Which is Better: Japanese or German Steel?

Which Steel Is Better?

When choosing a chef knife, many different factors can come into play during the selection process. Durability, hardness of the steel, sharpness of the edge and the overall ability to hold a sharp edge over time are just a few functions chefs tend to consider. Most chef knives worth considering are either Japanese made steel or German made steel. Some would argue the difference in the two is dependent on the actually functionality or usage of the knife, which is true to an extent.

However, chef knives can be very costly, especially when buying the higher end models. This brings up the million-dollar question, "Which chef knife is better, Japanese made steel or German made steel?"

What is the Difference Between The Two?

Steel is a metal created from iron and carbon. Steel knives made with a higher carbon content tend to be much harder. Traditionally, Japanese made steel Knives have a higher carbon content than the German made Steel knives. This allows Japanese made steel knives to be thinner and have sharper edges. However, with a lower carbon content, German made steel knives are softer, making them more durable as well as allowing them to hold a sharp edge longer without sharpening. Basically, German made steel knives are made to be the workhorse of the kitchen. They are used in commercial kitchens where they cut through bone, hard vegetables and ice.

And The Winner Is...

At this point you might be telling yourself German made steel knives are a much better choice due to their ability to take a beating in the kitchen. A common misconception due to the fact most chefs choose not to go with the German made steel knives. The main reason being, precision. The ability to make precise and exact cuts without tearing or ripping the product are vital to a chef and his finished product. Japanese made steel knives are able to make these cuts due to the sharpness of their edges and straight lined featured blades.

Japanese made steel knives are designed to be more lightweight due to the blade tapering off in the handle as opposed to the full tang construction of German made steel knives. This enables the knife to be more front end weighted allowing for more controlled movements. The edge of the Japanese blade is a clean 15 degrees meaning a sharper edge, while the German blades tend to be thicker.

There is a Special Steel You May Not Have Heard Of

Taking everything into consideration thus far, a frequent question arises. "How do I get the best of both worlds in a knife?" The answer, VG-10 Steel. VG-10 steel is a high carbon stainless steel that is composed of 1% Carbon, 1% Vanadium, 16% Chromium, 2% Molybdenum, 2% Cobalt and 1% Manganese. VG-10 Stainless steel is used for a variety of knives ranging from pocket knives to swords. However, chef knives consisting of VG-10 stainless steel are predominately made only in Japan. The "G" in the name stands for "Gold" referring to the "Gold Standard of knife quality". These extra components give the stainless steel the ability to hone the exceptional qualities of the German made steel knives as well as the Japanese made steel knives.

VG-10 Can Take A Beating

With the VG-10 stainless steel used to construct a chef knife, the qualities of the knife are raised substantially. The VG-10 stainless steel knife holds an edge significantly better than any other chef knife on the market. Even if the blade does need sharpening, the blade will not need much effort put into sharpening to bring back the edge. The knife's ability to withstand rust is outstanding. Chefs and collectors have deliberately tried compromise the steel's retention to rust but have been unsuccessful in doing so. The durability of the knife has also increased. What might have been a much more brittle blade due to the thinness of the steel, VG-10's unusual properties have reinforced a much sturdier product. A VG-10 stainless steel knife can be used to chop and cut through bone whereas the Japanese made steel knives lacks the ability to do so. VG-10 stainless steel knives also have the incredible ability to have designs carved or etched into the steel blade during the temperament processes. Many popular designs have a look of the highly coveted Damascus blade where the metal is folded several times to create a wave-like design within the blade.

As an experienced chef, I have used and owned dozens of varying styles of chef knives as well as different steel composite makeups. The Japanese VG-10 stainless steel chef knives I used have always lived up to the hype. The actually retention of the blade's durability and resistance to rust, wear and tear have all withstood the test of time. You will definitely get more bang for your buck splurging on a VG-10 Stainless steel Japanese chef knife. They are not terribly expensive like most other chef knives can be as well. The average cost of a VG-10 stainless steel chef knife will be somewhere in the ballpark of $175.

For Most Households, You Need Only One Knife

If you are serious about buying a chef knife and have had experience with several chef knives in the past, then this decision is a no brainer. German made steel knives and Japanese made steel knives both have their perks and their setbacks. But the VG-10 Stainless steel Japanese chef knives win the battle in which knife is better by combining the best of both worlds to give you that "edge" to set you apart from all the rest.