There is a lot of talk about Japanese Kitchen Knives and Japanese steel out there lately. Many are claiming that kitchen knives made with Japanese steel are far superior to anything produced in the USA. Let me clear up a few myths.
The Japanese steel that everyone is raving about is called Tamahagane steel, commonly used to make Japanese swords. In my opinion, Tamahagane may make an amazing sword, but it isn’t the best option for culinary knives. The steel most often used in high-end kitchen knives is Hitachi White Paper Steel or Hitachi Blue Paper Steel, which comes very close to Tamahagane but is not exactly the same. There is also an Aogami Blue Super Steel used in some high-end kitchen knives. Does this steel really make a great kitchen knife? Absolutely, but that isn’t the big issue. The real issue is that these aren’t the only steels used in Japanese knives. There are many steels used that are equal to or inferior to the steels we use in the USA. Also all of the steels listed above are carbon steels, not stainless and may not be the best choice for a commercial kitchen. There is a stainless steel used in Japanese Knives called VG-10 that contains cobalt and again may not be the best choice for the commercial kitchen.
Just because an ad says you are getting a “Japanese Kitchen Knife,” it doesn’t mean that it was made in Japan, or made from high-end Japanese steel. How can you tell? The price, for one. Even if you do “cut out the middle man,” you can’t sell a hand-forged Japanese Kitchen Knife for $65 when it is made from top-of-the-line Japanese steels. Most kitchen knives in that price range are made from recycled AUS-8 and stamped out by a machine in China. AUS-8 is Japanese steel, but it is the opposite of high end. In the USA it would compare to 440B stainless steel. 440A is the bottom of the barrel for kitchen knives, so AUS-8 is just a hair above base level for knife steel. The lowest steel used in what I would call a good knife would be 440C, looking at it that way – AUS-8 wouldn’t even be considered a knife steel.
A quality, hand-forged Japanese Kitchen Knife made from white paper steel is a fine cutting instrument. I own two, and they are a joy to use. I paid right around $500 for each, and they were worth every penny. I use several of my own knives made in the USA as well and find that they are every bit as good as the Japanese knives – better, in some cases.
The moral of the story – Japanese Kitchen Knives can be phenomenal cooking utensils but be careful what you buy. Not all of them are created equally. Want an excellent Japanese knife made in the USA? Check out Murray Carter, who crafts beautiful knives in the Japanese style.