Straight to the Point
Out of a strong group of competitors, our favorite nakiri knife was the Tojiro A-1 Nakiri, which was light and nimble but still conquered denser ingredients (like sweet potatoes) with ease. It outperformed almost every other model, and—stunner— was also the most affordable of the bunch. We also liked the GLOBAL 7" Vegetable Knife as a mid-range pick because of its durability and super-sharp edge that effortlessly cut its way through every test. Our high-end choice is the Tojiro Atelier Nakiri, which is a weightier knife with a dark, handsome Damascus-style finish.
The nakiri is the master of vegetables. In fact, its full name (nakiri bōchō) is often translated as “leaf cutter.” According to knife expert and author of Sharp, Josh Donald, it was one of two main styles that could be found in Japanese kitchens up until the 19th century, when Western trade was re-established with Japan. The second most popular style used by cooks at the time was the deba knife, used for fish.
“Before the Western influence, knives were very much separated by task,” Donald explained. “The nakiri was your vegetable knife, and the notion of going between animal and vegetable with a knife wasn’t part of the Japanese batterie de cuisine.” The Japanese knife lineup has now expanded to include options like the all-purpose santoku, which is often described as the Japanese equivalent to the Western-style chef’s knife. Even so, the philosophy of dedicated knives lives on.
For this review, I tested 13 nakiri knives that had blades between six and seven inches long, with prices ranging from $30 to $309. Nearly all of them were excellent knives, and the margins for the winners were definite, but slim. Keep in mind, choosing a knife is as much about personal preference as it technical function. Although I noted where I found a knife’s handle to be comfortable and its weight balanced, the winners were ultimately decided based on their agility, out-of-the-box sharpness, and usability.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Overall Nakiri Knife: Tojiro A-1 Nakiri
The Tojiro A-1 Nakiri combined a lightweight body with a razor-sharp edge to create unparalleled agility. It was balanced and comfortable to wield, making vegetable prep tasks a pleasure. Oh, and it’s also affordable.
The Best Mid-Priced Nakiri Knife: GLOBAL 7" Vegetable Knife
This model was an accessible, easy-to-use nakiri-style knife. It was remarkably sharp and felt sturdy and durable. It offers an easy entry point for newcomers to the style, as well as a solid choice for experienced nakiri users.
The Best High-End Nakiri Knife: Tojiro Atelier Nakiri
The Atelier nakiri offered a heavier build than its A-1 counterpart, but was an even match when it came to smooth, easy cuts. It was completely unhindered by rubbery tomato and bell pepper skins and had the robustness to make precise, controlled dice out of tough sweet potatoes.
What Is a Nakiri Knife?
What defines this vegetable knife is its shape. The nakiri blade is broad and squared-off at the spine, with a rounded tip rather than a pointed one. The blade is also tall, which keeps the wielder’s knuckles from knocking against the cutting board while chopping. The cutting edge is straight so that the entire length makes contact with the board all at once, ensuring the vegetables are cleanly sliced by each draw of the blade (no annoying “accordion” pieces that are still attached to each other by a thin layer). The nakiri is a double-beveled knife, meaning it is sharpened on both sides of the blade edge to make easy, even slices. (Note: Usuba is the other Japanese vegetable knife that's defined by a more traditional single bevel. The nakiri is more useful and easier to learn to use for most folks compared to the usuba, which is why we focused on nakiri for this review.)
The nakiri is best known for cutting vegetables, but it can also be used on boneless proteins as well. While the nakiri bears a resemblance to a Chinese cleaver, its rectangular blade tends to be made of more brittle steel and can chip against hard ingredients like bones. Of course, the abilities of each knife will vary depending on the user’s experience as well as the blade material and thickness. A good rule (suggested by Tojiro’s care instructions) is to avoid cutting anything that you wouldn’t chew with your own teeth, including olive pits, lobster shells, and frozen foods.
- Blade Sharpness Test: I used a professional blade edge tester to measure the sharpness of each knife, straight from the box. The tester worked by measuring the force (in grams) that it took for the knife to sever a calibrated line of plastic wire. The lower the score, the sharper the knife.
- Paper Test: Before using the knives on any vegetables, I cut through a piece of printer paper with each model to determine whether the blade resisted or sliced through cleanly. I repeated this test with the winning knives at the end to see how well they maintained their sharpness after the other tests.
- Tomato Test: I cut thin tomato slices with each knife to evaluate how easy it was to control the blade, and to see if the blade was sharp enough to cut through resistant tomato skin without mashing it.
- Shallot Test: I minced a shallot with each knife to test the nimbleness, maneuverability, and ease with which each knife made small cuts.
- Sweet Potato Test: I cut a large sweet potato into 1-inch chunks with each knife to evaluate the strength, durability, and control of each model. I noted when any knife caused cracking in the sweet potato rather than slicing through it.
