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  • How to Choose a Japanese Boning Knife: Honesuki v.s. Flexible

    February 13, 2023 5 min read

    New Knife Day is the best day ever. Ask any professional chef or cooking enthusiast - the most important and most personal tool you have in the kitchen is your knife. There are a few essentials steps to follow with your new blade: don’t put it in the dishwasher. Don’t cut on a super hard cutting board. But most importantly, be very careful when working around bones! Hard food like bones can chip or damage a thin chef’s knife very easily.

    As you’d suspect, there’s a whole different set of tknives for working with stuff with bones in it. Let’s take a closer look at some of the different types of knives that are specifically designed for de-boning, and which one is best for you:

    The Western Boning Knife

    As the name suggests, the Western boning knife is very commonly used in kitchens all over North America or Europe. These knives are typically made from slightly more 'ductile' stainless steels. Ductile steels are less likely to get chipped or damaged by harder foods like the bones in a chicken leg, the trade-off for a knife made of these steels is that they may need honing and sharpening more frequently than your Japanese knives made of super hard steel.

    The profile of a Western boning knife features a very narrow, needle-esque tip. This articulate tip is ideal for cleaning fat or silverskin off of larger cuts of meat. The aggressively curved section of the blade (often referred to as the “belly”) is really what sets this shape apart from most flatter-profiled Japanese Knives. These blades are often somewhat flexible, allowing them to work into nooks and crannies, another big difference separating them from the more rigid blades typically found in Japan.

    The Silverthorn Boning Knife is the most flexible one we carry, and is favoured by chefs and professional butchers for its maneuverability. Just watch your fingers, as there's no guard! The Tojiro DP Boning Knife is much more rigid, with just a hint of bendy-ness. The blade is thicker, and made from VG10 steel which allows it to stay sharp a bit longer. Lastly, the Kasumi Boning Knife splits the difference, perfect for folks who want a blade that's slightly flexible, but not too much.

    The Honesuki

    A honesuki is a Japanese boning knife, and it's about as opposite from the wetsern style as a boning knife can get: a taller blade with a a flatter profile, a much thicker blade and a handy-dandy drop-tip. This design makes it a cinch to easily and cleanly chop through the cartilage-filled joints you’ll find in chickens and rabbits. The tip of the knife is also devilishly thin, so it can glide through flesh like a gentle breeze - but be warned: if you try to use the tip to force and pry through hard joints, you run the risk of damaging the edge. The heel of the blade is used for hard bits, and the tip is used for articulate slicing. The honesuki is also tall enough for cutting meat down to stir-frying or skewering, and some folks even use it as a utility knife.

    If you want the longer-lasting edge that carbon steel affords you, then a honesuki is the knife for you. Carbon steel is capable of holding a keen edge much longer than most stainless steels, and it’s also much easier to sharpen and hone. The honesuki fair best with poultry and small game, but is also quite proficient as trimming larger cuts and butchering smaller fish. Where is falls short is in precise tunnel-boning jobs that the flexible western blade does best.

    When you’re shopping for a honesuki, you should also remember that some of them are single beveled. That means if you’re left handed, you might not be able to put them to their full potential. If you are a lefty, we recommend you go with a double-beveled honesuki. Moritaka Hamono, Masashi Yamamoto, and Sakai Takayuki all make outstanding honesukis.

    Honesuki Maru (Round Honesuki)

    The Honesuki Maru is an oddball. Just look at it! This knife is a weirdo. It has a similar profile to a honesuki, but the chin of the blade is flushed up right to the handle. It’s designed like this so that it can be held overhand style (think “Psycho”) and is used to cut and break down sides of hanging meat. Badass. In a pinch, it can also be held like a regular boning knife and used for less specific applications. A lot of professional meat cutters prefer a knife like this because of its versatility. It is also a very nimble knife. It’s simple streamlined design keeps it nice and light - just watch out! It’s easy to cut yourself if your hand slips!

    You may see the Honesuki Maru called a "Sakabone" in the wild, in fact we used to use that very name! Why Sakebone you ask? Well in Japanese, there is a tendency to combine two words to create a new term. Some folks in Japan call this shape "Hankotsu" 阪骨, which is short for Osaka style Honeuski 大スキ.

    Osaka style Honesuki.... Saka hone.... Sakabone!

    Honesuki v.s. Fexible Boning Knife

    While both will get the job done and they're designed for the same purpose, most folks develop a preference. A Honesuki is great for home butchery, especially poultry, fish, and trimming up briskets & roasts. The flexible blade tends to be superior for trimming and really excels at larger deboning jobs, such as pork and beef, which is why it is often preferred by professionals. You can't go wrong with either, buthopefully this helps you decide which is best for your needs. Or, get both like many of our staff of customers have!

    Western Boning Knife Honesuki Honesuki Maru
    Strengths & Weaknesses
    • Strong general purpose butchering knife. 
    • Common American/European design familiar to many. (When people think "boning knife" this is it)
    • Most versatile option.
    • Chicken MASTER.
    • Strong heel and delicate tip gives you a range of options for different  jobs.
    • Tall enough to chop stuff up on the cutting board.
    • Can be awkward on larger animals.
    • Designed for being used in an overhand style.
    • Ideal breaking down sides of hanging meat.
    • Can be a dangerous option due to lack of guard or gap between handle and knife. 
    Left hand, right hand, what hand? Suitable for left and right handed people. Often suitable for left and right handed users, but sometimes they have a bias, check before you buy. Often suitable for left and right handed users, but sometimes they have a bias, check before you buy. 
    Sharpening Skill Required Average
    Average
    Average
    Who is it for? Cook or chef looking for a general purpose boning knife.  Anyone who wants to break down chickens like a pro.  Anyone who does a lot of butchering, especially whole animal butchery. 
       Owen Whitinger
    Owen Whitinger

    Owen is another ex-chef among our ranks. After Chef-ing in Edmonton for around 12 years, he gave it up to be a human being again! He moved out to manage the Vancouver shop in 2018 and never looked back. Later, nerds! He can almost definitely beat you in a game of Street Fighter. come chat with him about football, steel, and how we are, once again, living in a golden age of rap music!