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Usuba Knife: A Vegetable Cleaver For Precise Cuts

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When cutting, chopping, slicing, and dicing vegetables with utmost precision, the Usuba knife is the best knife for the job.

A Japanese usuba knife is a vegetable knife used in the kitchen. It’s single-beveled, meaning that only one side of the blade is sharpened. An Usuba knife looks similar to a cleaver and has a thin, sharp blade and a blunt end used to chop vegetables. 

This guide goes over what the Usuba knife is, how it’s used, and what makes it so special.

Usuba knife vegetable cleaver

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What is an usuba square knife?

The Usuba bōchō knife, or kamagata usuba, is a Japanese vegetable knife used by chefs and professionals.

It is a tall knife with a thin, long, square-shaped flat blade called Tsura and a flat edge which makes it perfect for chopping veggies on a cutting board.

A usuba knife is part of a series of old-style traditional Japanese kitchen knives. It’s a single-bevel blade, meaning that only one side of the blade is sharpened. 

It’s used for cutting vegetables and is one of the most important tools in a Japanese kitchen.

It’s usually made of high-carbon steel and is usually between 180-210mm in length.

The Usuaba is a single bevel blade, sharpened from one side only in kataba style.

It’s a specialty knife designed for commercial kitchens and chefs, so it’s usually more expensive than other vegetable knives.

You can expect a heftier price tag, but don’t worry, this type of knife can last a lifetime.

Also, you need someone skilled at sharpening knives in order to sharpen this knife correctly.

The Damascus hammered Yoshihiro usuba knife is beautifully crafted, razor-sharp straight out of the box and comes with a perfectly fitting wooden saya (knife sheath).

Yoshihiro NSW 46 Layers Hammered Damascus Usuba Vegetable Chef knife 6.3 IN (160mm) Shitan Rosewood Handle with Saya Cover

(view more images)

If you are looking for a more budget-friendly usuba knife, check out my full review of the best usuba knives available

An usuba knife is a thin-blade tool, and the point of it is to make it easy to cut any type of vegetable without crushing or cracking it.

Just a heads up, not all usuba knives look exactly the same, and some modern versions can seem a bit different, but they serve the same purpose.

Usuba knives are designed for precise, thin cuts.

They’re great for making thin slices of vegetables and can also be used to make intricate cuts, such as julienne or matchstick cuts.

The thin blade of the usuba makes it ideal for cutting vegetables without crushing them.

In contrast, a similar vegetable knife called Nakiri is used for cutting big volumes of vegetables quickly and is double-edged, so it’s not as precise.

Usuba knives are usually used with a chopping board, as the thin blade can easily be damaged if used on a hard surface.

It’s important to use a sharpening stone regularly to keep the blade in good condition.

Usuba knives are usually used by professional chefs, but they’re also becoming increasingly popular with home cooks.

They’re a great tool for anyone who wants to make precise, thin cuts of vegetables.

They’re also a great way to add a bit of flair to your cooking.

Check out this video which shows you how to cut using the usuba knife:

What is an Usuba knife used for?

The Usuba knife is used mainly for cutting up vegetables. This includes slicing, dicing, and mincing.

Japanese food is usually eaten with chopsticks, so the vegetables must be in small, bite-sized pieces.

This is achieved with a specialty usuba or nakiri knife, both veggie chopping knives.

Since the knife has a straight edge, single bevel blade, and flat blade profile, it is easy to cut with.

You get accurate push-cutting when you chop on the cutting board. But you can also use the knife for extremely fine and precise cuts.

Usually, the kamagata usuba is used to cut all types of vegetables for soups, stir-fries, salads, and basically any type of Japanese food.

But chefs also use it for fine and decorative cutting work because it gives the user a lot of precision.

Why is an Usuba knife important?

Usuba knives are incredibly important for a variety of reasons. 

First, they are incredibly sharp and precise, making them ideal for slicing and cutting vegetables. 

This makes them perfect for preparing sushi, as they can cut through the ingredients without crushing them. 

Second, they are incredibly durable and can last for many years with proper care. This makes them a great investment for anyone who wants to invest in a quality kitchen tool. 

Third, they are incredibly versatile and can be used for a variety of tasks.