- Bell Pepper Test (Winners-Only): With the winning knives, I stemmed, cored, and sliced three bell peppers each. I noted if the knife was easy to hold and maneuver during the more complicated task, and if the edge was sharp enough to slice cleanly through the rubbery skins of the peppers.
- Cleaning Test: Immediately after each test, I hand-washed and dried the knives and noted if they displayed any marks, staining, or rusting after use.
What We Learned
Blade Material Was Important to Know, But Not a Deciding Factor
Japanese-style knives tend to be forged with steel that is high in carbon, as opposed to lower-carbon stainless steel. Stainless steel must have at least 11% chromium, which makes knife blades (as well as other cookware and appliances) less susceptible to moisture and acidity, and therefore less likely to rust. It also makes the metal softer, which means that low-carbon stainless steel knives tend to be relatively forgiving and easy to care for, but dull quickly as the edge wears down and rolls with regular use.
High-carbon knives (those with around 0.6% carbon content or higher) can also be made with stainless steel levels of chromium, but the effects are offset as the carbon increases. These blades are more rigid and not only get sharper initially, but also retain their edges longer. The trade-off is that the edges of carbon steel knives are more brittle and can chip or break when faced with hard ingredients like a tough winter squash. They also must be cared for intentionally. The best practice is to hand wash and dry them immediately after each use to prevent rusting or staining (which is a recommended habit for all knives, regardless of their blade material).
The models considered for this review had varying levels of chromium and carbon steel cores as well as claddings, but no specific blend stood out above the rest. The JIKKO Mille-Feuille Nakiri Knife’s VG-10 steel did not feel different to use than the Masamoto Sohonten White #2 Kasumi Kuro-Nakiri’s white carbon steel. The Tojiro A-1 Nakiri and the MAC Knife Japanese Series 6 1/2" Vegetable Cleaver both acquired similar superficial marks along the matte strip on their blades during the sweet potato test, despite being made of different high-carbon alloys. While it’s important to know the general makeup of your knife so you know its abilities and how to care for it, consider it a guidepost rather than a dealbreaker.
Blade Thickness and Sharpness Mattered
Blade material did not make a significant impact on performance, but two other things did: blade thickness and sharpness. The sweet spot was for the spine to be one to two millimeters wide at its thickest point, and the sharper the edge was, the more control it provided. Thicker blades, like that of the Masamoto Sohonten White #2 Kasumi Kuro-Nakiri, were bulky when cutting. Although this knife was utility-razor sharp out-of-the-box, its four millimeter-thick blade made it difficult to dice shallots, since it cut wide initial slices that pushed the shallot’s layers apart. The Masamoto was also the tallest of the models at two-and-a-quarter inches, which made it difficult for me to see what was going on beneath and behind the blade as I chopped. Although I thought its weight and heft would make halving large, raw sweet potatoes a cinch, its size worked against it. As the Masamoto cut into the sweet potato, the thickest part of the blade was like a wedge being forced in, causing the potato to crack and splinter open at the bottom instead of being sliced cleanly through.
Even knives that had two millimeter spines caused cracking in the sweet potato if they weren’t sharp enough. The Togiharu Hammered Texture Damascus Nakiri averaged at a 145 sharpness rating (which is quite sharp, akin to a utility razor blade), but it still caused audible tearing in the sweet potato test. Comparatively, the high-end winning Tojiro Atelier Nakiri (which was also two millimeters thick) scored 111.7 on the sharpness scale and sliced cleanly through each task.
The overall winner, the Tojiro A-1 Nakiri, had the thinnest blade at 1.5 millimeters. I started this review believing that heftier, thicker knives would have the advantage because the weight of their blades would drive them through whatever was beneath them, but the Tojiro A-1 demonstrated from its first task that a nakiri that is nimble and sharp is more versatile than one that is heavy and sturdy.
Nakiri Knives Don’t Rock, They Chop
As opposed to a Western-style chef’s knife with its rounded belly and pointed tip, the nakiri does not lend itself to a rocking slice motion (where the heel of the blade is rocked up and down while the tip of the blade pivots on the cutting board). Instead, it’s better suited for push-chopping, which is accomplished by holding the blade level with the cutting board as the nakiri slides vertically into the ingredients. This allows the entire flat edge to make contact with the cutting board all at once, utilizing the full length with each slice.
Most of the models I tested demonstrated this well, like the traditionally shaped Tojiro Atelier Nakiri that easily cut bell peppers into perfect slices, without leaving any pieces hanging onto one another. One knife stuck out from the rest (in a bad way), though: the Made In Nakiri Knife. Its edge was particularly rounded, which prevented it from fully slicing; I had to rock the blade to catch ingredients that were on either side of the midpoint. One of the primary reasons for push cutting—and therefore why the nakiri’s blade is designed to be used without rocking—is to prevent the blade from twisting or tweaking against the cutting board, which could potentially damage its edge. In this sense, the Made In Nakiri felt more like a chef’s knife impersonating a nakiri, rather than a true example of the style itself.
