Knife vs. Knife: How to choose a boning knife

by Owen Whitinger May 17, 2016 5 min read 0 Comments

Or...

The Subtle Art of Not Ruining your Knife


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. We love it when our customers leave the shop excited to cook with their new Japanese knife - so much so that before they leave, we always walk them through the important care instructions so their new knives don’t get chipped and mangled. 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 tools 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 boning.

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. Stainless steel, like the name suggests, does not rust. They’re also generally more forgiving. Ductile steels are less likely to get chipped or damaged by harder foods like the joints in a chicken leg, the trade-off for a knife made of these steels is that they may need honing and sharpening much more frequently than your Japanese knives made of super hard steel.

The profile of a Western boning knife blade 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. Watch how the chef in the following video uses the rib cage of the chicken as a guide to slide the belly of his knife through the meat when deboning a chicken.

This is a very common technique used by professional chefs all across the western world. Using the belly of the knife instead of the pointed tip reduces the chances of poking through the skin and putting a bunch of holes in your food. The belly section of the knife is also much more structurally robust than the tip, so chipping isn’t really an issue with this knife when it’s shape is utilized properly.

The Honesuki

A honesuki is a Japanese boning knife. It typically has a flatter profile and a handy-dandy dropped tip. Unlike the Western Boning Knife, it also features a thick angular heel and enough blade height that your knuckles don’t hit a cutting board while chopping. This design makes it a cinch to easily and cleanly chop through the cartilage-filled joints you’ll find in your chicken 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.

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. A carbon steel honesuki is truly a thing of beauty - sharp and thin enough to slice through meat like it’s not even there, but also thick and robust enough to make easy work of joints. Watch the chef in the video is using his “Garasuki” (This is a larger honesuki with a higher primary bevel, but the techniques are the same.). He’s clearly done this a few times. He uses the tip of the knife for finer cuts and the heel to get through the joints.

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 either find a double-beveled honesuki or a special left handed version, which tend to be rare and pricey.

Sakabone (or Hankotsu)

The Sakabone 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!

Decided yet?

Which knife do you think is right for you? Each of the boning knives we’ve gone over have a fair bit in common. They’re all a little bit more robust than your typical gyuto or santoku. They’re all rather small and nimble. At their core, all of these knives are designed to take care of the same tasks. If you want a crazy sharp knife that can hold its edge extraordinarily well, a carbon steel honesuki might be right up your alley. If you want a simple tool that can take a bit more of a beating, a stainless western boning knife or a Sakabone might be more your speed. Make sure to let us all know in the comments what your favourite meat cutting tools are!


Challengers

Western Boning Knife Honesuki Sakabone
Strengths & Weaknesses
  • Strong General Purpose butchering knife. 
  • Commonplace American/European design is 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 part of the job.
  • Can be more awkward on larger animals.
  • Designed like this so that it can be held overhand style.
  • Ideal for cut and break down sides of hanging meat.
  • The most 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, sometimes are bias, check before you buy.  Often suitable for left and right handed users, sometimes are bias, check before you buy. 
Sharpening Skill Average
Average
Average
Who is it for? Cook or Chef looking for a general purpose boning knife.  Planning on breaking down a lot of Chickens? This one is for you.  Someone doing a lot of butchering.
Owen Whitinger
Owen Whitinger

Owen is another ex-chef among our ranks. he has been Chef-ing in Edmonton for around 12 years but gave it up to be a human being again! An avid music lover, he plays guitar, loves Radiohead, and has probably been to about 500 concerts. Oh, and he can most definitely beat you in a game of Street Fighter. come chat with him about football, and steel!



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