What is a Santoku Knife?
A Santoku knife is a multipurpose knife that combines the power of a cleaver and the versatility of a chef’s knife. It is an ultrathin knife that is as perfect as nakiri knife when it comes to slicing vegetables, meat and other food into really thin slices. It is a knife created to be used in various ways. The santoku knife is also considered as the Japanese chef’s knife.
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Where Did the Santoku Knife Originate?
Based on the name itself, the Santoku knife originates from Japan which is popularly known as the santoku bocho or bunka bocho which is a general purpose knife. The name literally translates to ‘three virtues’ which refers to the knife’s triple threat ability: chopping, dicing, and mincing. This is the only Japanese knife that is (like Western knives) sharpened on both sides. Most Japanese knives are single-edged or sharpened only on one side.
What is the Difference Between a Chef’s knife and a Santoku knife?
Though they may look similar, there are clear and numerous distinctions between the two. One such example is in terms of purpose, the chef’s knife is used in a rocking motion for easier mincing and dicing. The Santoku knife, on the other hand, is used in a slicing motion. In this regard, the Santoku knife is preferred by most chefs because rocking a chef’s knife back and forth doesn’t guarantee equal chopped pieces.
Here is a table that will show other differences between the two knives.
Sheepsfoot blade end
Broad with serrated varieties
Thin with Granton edges
6” to 12” long (some 14”)
5” to 8” long
Heavier and thicker double-sided edges
Often chiseled and very thin
Rocking back and forth
Single downward cut
Main cutting purpose
Cutting, chopping, mincing and dicing
Precision slicing, mincing and dicing
The chef’s knife is obviously larger in comparison. However, one should note that there is also a difference in a Japanese forged Santoku knife than a western Santoku version. The Japanese santoku knife has a chiseled edge while the western santoku knife has a double-sided grind. Some western santoku knives also incorporate the chiseled edge but to make the knife twice as efficient, they prefer using a double-sided grind.
With these differences though, the Chef’s knife and the santoku knife are the most versatile knives often used by home cooks and professional chefs. These knives are perfect for multipurpose slicing needs like mincing, dicing, slicing, and chopping. They are preferably made using steel for durability and versatility.
When it comes to picking out which is better, it will still depend on the chef, the cook or the one using the knife. In as much as both knives are great, the main purpose of the knife and its efficacy mostly depends on the one using it. I prefer using a santoku knife.
Why Do You Need a Santoku Knife?
There are many reasons why the santoku knife is worth it. Here are just some reasons:
Sheepsfoot blade end
Unlike a chef’s knife that has a sharpened tip, the santoku knife curves downward meeting the straight edge of the blade. With this feature, the knife also doubles as a small cleaver which is good for cutting meat.
Smaller and more manageable knife
Not everyone can handle a chef’s knife efficiently. Cooks with smaller hands may find it difficult to cut with since slicing with the use of a chef’s knife can strain the wrist and the fingers especially in long and heavy usage. The santoku knife is the perfect alternative. It has the same cutting quality of a chef’s knife, with a high cutting precision of a great paring knife which provides ease in handling delicate food.
Thinner harder blade
Though the santoku uses a thinner blade, the steel is much harder compared to a chef’s knife. The thinner blade allows you to cut fine, thin slices of meat, cheese, and other foods which makes it on par with the best carving knives. The Granton edges have small air pockets that prevent the thin slices of meat from sticking to the blade. The santoku knife can be a sushi master’s best friend.
A wide range of use
Aside from the three virtues of the Santoku knife, it can also be used in other non-conventional methods. Japanese chefs not only use this knife to slice sushi but it is also very effective in skinning fish. The santoku knife is very thin and can easily slide the skin off like a boning knife without damaging tender meat like fish.
Other santoku knives are modified to have a hybrid tip (mix of the sheepsfoot and the sharpened end) so that it can execute other purposes like digging into joints and separating meat parts. The Santoku knives are created to be harder and denser knives making it a sturdy knife to slice through tendons and cartilage.
Carrying out precise cuts are generally easier and more flawless using the santoku knife. Rocking a knife back and forth is not a good method if you wish to make accurate cuts of food. Cuts like the batonnet, the bias cut, chiffonade, and more need careful attention in slicing. The specific single downward slice allows you to be more precise in cutting and it is an easier technique to master. With the santoku knife, execution is simpler due to its lightweight and effortless maneuverability.
Choosing the Best Santoku Knife: What Qualities to Look For?
The untrained eye may find the santoku knife just a typical knife but to a professional, finding a good santoku knife with the right features is everything. Here is a list of qualities to look for in picking out the best santoku knife for your kitchen.
