What is a Nakiri, and Why do I Need One?

October 21, 2020 4 min read 0 Comments

What is a Nakiri, and Why do I Need One?

For many newcomers to the world of Japanese kitchen knives, the nakiri can be a very intriguing option. I remember when I first set eyes on a nakiri in Knifewear Calgary about ten years ago. I was looking for a second knife to complement my 240mm gyuto, and I was intrigued by the square shape that I assumed was a meat-cleaver.

Kevin let me try one out, and I was shocked by how light it was compared to my expectations. This cleaver-looking knife was almost paper thin and very easy to wield! Turns out, the nakiri is no meat cleaver. This square flat-edged blade is designed explicitly with vegetables in mind, and boy does it perform. I originally came to the nakiri for its badass looks, but I stayed for its unreal performance.

What is a nakiri?

Have you ever chopped peppers for a stir-fry and been left with a string of still-attached vegetables resembling paper dolls? That’s because It’s actually very easy to not cut all the way through the skin of a vegetable with a curved blade. With its flat edge, the nakiri makes a more complete contact with your cutting board. More contact means cleaner cuts! 

Using a nakiri can take a bit of adjustment. When you first get to chopping, you’ll probably notice that sliding the knife forward or back works much better than rocking it. All knives work better by sliding, but we’re trained to rock our knives in the west. The nakiri re-trains your brain, and with a little practice your knife skills will be better than ever!

Nakiris also have a little more heft and forward balance than a similarly size santoku or gyuto because there’s more steel in the front of the knife. If you’re lazy like me, it means you’ll be delighted by how much of the work they do for you. The more you handle a nakiri, the more you start to realize that they’re more than just a pretty face - they’re vegetable chopping machines!

Why do I need one?

In my kitchen, the nakiri takes the place of “Sous Chef” to my big 240mm gyuto. The gyuto always leads the charge, but my nakiri does a lot of the heavy duty prep work. Need to slice up 10 onions for soup? No big deal. Need to cut scalloped potatoes for a big family dinner? Move over mandolin, it’s nakiri time. Need to whip up a small stir-fry for two? The nakiri will have it done in minutes.

Your nakiri can also be every bit as useful as your chef’s knife. They can tackle little jobs like mincing garlic and chopping herbs, but they can also get stuck into a big leafy pile of kale or a 5lb cabbage and hold their own. If you’re vegan and only cut veggies, this is the knife you need. They’re a great first knife, and the perfect wild-card to round out a larger collection.

How do I use it?

As I mentioned earlier, these knives work a little differently from what you may be used to. Here’s the basic technique for using a nakiri.

  1. Grab the knife by its handle. Now shuffle your hand up until you’re grabbing a spot on the spine, just ahead of the end of the handle with your thumb and pointer finger. This gives you more control over the knife than just holding the handle.
  2. Curl the fingertips of your other hand under your knuckles, forming a “claw” of sorts. Place this on top of the food you’re cutting, and keep your thumb tucked in. 
  3. Slide the knife forwards or backwards through the food, using your knuckle to guide the side of the knife. This acts as a buffer, and keeps you from chopping your finger tips!

Now loosen up, pour yourself a beverage, and make a big stir fry. Or french onion soup. Or sauerkraut. Anything that requires lots of chopping. In a week, you’ll be a nakiri master. You can learn more about pro knife skills here.

Which Nakiri do I need?

It all comes down to your preferences, but here’s a few suggestions for different folks.

Haruyuki Kokuto Nakiri

If the first Japanese knife you get will be  a nakiri, get this one. Stainless steel is easy to take care of, so you won’t be sweating over a rusty knife. The blade is super pretty and razor sharp, plus a Japanese style handle is a must-try if you’ve never had one before.

Fujimoto Nashiji Nakiri

If you’re looking to dip your toes into something higher-performance, this is the way to do it. The Fujimoto has a carbon steel core, with a protective security blanket of stainless steel on the outside. This means that it cuts like a lightsaber, but you only need to worry about the edge rusting. Wash it and wipe it dry immediately after use and your knife will last a lifetime.

Masashi Kuroshu Nakiri and Shirusho Nakri

Prepare for trouble and make it double. Seriously, these non-identical twin knives are the gateway to a knife addiction. They’re obviously super stunning, and they cut just as beautifully as they look. Badass blacksmith Masashi Yamamoto forges these out of SLD stainless steel, which cuts like carbon steel but doesn’t rust easily. The perfect hybrid!

Fujiwara Maboroshi 195mm Nakiri

Okay, so maybe not every home cook needs a nakiri this big. But professional prep cooks? Heck yes they need a knife this big. I would know, I’ve been one. This big boy will also become your dream knife if you cook for a big family, or you like to meal-prep an entire week in one go. I’m looking at you, crossfitters.

Fujiwara Denka 150mm Nakiri

This little guy packs a big punch for such a small package. If you’re more comfortable with a small knife or you like to make lots of salads and other single-serving dishes, this knife will be your go-to. It’ll also stay sharp waaaay longer than anything else in your kitchen, so you’ll only need to sharpen it once every few years.

So there you have it. Everybody needs a nakiri in their kitchen, unless you only ever eat meat. Even then, you’ll be delighted by the way these knives slice up grilled steaks and chicken breasts. The nakiri quickly became one of my most treasured knives, and I know it will for you too.

Check out our nakiris

Nathan Gareau
Nathan Gareau

Nathan started at Knifewear in 2013, when he left the restaurant industry to slang knives. Nowadays, he handles our communications, social media, and YouTube channel. If you're reading words on this website or watching one of our videos, Nathan was involved. He spends his spare time growing food, cooking, fermenting food and booze, and enjoying the great outdoors.

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