For example, they can be used to cut meat, fish, and vegetables, as well as for chopping, slicing, and dicing. 

Finally, they are incredibly easy to use and maintain, making them a great choice for professional and amateur chefs.

In short, usuba knives are incredibly important for anyone who wants to prepare food with precision and accuracy.

They are sharp, durable, versatile, and easy to use, making them a great choice for any kitchen.

What is the history of the Usuba knife?

The usuba knife has a long and storied history. It was first invented in Japan in the Edo period. 

Two variants of this vegetable knife were developed around the same time because people were mostly eating vegetables and needed good cutting knives. 

The Kansai Usuba and the Kanto-Usuba are the two types of the knife. 

The Kansai-Usuba, sometimes called the Kamagata-Usuba, has a spine that descends to its pointed tip and is a native of the Kansai (Osaka) region, where the imperial court was once located.

This Usuba is renowned for performing precise, delicate vegetable chops. The knife was used when making decorative cuts.

The Kanto-Usuba often referred to as the Edo-Usuba, comes from the Kanto district of Tokyo and has a blunt square tip that gives it the appearance of a small meat cleaver.

Due to their incredibly sharp chiseled edges, both variations are perfectly suited to cleanly slice through vegetables, especially those with thick roots.

Over the years, the design of the usuba knife has evolved. It has become thinner and lighter, allowing for more precise cuts. 

The blade is also now made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel and carbon steel.

This has allowed for a greater range of uses, such as slicing fish, cutting vegetables, and even carving wood.

What is the difference between a Nakiri and an Usuba?

Well, both the Usuba bocho and Nakiri bocho are very similar vegetable-cutting knives.

But, what are the main differences between the two?

First, Usuba knives have a single-beveled edge, meaning the blade is only sharpened on one side, while nakiri knives have a double-beveled edge, meaning both sides of the blade are sharpened.

Next, these knives have different uses: the Nakiri knife is mostly used in the household, whereas the Usuba is commonly used in restaurants.

The reason is that the Nakiri is easier to use by people of all skill levels and both left and right-handed users. 

Check out this delicious & healthy Japanese Hibachi Vegetable Recipe for example

A usuba knife is best suited for right-handed users since it’s only sharpened on one side and requires knowledge of Japanese knife skills. 

Not surprisingly, the Usuba is one of the top three knives in a commercial Japanese kitchen, and it’s not surprising since so much Japanese cuisine is made with tasty vegetables.

Usuba knives are typically longer than nakiri knives, with usuba knives ranging from 180mm to 270mm and nakiri knives ranging from 165mm to 210mm. 

Usuba knives are usually used to cut vegetables, while nakiri knives are used for both vegetables and fruits.

Usuba knives are also more specialized, as they are used for more intricate cuts, such as julienne and brunoise.

Usuba vs Santoku

Sometimes usuba knives are confused with santoku knives but there are many differences between the two.

Usuba knives are typically longer than santoku knives, with usuba knives ranging from 180mm to 270mm and santoku knives ranging from 165mm to 210mm. 

Usuba knives have a single-beveled edge, meaning the blade is only sharpened on one side, while many modern santoku knives have a double-beveled edge, meaning both sides of the blade are sharpened. 

Another design feature to note is that the Santoku doesn’t have a rectangular cleaver-like shape like the Usuba knife.

It has a traditional curved shape and flat cutting edge.

Usuba knives are usually used to cut vegetables, while santoku knives are used for both vegetables and meats.

Usuba knives are also more specialized, as they are used for more intricate cuts, such as julienne and brunoise.

In contrast, the Santoku is more of a general-purpose knife, similar to the Gyuto (chef’s knife). It is not only used to cut veggies.

Usuba knife vs Cleaver

The traditional cleaver knife and Usuba knife are NOT the same thing even though some people mistake one for the other.

A cleaver is a type of knife that is used for cutting through tough materials such as bones and meat. It has a single-edged blade with a flat edge and a pointed tip.

The blade is usually made of stainless steel or carbon steel and is usually between 8 and 10 inches long.

The blade is sharpened on both sides, which allows for more precise cuts. Cleavers are great for chopping through tough materials.

In contrast, the Usuba knife has less of a traditional cleaver shape and is smaller. It is mainly used to chop and cut vegetables.