Smooth, Symmetrical Handles Were More Comfortable
What makes a knife feel comfortable and easy to hold will vary from person to person. That said, a few things go into the general comfort of a handle: shape, material texture, length, and the weight balance with the blade. I preferred balanced models where most of the weight was in the handle (rather than the blade), like the MAC Knife Japanese Series 6 1/2" Vegetable Cleaver. I did not have a strong opinion on the length or thickness, and I enjoyed handles with a variety of end-styles. However, there was one knife handle that I particularly didn’t like: the asymmetrical D-shaped handle of the Shun Classic 6.5" Nakiri Knife felt downright awkward to hold, which made it feel less secure in my hand. And, although it did not affect its performance, I found the dimpled texture of the GLOBAL 7" Vegetable Knife to be a little distracting. In the end, though, handle-style is a personal choice, since people have different sized hands, and hence prefer different things.
The Criteria: What to Look for in a Nakiri Knife
A good nakiri knife should have a straight cutting edge to facilitate push-chopping. Most nakiris are made from high-carbon alloys, but the exact makeup is not as important as keeping the knife clean, dry, and sharpened. Comfort depends on personal preference, and I favored handles that were smooth and even on both sides. I also preferred the nimbleness of a lightweight knife, but weightier ones can be just as maneuverable as long as they are kept super sharp.
The Best Overall Nakiri Knife: Tojiro A-1 Nakiri
What we liked: This model demonstrated just how special a nakiri knife can be. Its thin blade and beyond-sharp edge produced precise, controlled cuts. It was lightweight and nimble but never hitched or felt flimsy, even when tackling whole raw sweet potatoes.
What we didn’t like: Like the MAC knife, the matte strip on this blade acquired some dark marks during the sweet potato test. While the marks marred the surface, they did not affect the performance or overall durability of the knife.
Price at time of publish: $36.
- Weight: 115 grams
- Handle material: Pakkawood (a wood and plastic resin composite)
- Blade material: VG-10 stainless steel core with 13-chrome stainless steel cladding
- Blade length: 6.4 inches
- Blade height: 1.75 inches
- Spine thickness at widest point: 1.5 millimeters
- Total knife length: 11.13 inches
- Out-of-the-box sharpness average: 91.7 (utility razor blade-sharp)
The Best Mid-Priced Nakiri Knife: GLOBAL 7" Vegetable Knife
What we liked: The GLOBAL knife was the sharpest of the lineup in the initial sharpness test, and this showed during the testing. It was middle-of-the-road in terms of weight, making it a good choice for prep tasks big and small. It was also easy to clean and made for durability.
What we didn’t like: The bolsterless, dimpled steel handle was less comfortable to hold (and less visually attractive) than wood or plastic handles.
Price at time of publish: $115.
- Weight: 194 grams
- Handle & blade material: CROMOVA 18 stainless steel (a blend of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium that is exclusive to GLOBAL)
- Blade length: 7 inches
- Blade height: 2 inches
- Spine thickness at widest point: 2 millimeters
- Total knife length: 12 inches
- Out-of-the-box sharpness average: 86.7 (utility razor blade-sharp)
The Best High-End Nakiri Knife: Tojiro Atelier Nakiri
What we liked: This nakiri knife was just as agile and sharp as the Tojiro A-1, but with a slightly thicker spine and weightier balance. It has a striking layered look to the blade, and it sliced through sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers with ease.
What we didn’t like: This was the priciest knife by far, but it’s a worthy investment for someone who wants a heavier knife that makes a statement (in both appearance and performance).
Price at time of publish: $309.
- Weight: 206 grams
- Handle material: Reinforced laminated wood material
- Blade material: Low- and high-carbon stainless steels with a VG-10 stainless steel core
- Blade length: 6.5 inches
- Blade height: 1.88 inches
- Spine thickness at widest point: 2 millimeters
- Total knife length: 11.75 inches
- Out-of-the-box sharpness average: 111.7 (utility razor blade-sharp)
- MAC Knife Japanese Series 6 1/2" Vegetable Cleaver: This knife was the most similar to the overall winner, the Tojiro A-1 Nakiri. It’s lightweight and comfortable to hold, but it acquired many marks on the blade and faced a lot of resistance in the cutting tests.
- Made In Nakiri Knife: This knife was tastefully branded and had a comfortable handle, but its rounded belly made it feel more like a Western chef’s knife mash-up than a true nakiri. It was also one of the least sharp knives out of the box and struggled to cut cleanly through a sweet potato without cracking it.
