Which is the best option for you?
Buying whole knife sets can sometimes be wasteful as you will end up splurging on large knife collections that you don’t really need. For the value-conscious professional chefs or home cooks looking for a knife versatile enough to handle a multiplicity of kitchen tasks, the choice is generally a clear one: the general-purpose Western chef’s knives or the Santoku knife. These remain some of the most reliable kitchen workhorses.
The Western Chef’s knives will usually be the traditional style French knives and the German knives. The Santoku knife is more of a Japanese take version of the multi-purpose kitchen knife.
The Santoku Knife
The Santoku is a rather interesting multi-purpose Japanese kitchen knife. Instead of a pointed tip or the ‘reverse tanto’ commonly found in Japanese and Western kitchen knives, it has the characteristic sheepsfoot tip or curved Kamagata that gives it a very distinctive shape. This tip might be less nimble than a pointed tip or reverse tanto tip but it doesn’t break easily.
The term Santoku itself means “three virtues” or “three-purpose” in Japanese, an allusion to the knife’s general-purpose use in cutting meat, fish and vegetables. It is one of the most recommended multi-purpose kitchen knives in most Japanese households. In fact, it is generally more popular in Japan than the Gyuto, which is the multi-purpose Japanese kitchen knife that is more generally accepted in the West. Still, the Santoku has found general acceptability in many Western kitchens and is now used as a common substitute for the Gyuto, particularly for the chefs looking for a multipurpose kitchen knife that gives them greater knuckle clearance.
The Santoku knife might have a similar size as the Gyuto or Petty knife but it is a taller knife and in practical cutting action, that translates to greater knuckle clearance for the knife hand when you are cutting your ingredients over a cutting or chopping board. The taller blade and the advantage of knuckle clearance that this gives you also provides sufficient space for the knuckles of your other hand to guide the Santoku blade when you are engaged in cutting actions such as tap chopping, pull cutting or push cutting. This results in precision cutting action.
On the other hand, you get this knuckle clearance at the expense of agility. You will get more agility with the narrower general-purpose kitchen knife such as the Gyuto.
The same trade-offs occur when it comes to the shape of the tip. The sheepsfoot shape of the Santoku gives you less agility than the pointed or reverse tanto tip shapes in the Western Chef’s knives and the Gyuto knives.
The French and German Style Chef’s Knives
The Chef’s knife is also known as a cook’s knife. Depending on its provenance, it can also be referred to as a French Knife or German Chef’s knife.
These are the ultimate kitchen workhorses. Large and with a slight curve in the belly, they are utilitarian knives that are found in kitchens throughout the world and are used for different tasks in the kitchen ranging from cutting meat, fish and vegetables to chopping fruits. These efficient multi-purpose kitchen knives are used by both home cooks and professional chefs for quick and efficient preparation of meals.
There exist some small regional differences between the French and German Chef’s knives. The German knives tend to be thicker and heavier and the curve on the belly begins toward the midsection of the blade. The French knives, on the other hand, will be slightly thinner and lighter with curve on the blade starting towards the tips of the knives.
The curved edge of both the French and German knives make them amenable for use in a rocking motion against the cutting board.
Like their general-purpose Santoku counterparts, the French and German style knives are a versatile addition to any Australian kitchen but what are some of the similarities and differences between these two knives and knife-making traditions as manifested in the Santoku kitchen knife and in the Western style Chef’s knives? Let us have a look.
Similarities Between Santoku Knives and Chef's Knives
Both Santoku and Chef's knives are versatile multi-purpose or general-purpose kitchen knives that you can put into a variety of cutting tasks for different kinds of produce including meat, fish and vegetables.
You can use them with various cutting actions including slicing, chopping, mincing or dicing. Thanks to this versatility, they are some of the most commonly used knives in both home and professional kitchens.
Differences Between Santoku and Western Chef's Knife
In general, Japanese knives tend to be a product of fine craftsmanship. They are thinner, flatter and sharper than their Western counterparts. They are also available in a number of distinctive blade shapes and lighter handles.
When it comes to the Santoku vs the Chef's knife, the Santoku knife will work best when you need to do some precision cutting and make some very thin cuts. You won’t realize a similar level of precision with the chef’s knife, be it a German or French-style chef’s knife.
When using the Santoku knife, you will need a different technique when working the knife in a forward and backward motion. However, the standard Chef’s knife has a slight curve of the blade and can thus be used in a rocking back and forth motion.
Differences in Style and Performance Between the Santoku and the Chef's Knife
Style and aspect are some of the key factors that chefs look for in a kitchen knife. Style has to do with the shape and profile of the knife’s blade while the performance has to do with the efficiency and ease of use. A knife that is easy to wield, nimble, well-balanced and sharp should give you excellent performance.
Like many Japanese kitchen knives, some Santoku knives are single-bevel. This is usually the preferred way in the Japanese knife-making tradition and gives the chef more control over the direction of cutting.
However, with the Japanese knives growing in popularity across the world, most Santoku knives now draw from the Western and Japanese knifemaking traditions. They will retain the original Santoku shape with curved blades and flat cutting edges but the knives will be double-bevel and can thus be sharpened on either side. Double-bevel knives are easier to sharpen and maintain.