Learn exactly how to sharpen a Japanese knife using a whetstone here

How do I use a Japanese usuba knife?

Using the usuba is similar to using a meat cleaver, but it’s more delicate and used for intricate cutting work.

Thus, if you can hold a meat knife, you can easily switch to the usuba knife.

The thing is, you need to make sure you have either the left-handed or the right-handed knife to ensure you can use it safely.

The knife has a medium-sized blade, but it’s very wide and tall.

This gives you good knuckle clearance, and it’s safer to use than some other knives because there is less chance of cutting yourself.

The blade shape and thinness help you tackle larger surfaces of food. But, make sure that almost all of the edge is touching the cutting surface.

How to cut with a Japanese usuba knife

You cut as you would with push-cut with a chef’s knife.

Push-cutting means that you push the blade forward, but you avoid oval motions, or the sharp tip can get stuck in the board.

So, the edge has to move forward a bit, but the edge must remain parallel to the board.

FAQs

Can an usuba knife cut meat?

Yes, the kamagata usuba can cut through meat because it’s similar to a smaller meat cleaver.

However, it’s not really recommended that you use the knife for any other foods besides vegetables and fruits.

Maybe for chicken, it’s fine, but don’t use the usuba for large meat cuts and bones.

The thing is that the blade is thin and prone to breaking, so reserve it for vegetables only.

For cutting through meat and bone, try the best Honesuki Japanese boning knife

How do you sharpen the kamagata usuba knife?

The usuba knife is harder to sharpen. It’s best done by an experienced person with a sharpening stone.

Although, if you have to, you can use a modern sharpener.

Skilled sharpening is necessary because the knives have to be sharpened at an angle between 15-18 degrees for each side if you want them to be properly sharpened and easy to use.

Get the angle right by using a sharpening jig with your whetstone

A dull knife is dangerous to use and can cause injury as you struggle to cut through a hard sweet potato, for example.

What are popular Usuba knife brands?

  • Yoshihiro
  • Sakai
  • Shun
  • Mercer Culinary
  • Dalstrong
  • Masamoto
  • Global
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Tojiro

What is the best handle for an Usuba knife?

A traditional Japanese style handle is the best for an usuba knife because it allows for a precise and ergonomic grip on the handle.

The three best handles are: D-shaped, octagonal, and round. Also, an authentic Usuba will have a wood handle, usually made of magnolia wood.

But a G-10 or composite handle is an excellent choice too because it’s slip proof and long-lasting.

If you don’t like the feel of Japanese handles, some brands like Dalstrong have Western-style handles which are easy to hold and maneuver.

What steel is Usuba knife made of?

When purchasing a Usuba knife, you often have the choice between carbon steel and stainless steel.

Carbon steel is the most popular type of steel used for Japanese knives these days. It’s made by incorporating carbon into steel produced from iron ore.

Carbon steel blades are simpler to sharpen and maintain their edge for a longer period of time compared to stainless steel blades.

However, because carbon steel blades are susceptible to rust and stains, they need routine maintenance and lubrication.

A carbon-steel knife will eventually develop a dark patina, and if the blade is not properly dried, cleaned, and oiled after use, it could rust or corrode.

Blue Steel (Aogami) and White Steel (Shirogami) are common choices.

The same processes used to create carbon steel are also used to create stainless steel, with the addition of chrome to stop corrosion.

Compared to carbon steel, stainless steel blades are often more durable, less likely to chip, affordable, and corrosion-resistant.

However, stainless steel blades often have a harder time maintaining their sharp edge than carbon steel blades and are more difficult to sharpen.

VG-10 and AUS-10 are sometimes used to manufacture Usuba knives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, usuba is a traditional Japanese knife used for cutting vegetables. It has a single-edged blade and is usually made of harder steel than other knives.

Usuba knives are great for precise and delicate cutting and are a must-have for any serious chef.

If you’re looking to add a unique, traditional knife to your kitchen, an usuba is definitely worth considering!

The best part about the Usuba knife is that it can be used for complex decorative cutting and vegetable carving so it’s very handy, especially for vegetarians and vegans or professional chefs.

Read next: these are the best vegetables for tempura (recipe, uses & serving suggestions)

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.