Beloved by Japanese home cooks, these traditional vegetable-cutting knives deserve a place in your kitchen.
Published Apr. 15, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 23: Hearty Soup and Salad
The nakiri bōchō, or nakiri, was traditionally one of the most important knives found in Japanese home kitchens. Translated roughly, nakiri bōchō means “leaf-cutting knife”; it’s meant for slicing, dicing, and chopping vegetables, which form the backbone of Japanese cuisine. It has a rectangular blade with a relatively straight edge and a blunted tip. The edge allows you to maximize contact with the cutting board, so you can chop large bunches of leeks or carrots more efficiently. As the blade is fairly straight, you cut in a more-or-less up-and-down motion instead of rocking the blade from tip to heel, as you would with a Western knife. Relatively tall from cutting edge to spine, the blade is also great for keeping large foods or piles of greens in line as you work your way through them, allowing you to make perfectly straight, even cuts. It’s also good for scooping up the cut food when you’re done with it.
Because of its rectangular blade, the nakiri is often incorrectly labeled as a vegetable cleaver in Western markets (and in one of our previous reviews). The term “cleaver” is misleading, as it implies that this knife can be used for what we might call abuse tasks, such as hacking through chicken wings or chopping tough squash or pumpkin. It can’t! Like all Japanese knives, the nakiri is typically made of very thin, very hard, and fairly brittle metal; it should not be used to hack, twist, or force its way through tough or hard food, or it will chip.
We wanted to know which nakiri was best for home cooks, so we bought 12 models, priced from about $48 to about $255. We focused on nakiri with blades ranging from 6 to 7 inches in length—the most common size—and included both stainless-steel and carbon-steel models, using each to dice onions, mince parsley, julienne peppers, chop greens, brunoise (very finely dice) carrots, slice cabbage, slice delicata squash, and slice partially frozen steaks.
Most of the models were sheer pleasure to use. They dispatched vegetables small and large with aplomb, making quick work of produce prep. But a few design factors separated the models we liked from those we didn’t. While blades closer to the 6-inch end of the spectrum provided a little more control and precision when dicing onions or making brunoise, we ultimately preferred knives that were a touch longer, as they gave us more command over a greater range of vegetables, allowing us to slice wide swaths of greens or big peppers in a single stroke.
We also liked blades that were relatively tall from cutting edge to spine, as they made it easier to corral heaps of parsley and slice tall cabbages clea...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.