- Zwilling Gourmet 6.5" Nakiri Knife: This knife performed quite well overall and was a close runner-up to our favorites, but it was the least-sharp knife right out of the box with a score of 273. There was more resistance during the cutting tests, which made it feel less smooth and controlled.
- Shun Classic 6.5" Nakiri Knife: Much like the Zwilling, the Shun nakiri was a high-quality knife that fell behind in the tests where our winners excelled. The weighty D-shaped handle was less comfortable to hold and the blade—although it was sharp—wedged and splintered the sweet potato rather than cutting cleanly through.
- JIKKO Mille-Feuille Nakiri Knife: While I had very few complaints about this beautiful knife, it did not stand out from the other models. It was comfortable to hold and chop with, but caused cracking in the sweet potato test during larger cuts.
- Kai Wasabi 6.5" Nakiri Knife: The Kai nakiri faced resistance in all four cutting tests and had a hard time biting into the paper, tomato skin, and shallot peel.
- Togiharu Hammered Texture Damascus Nakiri: This knife was nearly identical to the JIKKO nakiri. It was moderately weighted and pleasantly shaped, but hitched on the tomato skins and tore the sweet potatoes.
- Masamoto Sohonten White #2 Kasumi Kuro-Nakiri: Without a doubt, this knife was the most cleaver-like of the bunch. Its blade was the tallest and it had a 4-millimeter spine (twice as thick as most other models). The heft of the Masamoto nakiri meant it wedged into the vegetables and made exact cuts difficult. It would be better suited for tackling large tasks, like breaking down melons and rough chopping mountains of mirepoix, rather than weekday use.
- WÜSTHOF Classic 7" Hollow Edge Nakiri Knife: This was the only blade that had indentations along its length, which helped prevent slices of tomato and pieces of shallot from sticking to the knife. It faced a lot of resistance and caused tearing during the sweet potato test, though.
- Mercer Culinary Genesis 7" Nakiri Vegetable Knife: Using the Mercer nakiri felt like chopping with an oft-used but rarely-sharpened chef’s knife. With a 3-millimeter-thick spine and over a half-pound weight, this knife lacked nimbleness and had difficulty making fine cuts.
What is a nakiri knife good for?
Nakiri-style knives have traditionally been used to cut vegetables of all kinds. While the rectangular blade can sometimes be confused for that of a cleaver, a nakiri knife is thinner and lighter. They are better for items like peppers, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and fruits. Tough ingredients, like dense winter squash and animal bones, can chip the rigid steel blade of the nakiri and should be avoided.
Which size nakiri knife is best?
Nakiris usually range from five to seven inches long, and the best size depends on the user’s preference. We found that knives around six-and-a-half inches long were a good middle ground: versatile enough to chop large sweet potatoes as well as mince shallots.
How do you sharpen a nakiri knife?
Sharpening can vary depending on personal preference and the individual knife, but we recommend using a whetstone for at-home sharpening. Knife expert Josh Donald suggests starting on a medium grit stone that’s in the 800 and 1200 grit range, then finishing on a stone that is between 3000 and 4000 for stainless steel knives or 4000 to 8000 for carbon steel knives. In between sharpenings, a ceramic honing rod is a good option to maintain the knife’s edge.
Can I use a nakiri knife for meat?
Yes! Nakiri knives tend to be very sharp and can cut easily through proteins as well as vegetables. Just avoid using your nakiri on or near bones and frozen meat, as the solid surface could bend or chip the blade.
How do you use a nakiri knife?
The straight, flat edge of the nakiri knife is designed for vertical chopping rather than rocking. With a curved-edge chef’s knife, it’s practical to keep the tip of the knife down close to the cutting board while you “rock” the heel up and down, cutting with the belly of the knife. A nakiri knife is intended to be pushed evenly down into the food so that the entire edge makes contact with the cutting board at the same time—then lifted up completely between slices.
What is the difference between a nakiri knife and a santoku knife?
The nakiri and santoku are both Japanese-style knives that are made with hard steel and feature relatively straight bottom edges, making them good for chopping. The santoku is an all-purpose knife that has a sheep’s foot shape (meaning the spine of the knife curves down to form a pointed tip) and can be used to prepare meat, fish, and vegetables. The nakiri has a squared-off spine and a rounded tip. While the nakiri can be used on boneless cuts of meat and fish, its broad rectangular blade is particularly suited for slicing and dicing vegetables.
What is the difference between a nakiri knife and a usuba knife?
The nakiri bōchō is double-beveled (sharpened symmetrically on both sides of the knife’s edges), while the usuba bōchō is single-beveled (sharpened only on one side of the edge). The usuba knife is even more specialized for vegetable preparation than the nakiri, and it’s often used for raw garnishes and techniques like rotary peeling thin sheets of daikon radishes.