Santoku knives lend themselves easily to precision cutting work in the kitchen by virtue of their thin, lighter and narrower blades. A chef working with the Santoku knife is, therefore, able to make thinner cuts on the produce as the design and profile of the knife doesn’t push too much food away. The blade of the knife glides smoothly through every cut.
In terms of the cutting action, the Santoku knives are thrust in a forward and backward cutting technique.
The Western Chef’s knives, on the other hand, have a straight edge with slight curve towards the midsection or tip of the belly and are thus used to cut in a rocking motion which results in thicker slices. Due to the thickness and the cutting technique, the Western chef’s knife gives a longer cut compared to the nimbler Santoku blades.
The Santoku knives might have performance advantage of the French and German style chef’s knives due to the nimbleness, thinness and sharpness of the typical Japanese kitchen knife but the two Western chef’s knives are more robust and can therefore be used to carve fish, meats or vegetables.
The Santoku knives have a thin and flexible blade with their signature sheepsfoot or Kamagata curve tip and won’t perform well in tasks such as deboning meat.
The Santoku knives are also made from a harder steel material than the typical French and German style Chef’s knives and is therefore more susceptible to chipping.
For the same reason, the Santoku won’t be ideal for tasks such as cutting through tougher vegetables like turnips and butternut squash. The more robust Western Chef’s knives are great all-rounders that will handle every food preparation task imaginable.
Blade Length Comparisons
The Chef’s knives are longer than the Santoku knives. The shorter Santoku knives are undoubtedly nimbler and easier to control and will be easier to wield even for inexperienced chefs. Typical blade lengths for Santoku knives range from 165mm to 180mm. On the other hand, the Western Chef's knives can have lengths ranging from 200mm to 350mm.
Blade Material Comparisons
Like many other Japanese kitchen knives, Santoku knives are usually made from strong high carbon steel. The thinner but harder steel used in the Santoku knives enables chefs to perform precision cutting.
The Western chef knives are typically made from soft but tougher steel and they have thick blades. Because of the soft steel material used, these knives often need to be sharpened more regularly. The softness of the steel also makes these knives less susceptible to chipping. Because of the toughness of the material, these blades will also have a heavy feel.
Handle type can differ markedly depending on preferences, the particular forger and the provenance of the knife. We usually have western style knife handles and Japanese style handles.
Besides, there are differences in the handle design depending on the origin of the knife. The German and French style Chef’s knives usually have a bolster that prevents the chef’s hands from slipping down to the blade and also enables you to wield the knife with a firmer grip.
Japanese knife handles are generally more unique and depending on the knife type can assume a chestnut, ellipse or octagonal shape. The knife handle can significantly contribute to the cost of the knife depending on the material it is carved from.
Both Western and Santoku knives have a full tang that gives you great stability when wielding the knife.
Here is a summary of the features of both kitchen knives: -
The Santoku Knife
- Originates from Japan
- Has a wide sheepsfoot blade and doesn’t have a tip
- The blade is thinner than that of a Chef’s knife and lends itself easily to refined slicing uses
- Santoku knives can be single or double-beveled
- The handle does not usually have a bolster
- They are lightweight hence lighter to hold and wield
- The weight is balanced
- They are shorter with lengths varying from 165mm to 180mm
- They originate from France or Germany
- The blade is broader with an upward curve to form the tip
- They have a thicker spine which makes them heavier
- Only available as double-bevel
- They are designed with a bolster
- They are heavier than the Santoku knives
- They are also available in serrated varieties
- They are longer than the Santoku knives with blade lengths ranging from 200mm to 350mm
Best Uses for a Santoku Knife
The Santoku knife, like the Chef’s knife, is a multi-purpose kitchen knife and can be put into a multiplicity of tasks in the kitchen. These include the following: -
- Use to cut meat
- To slice cheese
- To slice, chop or dice fruits, nuts and vegetables
- To scoop cut/diced/chopped food from the cutting board thanks to their wider blades
- To make very fine slices of vegetables or seafood thanks to their thin blades
- Mincing herbs
Best Uses for a Chef's Knife
- This is a heavier general-purpose kitchen knife that you can use to cut, slice or disjoint your meat
- Can slice cheese
- Use to slice, chop or dice your fruits, nuts and vegetables
When shopping for a multi-purpose kitchen knife, you should ultimately choose a kitchen knife that will best work for your cookery style. The Western Chef's knife is more robust than the Santoku knife so it will be an ideal choice if you will be doing some heavy-duty cutting, chopping, dicing or slicing for your fish, fruits, meat and vegetables.
The Chef's knife is generally ideal if you are looking for a robust all-rounder for your kitchen. The Chef’s knife is so robust that you can even use it to carve your meat or cut through small bones, something the Santoku knife isn’t suited for.
The Santoku knife gives you nimbler handling and its thin profile makes it ideal for making very thin and fine slices of your produce or ingredients.
With its shorter length, the Santoku gives you easier handling compared to the Chef’s knife and is therefore perfect for users with smaller hands.
Both knives will work for you if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing different kinds of foods.