One of the easiest ways to level up in the kitchen is to butcher your own chickens. Odds are you eat a fair bit of it, most of us do. There’s something super-gratifying about cutting up a whole bird for fried chicken night or a backyard yakitori extravaganza. It’s way cheaper too.
Japanese chefs have a huge arsenal of knives to pull from, many knives are designed for a single task, and the top choice for butchering chickens and other small fowl is ahonesuki. It is 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.
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. Harry, at the Ottawa shop, likes to use one as a utility knife and swears 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. I’m also a fanatic for its D-shaped handle (despite being a lefty). 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.
Fun factThis 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-uppers day a lot easier. The big red ergonomic handle is easy to keep clean, the stainless molybdenum vanadium 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 Tojiro factory in Niigata does an amazing job of producing top-tier knives despite being a hotspot for sake production. I wouldn’t get much done if the world’s best sake was made around the corner.
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.
We love this knife so much that we include one for every person in our Honesuki Skills Class!
If you don’t have a knife from Fujiwara-san yet, you may as well start here. You get that hybrid-style construction of stainless and carbon steels, a heavier western-style handle, and it’s single-bevelled (sorry lefties, but the traditional grind of this knife means it is best—umm—left to the right-handers). The edge on a single-bevel knife is generally finer than one sharpened on both sides, but it also makes it a touch more delicate; this knife might be better suited to deboning a bird, not cutting through any bones or joints like you would for fried chicken.
If you want the best of the best, check out Fujiwara-san’s Denka no Hoto honesuki. Even harder steel makes for a sharper (therefore, more delicate) knife, and one that almost never needs sharpening. The Maboroshi and Denka honesukis sometimes show up with an octagonal Japanese-style handle if that more your jam.
I had to include it, it’s the one I bought for myself. I’m a sucker for Aogami Super steel and the bad-ass look of a Koishi. 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 Koishi 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 this knife for 5 years. I’ve never chipped it and I’ve only sharpened it twice. KA-BOOM!
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.