum-Bauch has 30 years of experience in kitchens. Growing up in a family that bonded over cooking, he has been testing knives of all kinds for much of his life. He has also worked in commercial kitchens, prepping and processing 50-pound bags of carrots and onions on a daily basis. Experience has taught him the value of a quality knife.
The sharper the blade, the cleaner the cut. We rigorously tested each of the knives in this review, cutting carrots, onions, and herbs. We julienned and chopped, looking to see how precise, consistent, and delicate each blade is with different kinds of produce. We test the balance of each model and assess the comfort of the grip, and durability of the blade and other materials.
Analysis and Test Results
We assess these blades in four metrics, conducting the same tests for each product. Cutting, balance, comfort, and durability make up the total performance for each model.
Nakiri knives are primarily designed for cutting vegetables. For this metric, we look at the sharpness of the blade out of the box, and its precision in processing veggies. We chopped carrots, onions, and herbs while looking for consistent performance from veggie to veggie.
The top contenders are all relatively lightweight with thin blades that are, unsurprisingly, incredibly sharp. The Shun Premier and Yoshihiro 46 are both ahead of the rest. They sliced through firmer root vegetables with no problem and our testers felt that they had full control of these blades with every chop. Just behind are the Shun Classic and Yoshihiro VG-10, which both cut through onions like butter and sliced through delicate herbs while keeping them looking fresh and unbruised.
There is a fairly steep drop off in performance to the second tier, but still a couple of pleasant surprises along the way, including the Tradafor Usuba and the Happy Sales HSSR200, which both had decent edges and performed better than expected. At the bottom of the class, the BIGSUN Usuba, Kyoku Samurai Series, and Hecef Upgraded each have comparatively thick, dull blades that don't provide enough control to make precise cuts.
Balance is about the center line of mass on each product. That is, if you rest the knife on, say, the edge of a knife block, at what point along its length will it remain balanced?
During testing, we found that the majority of the knives are blade heavy, meaning that the balance point is somewhere along the blade. These include the TradaFor Usuba, Shun Premier, Yoshihiro 46 Hammered Damascus, Happy Sales HSSR200, Yoshihiro VG-10, Hecef Upgraded, BigSun Usuba. This makes sense for a nakiri knife that is primarily meant for chopping.
Having the weight more towards the blade offers a more powerful cut (perhaps at the expense of precision). In practice, we found that the best-balanced blades were the ones that had their lines about a quarter to a half-inch forward of the bolster (where the blade meets the handle). These are the Shun Premier, Yoshihiro VG-10, and the TradaFor Usuba.
Centered models, with balance points right at the front bolster, include the BigSun Usuba and Shun Classic. These models were adequate but provided noticeably less 'power' relative to their weight. We also discovered that there was one handle-heavy knife in the bunch — the Kyoku Samurai Series, which is poorly balanced and also heavy, making it difficult to control.
Comfort is about the shape of the handle, as well as its materials. It's the total experience of how your fingers, hands, and wrists feel after a cutting session. After hundreds of cuts, will you have blisters or will your fingers live to slice another onion?
We found that models with finished handles and fewer materials tended to be more comfortable. Forged blades (as opposed to stamped) also provided a smooth, more comfortable curved surface to rest an index finger. The Shun Premier has a nice hand feel. It is comparatively lightweight and has a forged metal bolster with a nice curve. The forged blade of the Kyoku Samurai Series is also comfortable to grip, but the blade itself is very heavy which leads to joint soreness in the long run. We like the Yoshihiro 46 Hammered Damascus because it combines a nice average weight with an octagonal rosewood and mahogany handle that is nice to hold.
Other reasonably comfortable blades include the forged Hecef Upgraded and BigSun Usuba, though the multiple rings of resin near the bolster of the latter knife can be a little abrasive. At the bottom of the heap, the Yoshiro VG-10 is equipped with a bizarre western-style wooden handle and metal bolster that can pinch and rub against skin through repeated use. The Happy Sales HSSR220 has an unfinished wooden handle and a plastic bolster that makes for a fairly uncomfortable grip.
Durability is about how long a knife will last past its first chop. Blade sharpness and hardness are key, as are the materials of the handle and overall construction quality. To maximize longevity, nakiri knives typically need to be treated with care, regardless of a model's overall quality. However, there is evident craftsmanship in some blades, while it's lacking in others — this makes the difference in this metric.
Many of these knives are made with a finished pakkawood handle. This wood/resin composite is meant to add durability and water resistance to what would otherwise be a part of the knife that was prone to wear.
Testing showed that there are a few knives that aren't as resistant to high use as the others. The blade of the Yoshihiro 46 is thin, and the handle is finished but not fully waterproof, meaning that it is more susceptible to expansion and contraction in varying temperatures and humidity levels. The blade of the Hecef Upgraded seemed to dull noticeably throughout testing, while the Happy Sales HSSR 200 is made with an unfinished wooden handle that feels cheap and a plastic bolster with a blade that is lightly glued into place.
When it comes to knives, there are a lot of options out there. Whether you are a lifelong cook or are looking for your first nakiri knife, we hope that this review has you on your way to chopping veggies for your next stir fry, stew, or roast. Bon Appetit!
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch