BURRFECTION

Top 5 Japanese Chef Knife For Beginners

Having tested hundreds of Japanese knives through the years, these are the most compelling knives under $100. 

Summary

Yaxell Mon 8″ Best Fit & Finish

Tojiro DP 210mm Tie for Best Overall

Misono Molybdenum 8″ Tie for Best Overall

Tojiro Shirogami #2 Kurouchi 8″ Best Budget Carbon Steel

Mac Knife Chef’s Series 8″– Best Budget

Mac Knife Chef’s Series 8″– Best Budget

Blade Profile – User-friendly cutting profile with no flat spots. It measures 8″ but feels a tad shorter than the rest of the knives in the comparison due to how close the choil/neck is to the handle. There is also a 7-1/4″ model that is great for users who prefer 165mm / 6.5-inch santokus. Cutting profile is neutral with no flat spots. The blade is thick and solid and lacks the “springiness” the other knives exhibit.

Blade Core Material- Mac “Original Molybdenum” is alloy steel with decent edge retention. 

Blade Hardness – Rockwell hardness around 57

Out Box Sharpness – 6 out of 10. The sample I got was well-sharpened but not the best of the bunch.

Real-World Edge Retention 7-10. Edge retention was impressive. The Mac held an acceptable edge throughout a month-long home test. Most people would find it to be “very sharp” after 30 days. 

Handle Material- Pakka wood

Handle Comfort 7 out of 10. Made of Pakka wood in a western profile. The handle is nicely sized and sculpted but lacks the quality fit and finish to make it even more comfortable.

Fit & Finish – 6 out of 10. Fit and finish is where the Mac Knife Chef’s Series 7″ falls short. The choil/neck will not cut the user, but it isn’t polished well. The top of the spine is the same. The handle suffered in this department as well. 

Overall – At the time of this review, the 8″ version is under $80. More impressively, the 7″ version is only $60. I cannot fault knives for lacking the proper finish quality of more expensive knives. I can easily sand down the sharp edges and handle and apply polish to improve how it feels in my hands. The biggest complaint is the section where the top of the handle meets the choil/neck of the blade. Had there been 1/4″ of extra space there, the knife would feel more balanced. On the other hand, the blade is very stiff and solid, giving the knife good stability during usage. Overall – an excellent entry-level Japanese knife.

#4 Tojiro Shirogami #2 Kurouchi 8″ Best Budget Carbon Steel

Tojiro carbon

Blade Profile – Traditional Japanese Gyuto. Very slight belly, with an ever-slight flat body. This profile is different from Western knives with a more pronounced belly. Not much of a rocker compared to western knives, but not a very aggressive profile. The light rocking of onion, cilantro, garlic, etc., poses no issues. Knives in this budget rarely feel “exciting” during use – they often feel dull and cut with a “thud” rather than a “ping .”This Tojiro was more “ping-like” than “thud-like .”Due to its lightweight of only 128 grams, it was the most straightforward knife to use.

Blade Core Material – Shirogami #2 / White #2. It is a carbon steel core and will rust if left wet.

Blade Hardness – 60-61 Rockwell. The heat temper of this Tojiro Shirogami #2 Kurouchi 8″ is its greatest strength. Virtually all knives in this price point will have a Rockwell rating well under 60. Blades with this Rockwell rating can go 3+ months without needing to be sharpened, though, after 30 days, you can start feeling the edge go. 

Out Box Sharpness – 7 out of 10

Real-World Edge Retention – As stated above, edge retention of this Tojiro was excellent. The blade feels solid, as its thickness from the spine area above the cladding line is consistent. Then from the area just above the cladding line to the edge is nice and thin. It is not sharpened and thinned to the degree a Nigara knife would be, but you are also not paying 300 dollars for a knife. Edge retention was as good as the top picks in this review.

Handle Material – Japanese Magnolia (Ho wood) 

Handle Comfort – 6 out of 10 The D-shaped (right-hand biased) handle feels very traditional Japanese, and while it is not my favorite wa (classic Japanese design) handle, it was acceptable. The area where the ferrule meets the handle’s body has a slight step that is borderline annoying and acceptable. The magnolia wood was sanded smooth and had no rough patches or splinters.

Fit & finish – 6 out of 10 – The fit and finish are as good as you will find for a knife at this price. 

Overall – Those who have used Japanese knives long enough will know what to expect. People coming from German or western-styled knives may find it odd that there is a step between the ferrule and handle body. But this Tojiro Shirogami #2 Kurouchi 8″ was also the lightest knife in the test group, weighing 128 grams. It is deceptively lightweight; due to this, it feels the most elegant to use. The choil is nicely spaced above the handle, offering just enough space for your middle finger to rest comfortably in a pinch grip. The finishing and polishing of the spine and choil/neck are acceptable. It would be wise to spend a few minutes sanding the rough areas down, but it is unlikely that anyone will get cut without doing so. The Tojiro Shirogami #2 Kurouchi 8″ is a solid pick and best for a budget Japanese knife with just a few minor shortcomings.

#3 Yaxell Mon 8″ Best Fit & Finish

Yaxell

Blade Profile – The blade profile on the Yaxell Mon is interesting. It does not fall into traditional Japanese or German/western. However, flatter than the belly, the blade’s body has a constant radius from the heel to the tip. Those coming from German and other western knives will likely enjoy the cutting profile of the Mon, while those who are expecting a typical Japanese profile may not. 

Blade Core Material – Made in Japan Japanese VG10

Blade Hardness – 60-61

Out Box Sharpness – 8 out of 10 – Excellent

Real-World Edge Retention – 8 out of 10 – Edge held up very well in the 30-day test. 

Handle Material – Micarta

Handle Comfort – 6 out of 10 – Two aspects of the Mon affect its long-term comfort score. The first is the width (narrowness) of the handle, and the second is the position (height) of the choil/neck. The top of the handle where the blade and handle meet is very narrow, making it feel a bit unstable, even while in a pinch-grip. The tang height (part of the blade that meets the handle) is usually not an issue with western handles, but the narrowing of the top of the handle creates a weird feeling for my hand when prepping food. In addition, I constantly readjust my grip and middle finger, not having a comfortable place to sit. I found using a regular/hammer grip is more comfortable than a pinch-grip. 

Fit & Finish – 8 out of 10 – Excellent. The fit and finish on this Yaxell Mon 8″ is probably the best for a knife under $100. The spine and choil have an excellent matte finishing. The transition between the blade and handle is seamless. The matte finish gives the knife a nice low-profile appearance, while the gloss of the exposed core material looks very high-end. 

Overall – The Yaxell Mon 8″ is highly well-finished. There are some drawbacks to the narrow ovalized handle. But also note this is the only Yaxell with this particular handle design. The cutting profile is not my favorite, being too much of a rocker for my liking. The Japanese VG10 core steel holds a good edge sharpens easily. Yaxell pays good attention to the finishing of their knives, and the Mon series is no different. Other than my gripe with its handle design and overly-relaxed cutting profile, you would be hard-pressed to find a knife with the same level of finishing at under $100. 

#2 Misono Molybdenum 8″ Tie for Best Overall

MIsono

Blade Profile – The Misono Molybdenum 8″ has the most aggressive cutting profile of all the knives in this comparison. If this review came down to cutting performance and style, the Misono would be the top pick. It has a little belly with a long body without any flat spots. There is a rocker in the belly for rocking on onions, garlic, cilantro, or any other small vegetables that one could rock on, but not so much that it allows the user to raise the knife’s handle too far off the cutting board. This sort of profile forces (and perhaps teaches) the user to be more precise with their cutting. 

Blade Core Material – Entire blade is molybdenum vanadium stainless steel.

Blade Hardness – 57 Rockwell – Good, not great

Out Box Sharpness – 7 out of 10

Real-World Edge Retention – 8 out of 10 – The Rockwell hardness of 57 would suggest it holds an edge similar to German knives, such as the Wusthof Ikon series. But I have never found any knives from Wusthof that can hold an edge for longer than one or two weeks. That is, according to my standards of a sharp knife. I get messages from chefs who claim they have never sharpened their Wusthofs in decades of use (yes, I get such messages), which will be a topic in a future post. The Misono held a solid edge for about three weeks, just shy of the Tojiro DP 210mm

Handle Material – Pakkawood

Handle Comfort – 9 out of 10 – Of all the knives in the comparison, the Misono has the most sculpted and comfortable handle by a long shot.

Fit & finish – 7 out of 10 – Misono can improve the polishing of the choil and spine. 

Overall – The Misono Molybdenum 8″ is a fantastic knife. Minor gripes about this knife that would have made it a clear favorite. It is not far from being named the perfect Japanese knife under $100. Slightly better steel, such as VG10, or an improvement of the polishing of the spine and choil would make the Misono a clear favorite. The aggressive profile is nothing like German knives. 

#1 Tojiro DP 210mm Tie for Best Overall

Topjiro

Blade Profile – The Tojiro is similar to the Misono Molybdenum 8″ but offers a more neutral cutting profile. The blade’s body is not as long, and the belly, while not what you would see on German knives, is a bit more pronounced than the Misono. It allows for better rocking on the cutting board than the Misono. German knife users will likely find the Tojiro DP 210mm an easier knife to transition to than the Misono.

Blade Core Material – Japanese VG10 in San Mai construction (stainless cladding)

Blade Hardness – 59-60 Rockwell

Out Box Sharpness – 8 out of 10 – Tojiro has improved the edge quality over the years. However, the first Tojiro DP I bought for review on Burrfection was not as sharp as the current Tojiro DP 210mm.

Real-World Edge Retention – 8 out of 10 – Edge retention is excellent on the Tojiro. During the 30-day test period, I never felt the edge needed touching up. It may have dulled to a measurable degree after the 30 days, but prepping real ingredients on the cutting board was never a problem. 

Handle Material – Laminated composite wood

Handle Comfort – 8 out of 10 – The handle on the Tojiro is similar but not as sculpted as the handle on the Misono Molybdenum 8″. They have overall similar dimensions, but the Misono’s handle has better curves all around. 

Fit & finish – 7 out of 10 – The fit and finish of the Tojiro have improved over the years. My first Tojiro DP gyuto had very rough edges on the spine, choil, and bolster. I often used 400 or 600 grit sandpaper to touch up the rough areas of the knife before using it in the kitchen. The finishing of the current blades is better but still not great. Touching up the spine and choil with sandpaper is not needed, but not a bad idea either. 

Overall – It is hard to fault a knife that offers so much at its price point. The Japanese VG10 is a solid offering, and the blade does not exhibit any chipping issues found on Shun knives. The handle is nicely shaped and is comfortable to hold and stable when wet. The relaxed cutting profile suits users who are used to German or western knives. Tojiro could improve the polishing of the spine and choil from the factory. Doing so would likely add to its current price tag, and I would be happy to sand the rough areas and save myself some money. The Tojiro DP 210mm has been my top recommendation for those getting into Japanese knives and still is. It is not perfect by any means, but it does offer a lot and gives the user a glimpse of what higher quality Japanese knives will offer.

 

Here are the sharpest knives I have ever tested

 

Watch the video if you want to see some of the best knives I have used

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