It’s definitely not worth getting a santoku knife that is heavy on the fingers. Santoku knives are well known for their lighter weight. And that’s just how I prefer it - light and well-balanced.
To test if the knife is well-balanced, simply place the knife at the meeting point between the handle and the blade on the tip of your index finger.
- If the knife tips off to one side, it means that it is badly balanced. This means that you need to apply more pressure and care in handling the knife.
- If the knife is slightly tipping to the blade of the knife, it would mean that the blade is heavier and that you would end up with a sore wrist after long usage.
- If the knife tips toward the handle, this means that the knife has horrible quality and that you may end up buying a new one soon after some time.
- If the knife is at an equal level, then it is in perfect balance.
Though it is not required for every santoku knife to have Grantons or air pockets, this is a feature that makes this knife twice as impressive. Not all santoku knives have the granton edge, some use the Damascus look but still have grooves on the sides of the knife that work like air pockets. In choosing a great santoku knife, having more grooves or air pockets closer to each other is better than a knife with grooves that are far apart.
The distance between these grooves can tell you the efficacy of the knife. No matter how sharp the santoku knife is but if thin slices of meat or strips of vegetables get stuck at the side of the knife, then it affects the speed of your cutting. Air pockets that are closer to each other should be one of the main details you should be after.
If you are looking for a great santoku knife, it is best to look for one with a leveled edge. This allows you to slice food equally and it will also aid you in making precise cuts especially when slicing food at a certain angle.
Comfort and Ease of Use
One of the most comfortable knives to use is the santoku knife making it a chef’s favorite (even mine). The handle of a santoku knife is in level with the spine of the blade to add more knuckle room for better slicing comfort.
You can easily tell if a knife has a bad quality based on the finish itself. A horrible finish would directly translate to bad quality. And overall, poor knife performance.
Handle and Control
You don't want your knife controlling you while you slice. A great santoku knife offers superb responsiveness which makes it easy for anyone to handle and use.
To check the responsiveness of a knife, tap the wide side of the blade on a hard surface like your table or the countertop.
- If the blade has a dull vibration, it means that the knife becomes difficult to manage if you are slicing a lot of food. This is why I would recommend you getting a knife set that has a variety of kitchen knives to support different slicing tasks.
- If there is no vibration at all, it will translate to the knife being burdensome in slicing food properly and that you will struggle to balance the knife in your hands.
- If there is a smooth vibration, this means that your knife is responsive and that is is easier for you to move it around and control.
Best Santoku Knife For The Money
How many santoku knives out there claim that they have the best quality knife you can get your hands on? To save you from the agony of going through endless numbers of santoku knives online, I’ve chosen the five best santoku knives available online.
Best Santoku Knife for Value: Mercer Culinary Genesis
When it comes to multipurpose usage, there is nothing that can beat the Mercer Culinary Genesis Santoku Knife. The Mercer’s Genesis line is made of superb quality knives that will surely make every bit of your slicing needs easy.
Mercer’s Genesis Knife Collection is made with gold-standard German steel. What makes this even more special is that the blade is forged building a stronger, more efficient blade. This high-carbon stainless steel is made with bog iron that can withstand heavy use and pressure.
The blade has wonderful edge retention. With German steel, it is made more flexible and durable. You will love that it is not just resistant to rust and corrosion, it also doesn’t need to be sharpened often.
The blade features a granton edge with larger air pockets promoting great air flow. These pockets let you smoothly glide your knife and swiftly cut through fine pieces of food, making the knife good for precision cutting especially when it comes to sticky food like cheese.
The Mercer Genesis has a Santoprene handle which is a strong rubberized plastic that is highly recyclable making this not just a great kitchen tool but an eco-friendly choice for your kitchen. You will come to find that the handle offers great support because of its ergonomic design. The handle would fit most hand sizes especially with its contour fitting between the palm and fingers.
The knife is very light, indeed. It is easy to maneuver especially in slicing meat and is also very delicate when used for mincing since the knife is superbly well-balanced. With a handle that offers a tight grip and its blade being perfectly sharpened right off the box, this is a knife that is ready to be used and abused.
This is a wonderful brand of santoku knives. What I love about it most is that it is very light and it has incredible edge retention. Most santoku knives are thin and hard but because of this hardness, the edges might need frequent sharpening which is not the case with the Mercer Genesis. It can still retain the sharpness of its edge even after prolonged use. With wonderful quality, you will be glad to know that the knife is inexpensive as compared to most Santoku knives in the market.
Best Santoku Knife for Safety: Zyliss Control
Though the santoku knife is relatively smaller than a chef’s knife, cooks with smaller hands may still find it chunky. In as much as we love using large knives such as butcher knives in our kitchen since it is more versatile in various cutting needs, a smaller knife is also needed for small scale usage (and, of course, smaller hands).
You won’t find any other knife that packs more punch than this mini santoku knife. Created with the full feature of a santoku knife, this knife is forged with high-quality X50CrMoV15 German stainless steel. X50CrMoV15 is the code for the highest stainless steel standard for knives. The ‘X’ stands for stainless and that 50 stands for the metal containing 50% carbon. The 15 stands for it containing 15% Chrome. With this, you are assured of the strength, durability, and high resistance to rust and corrosion.
Even with just a 5” blade, the Zyliss mini is carefully crafted into a versatile knife. The sheepsfoot tip is connected to a slightly curved edge to provide the knife with an extra purpose. The curve allows the knife to be used in mincing food in a rocking motion incorporating the unique ability of a chef’s knife. The blade is definitely very sturdy having a thin blade that slightly widens up to the spine adding additional weight on the edge of the blade for heavier duty slicing.
The handle has special grooves that provide better grip and motion. It is also contoured to fit any hand grip. In addition, the handle has antibacterial properties incorporated into making it a knife that is less prone to molds. Though it has great grooves, it can get slippery at times especially when dealing with oily food.
The blade is perfectly balanced. The small size is very light and easy to slice and manage. In addition, since the knife is small, it also comes with a smaller handle making it a perfect portable santoku knife. The unique safety touchpoints makes the knife easier to manage especially in speed dicing due to its controlled rocking ability.
What I really love about this knife are the safety touchpoints. It has grooves on the handle and on the spine of the blade that allows me to slice with better control. It makes the knife safer to use and easier to slice, dice or mince with. It is also compatible with most types of hand grips giving it an extra guide for any type of user.
Surprisingly, this is a great tool that any home cook or professional chef will love. It offers the triple threat Santoku action plus the perks of a chef’s knife. It is generally affordable and portable and can be the ideal travel partner.
Best Budget Santoku Knife: Victorinox Swiss Army
As much as we love buying tools for our kitchen, it is always tricky to pick out a knife that is worth every penny we have. The Victorinox Swiss Santoku Knife is by far the most affordable knife crafted to provide every home with a quality santoku knife.
This knife hard and durable since it is stamped from cold-rolled steel and ice tempered. The blade is heated and dipped in cold water. It is made with high-carbon stainless steel and designed with a fluted edge. Most of the santoku knives have granton edges but the fluted grooves on this knife provide better efficiency in slicing since the food would easily slide off the blade.
This Swiss knife has over a century of knife-forging history behind it. The blade is no doubt sharp with a smooth finish. Victorinox is now incorporating a cutting edge technology that makes use of laser technology to ensure optimum slicing power. The result is a blade that is flexible and perfect for really cutting thin slices of food.
The blade is very light as well providing the handler with better and smoother control. This knife is well-known for its impressive edge retention. No matter how often I used this knife, the knife retains the sharpness of its edge.
The handle is made of textured light plastic. Though it looks cheap it is harder and more durable than it looks and should not be underestimated. The handle provides a non-slip grip due to its rough texture which is surprisingly comfortable to use. It fits perfectly into my hand (and most hand sizes).
The knife has a wonderful balance and is a great knife to use on a daily basis. The knife doesn’t come with a bolster and is lightweight so it is easy to maneuver with great control. The knife is quite powerful, I barely exert any effort and pressure but the slicing power is phenomenal.
NOTE: This is not part of the Fibrox line. The Fibrox line has a beautiful and more comfortable handle as compared to this classic santoku line. However, when it comes to blade quality, both Classic and Fibrox are the same. I bought this knife as a more affordable alternative but you can also check out the more luxurious Victorinox Forged Santoku knife. The only difference among the three knives is the handle but the quality of the blades are the same and the handling, similar.
This is the most affordable santoku knife with the best blade quality that you can find in the market. It has superb quality control and is smooth easy use that is most suitable for home and professional use.
Best Overall Santoku Knife: Shun DM0702 Classic
Shun is a luxury brand knife that is made in Seki, Japan. The knife is forged by the renowned KAI blade manufacturer. With 90 years of forging history, their knives and blades are considered as gold-standard in making Japanese knives. They clad and forge the knives by hand and can be considered luxury knives with superior standards.
The steel used in making the knife is VG-10 steel where the ‘G’ stands for gold-standard. VG-10 steel is known as the perfect combination of steel, nickel and chrome which is a KAI manufacturing secret for its steel clad knives.
VG-10 is a bonded steel made out of thin sheets of steel alloy. It is one of the best metals used to making knives and blades. On the downside though, VG-10 is also quite pricey so this metal is only used to manufacture professional knives.
The Shun Classic Santoku knife is exceptional because it is made with 16 layers of steel cladded to create a strong blade. Though the blade is hard, it is far from brittle. It is durable and thin with beautiful 34 layers of Damascus on each side. The polish is a beautiful sheen that does not fade even after long and heavy usage.
If you find the knife stunning, you will also find the knife impressive as well. The handle is made of a D-shaped ebony Pakkawood which is a sturdy material that can withstand the pressure from being handled. The handle is also treated to prevent it from getting molds and bacteria onto the handle.
In the absence of the Granton grooves, the Damascus design has air pockets that allow great airflow preventing food from sticking to the sides of the blade. The Damascus design is not just for aesthetics but also to prevent the blade from crushing or damaging the food, requiring less effort from the user.
The knife has a perfect balance. It is easy on the hands and requires little to no effort in slicing. The knife incorporates the single downward slice which makes it one of the most preferred santoku knives for sushi by master chefs.
It can also crack and chop open hard nuts easily and delicately slice soft fruits like tomatoes and apples. The knife is very versatile and comfortable on the wrist and the hand though it is a little bit heavy. Overall it is a great knife for those who have normal-sized to large hands.
This is truly a luxury knife that offers both function and aesthetics. The knife is a bit on the higher end pricing but it is all worth every last penny because you have the best standards right in your hands. Though the knife a little heavy and much larger than other Santoku knives, control is easy because it is well-balanced.
Best Versatile Santoku Knife: ZELITE INFINITY
Looking for a high-end knife with a stunning authentic design but still want to keep the expense at a bare minimum? Then the Zelite brand is good for you. It is popular for its premium quality knives and compared to other high-end brands, it is generally more affordable.
The ZELITE INFINITY Santoku Knife is created with an AUS 10 stainless steel grade that is popularly used in crafting Japanese knives. The blade is forged using this high grade steel and refined by 33-layers of Damascus for additional strength and aesthetic appeal. The knife is beautifully crafted, forged and polished by hand.
AUS10 super steel core is used for thinner knives. They are sturdy and hard and tempered for durability. The Zelite santoku knife is quite thin and extremely sharp. The other feature that you will love about this knife is that it does really well in cutting super thin slices of meat and other delicate food. The knife has improved performance because aside from the Damascus layers, it also has Granton edges that make slicing easy and flawless.
The handle is made of military grade garolite which is a fiberglass laminate incorporated with resin that is waterproof and resistant to extreme temperatures. This material is made to prevent bacteria build-up on the handle of the knife. And for extra handle reinforcement, the bolster is tapered into the blade while the handle is contoured for extra grip and comfort.
Most forged knives are pretty heavy but this knife is pretty lightweight. It also has a good balance that makes cutting a breeze. It is very easy on the hands and the wrist. I like it mostly because of how it feels when I slice with it. It has a smooth glide and it requires very little effort when I’m cutting.
The Zelite Santoku knife is a great knife to use on a daily basis. It is a strong knife that can handle cutting even the toughest nuts and slice through meat with absolute precision. It is well-balanced and incredibly superior when it comes to maintenance and handling. And it is for that reason that I like using this knife whenever I can.
Comparison of The Best Santoku Knives
Here is an easier look at the top five santoku knives on my list.
Blade Edge & Grind
Tapered convex grind
Tapered V-flat grind
Non-tapered conical grind
High-carbon Stainless steel
Non-tapered convex grind
VG-10 Super steel
Tapered V-Flat grind
AUS-10 stainless steel
The Final Verdict
Picking out the best Santoku knife is often difficult when you don’t know what you are looking for. I also had a hard time looking for the right santoku knife for my needs but I came down with the best quality knife for overall use and at the lowest cost value. I preferred the Mercer Santoku Knife because it is made with high-quality steel and is great for precision cutting and comfortable handling at the most affordable price. This would be the perfect Santoku knife for a home cook.
On the other hand, the Shun Santoku Knife is the best knife to have in a professional kitchen from a professional’s perspective. It can handle the heavy demands and abuse of a busy kitchen and can even withstand extreme temperatures that the knife may have to face. When it comes to this santoku knife, durability is key while precision-cutting is its heart.