One of the easiest ways to level up in the kitchen is to butcher your own chickens. Odds are you eat them fairly often, most of us do. There’s something super-gratifying about cutting up a whole bird for fried chicken night or a backyard yakitori extravaganza, and it’s way cheaper too!
Japanese chefs have a huge arsenal of knives to pull from, with many knives designed for a single task, and the top choice for butchering chickens and other small animals is a honesuki. It's triangular shaped with a thick spine, which makes for a more rugged knife that’s better suited to dealing with meat and bones. I bought myself a Masakage Koishi Honesuki back when I was running a restaurant that sold a tonne of fried chicken. It quickly became one of my favourite knives. I tell you, cutting up hundreds of chickens a week will help you get to know a knife. If you'd like to read more about Honesukis, check out our article on them.
Don’t think for a second that you’ll only use this knife on birds, I’ve used it for all kinds of butchery from pigs and lambs, to trout and squid. Some folks at the Ottawa shop even like to use one as a utility knife and swear it is great for peeling oranges!
All of the family experience and history that Moritaka-san carries with him might have something to do with how perfect this knife is; I imagine that you learn a thing or two growing up in a family that has been blacksmithing for over 700 years.
The rocky-looking finish is awesome, plus it’s beefier than most other honesukis. The thicker blade allows you to easily cut through the soft breastbone of a bird without having to worry too much about chipping. Normally Moritaka knives rust a bit easily, but I’ve found that rusting isn’t as big a deal on a carbon steel knife primarily used for butchery, as long as you you do a good job of washing and drying your blade when you are finished as you would when using a knife on any kind of raw meat.
This exact knife is recommended in the yakitori bible,Chicken & Charcoal by Matt Abergel. A must read for ‘cue nerds, the Japanese obsessed, and anyone who thinks that food tastes better grilled on a stick.
I feel like this knife would make any professional chicken cutter-upper's day a lot easier. The big handle is easy to grip while processing dozens of birds, the semi-stainless SKD-12 blade is super durable and quickly takes an edge. Plus, it’s a very cost effective option. Even though this is a stamped blade, you’d be surprised at how much of the work of making these knives is actually done by hand. The nylon sheath allows you to store the knife safely, either in your knife bag or attached to your belt for accessibility.
Perfect for those looking to try something out on a whim, or for the local butcher to outfit their staff.
The entire Fujimoto Nashiji line is a great starting point for people looking to try their hand at carbon steel knives; the honesuki is no different. This is one of several lines we carry that uses both carbon and stainless steel in the blade; the hard carbon makes a sharp edge and jacket of stainless really cuts down the chance of rust forming. Rust on a knife can be a huge bummer. This line is very popular among professional cooks and chefs because they look so cool, hold an awesome edge, and are a lot easier to care for than a straight-up carbon knife. The huge bang for buck doesn’t hurt either.
Oh, and did I mention this knife is super sexy? Just look at it! The reverse bunka tip, the sleek hammered blade, the tapered Canadian Walnut handle... I'm starting to drool just typing this, so we're gonna move on to my next pick.
If you don’t have a knife from Masashi-san yet, you may as well start here. He's one of the most talented blacksmiths we've ever met, and he does every step of the knife-making process himself. His honesukis are more durable than most thanks to a thick spine and wide bevel, so don't be afraid to drive this 4x4 through the mud a little! (That's an analogy. Please don't actually drive your knives through mud). The hypnotic damascus finish is the icing on the cake, making this knife as gorgeous as it is functional.
I had to include it, it’s such a stunner. I’m a sucker for Aogami Super steel (my first honesuki was made from the stuff) and the bad-ass look of the Zero. I remember waffling between the Ishime honesuki and this one but it was the harder steel that won me over in the end. (There’s a good chance I’ll eventually end up getting myself the Moritaka as well.) The Zero has the hardest steel of any we’ve looked at so far but it’s not as delicate as you might think; I’ve been cutting through small chicken bones with mine for 5 years. I’ve never chipped it and I’ve only sharpened it twice. KA-BOOM! Plus, just look at that Ironwood handle. So sexy.
No matter which honesuki you choose, you’ll be stoked to learn how to break down a chicken like the pros. I look for any excuse to fry up a big batch of buttermilk chicken, or break out the konro for a grilled-chicken-on-stick party.
Chris is a relocated Maritimer that can be found slinking in and out the back doors of Ottawa's restaurants, often with his daughter in tow. Chris has been a fixture in the Ottawa food scene for the past 10 years and has recently laid down his apron to learn the ways of Knifewear. Chris loves cooking big pieces of meat over a live fire and spends his summer feeding wood into his BBQ, Lemmy Smoke-mister.