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Japanese-style knives are a fascinating topic, and there seems to be a knife that is purpose-designed for every task in the household, which brings us to the honesuki and the hankotsu knives. Both these knife styles are for processing meat, so what are the differences between the honesuki and the hankotsu knives?
The honesuki is a triangular-shaped knife with a straight edge that is designed for the boning and processing of poultry carcasses. The hankotsu is a stout, robust knife that is intended to be used with a reverse grip to separate meat from bone on a hanging carcass. It has a slightly curved blade.
Even both the honesuki and the hankotsu are meat processing knives for the kitchen. But they are for processing different types of meat, and each has characteristics that improve their ability for the type of meat they are made to process. If we examine the differences between the knives, we will see how they are uniquely designed for their purpose.
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Honesuki vs. Hankotsu
Meat processing in the kitchen generally requires knives that have certain features that make them good for this kind of work.
The main types of meat that are processed in the kitchen are poultry and beef. The knife requirements for each of these types of meat processing tasks resulted in the development of these Japanese knives that are purpose-built for the task.
Before we get into comparing the features and design aspects of these knives, let’s take a look at the origins of both knives to get a little insight regarding their evolution for the tasks they are intended for.
However, as with most knives, there is some cross-over in their application, which does offer some versatility to the purpose of each knife.
Origins Of The Honesuki Knife
The Honesuki knife is a very distinctive-looking knife. The name honesuki, when literally translated, means “bone knife.”
The blade of the knife has a triangular shape with a very sharp drop-point tip, sometimes called a clip-point. Like the hankotsu knife, the honesuki is also a boning knife, but the meat it is intended to be used on is poultry.
The design of the tip gives it strength for when it is forced into joints to make accurate cuts in these tight spaces.
The tip also allows for the easy piercing of poultry skin, which can sometimes be quite difficult to penetrate with knives that have different tip designs.
The honesuki is a light, thin knife but has enough material in the blade to be able to hold the edge and retain its sharpness for a long time.
However, the blade on this knife is not tough enough to be used to cut through bone. Even though the knife is light, the blade is not flexible, as is common with western-style boning knives.
A honesuki should, therefore, not be used to split a poultry carcass in half but rather to separate the wings, legs, thighs and separate the breasts from the breastbone. If you want to split the poultry carcass, you should rather use a cleaver.
The lightness of the knife and the sharp pointed tip make this knife very nimble and easy to change direction in mid-cut or within a joint of the carcass being processed.
The light, relatively thin blade of the knife allows for some versatility, and thus, the knife is also often used to fillet fish and slice smaller cuts of red meat as well.
If you are interested in buying a high-quality Honesuki knife we recommend checking out this knife made by the Torijo company (Amazon link).
Origins Of The Hankotsu Knife
The hankotsu was developed as a meat processing knife and was traditionally used to work on hanging carcasses. The purpose was to break down a large carcass into smaller, more manageable parts. The hankotsu is a short, stout knife that has a sharp pointed tip.
The knife is intended to be used to separate the meat from the bone, and the sharp point is able to slip into joints and cut the connective tissue holding the joint together.
This particular knife is designed to be used in a reverse grip, with the blade sticking beyond your hand by your pinkie finger.
The knife is stabbed into the carcass, and the meat is separated from the bone with a downward pulling action. This requires a short, stout knife so that the blade will not break should you accidentally strike bone when piercing the meat.
When using a knife in this way, there is the potential for your hand to slide down the handle and to cut your hand on the blade of the knife. This can be prevented by hooking your thumb over the end of the handle.
A design feature in these knives that is common as a safety feature to prevent this type of accident is that the first one-third of the blade at the heel of the blade is not sharpened.
This will prevent your hand from being cut if your hand does slide forward onto the blade when you stab the carcass.
The hankotsu is a sturdier blade than the honesuki, so it is not as nimble, but it is still capable of cutting fish and poultry, but it does not work as well in the role of filleting fish.
In the western kitchen, this knife is favored for boning out meat, especially for processing racks of ribs and preparing chops.
If you are interested in buying a high-quality Hankotsu knife we recommend checking out this knife made by the Misono company (Amazon link).
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The Differences Between Hankotsu And Honesuki
The most noticeable difference between these two knives is the shape of the blade, which makes the visual difference between these two knives quite marked.
|Blade length||5.7-inches to 6-inches. There is usually a very little variation in blade length because a shorter knife is better for boning a hanging carcass.||5.5-inches to 7-inches but the most common length is 6-inches|
|Blade shape||A relatively narrow blade that has a sharp-pointed tip.||A distinctively triangular-shaped blade with a sharp, pointed tip, often with a clip-point style.|
|Edge profile||The blade does not have much height at the heel of the blade. Gently curving blade toward the tip with a slight belly closer to the tip than the middle of the blade.|
The first third of the blade from the heel is often not sharpened to prevent getting cut if your hand slides over the blade.
|The blade has much more height at the heel of the knife. The cutting edge is generally straight, with no curve of the blade from the heel to the tip of the knife.|
The entire length of the honesuki blade is sharpened.
|Purpose||The hankotsu is traditionally used for processing hanging carcasses of meat and separating the meat from the bone.|
The knife is not intended to cut through bones but rather to cut along the bone to separate the meat from the bone.
The sharp tip allows for getting into tight places in joints to cut through connective tissue holding the joint together.
|The honesuki is traditionally used for the processing of poultry, separating the joints, and carving the bird, but not for splitting the carcass. |
The knife is not robust enough to split the carcass, and a cleaver should rather be used for this purpose.
It should also not be used to cut through large poultry bones.
|Other uses||A hankotsu can be used to cut meat, including poultry and fish, but is not suitable to fillet fish.|
This knife is not suitable for processing vegetables.
|A honesuki can be used to fillet fish and to cut up chunks of red meat. It is also sometimes used to cut vegetables.|
|Handle shape||The handle on the hankotsu is usually thicker to promote a better grip for the traditional stabbing action used to get the knife into the carcass being processed and the downward pulling action on the knife.||The honesuki can have a rounded handle or a traditional Japanese octagonal shape.|
Sometimes a western-style chef’s knife handle is put on this knife.
BTW: If you want to know more about Japanese and other types of knives and their sharpening check out the books listed above. These books are recommended by professional sharpeners and knife makers (Amazon links):
- Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes
- The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives
- Knife: The Culture, Craft, and Cult of the Cook’s Knife
- Sharp: The Definitive Introduction to Knives, Sharpening, and Cutting Techniques, with Recipes from Great Chefs
The honesuki and the hankotsu are both similar in that they are boning knives, but the type of meat they are intended to bone results in their characteristics being somewhat different.
The hankotsu blade is normally made from thicker steel than the honesuki, and it is generally not more than 6-inches in length. This makes it a robust, stout-looking knife that can handle being pushed deep into a hanging carcass.
The honesuki is a distinctly triangular-shaped knife that is made from thinner steel, making this knife light and agile for processing the relatively smaller poultry carcasses.
The honesuki has a little more elegance to the design of the knife, while the hankotsu looks more like a rough and ready kitchen tool.
Both knives have their place in the modern kitchen, and you should include them on your knife rack for essential knives to have in your kitchen!
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