What's the Difference Between Santoku Knives and Chef's Knives?

Find out the difference between these two common kitchen knives

chopping parsley
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Santoku knives are a Japanese-style knife that is becoming more popular in the United States, with many versions being made in America as well as abroad. Santoku translates as “three virtues” or “three uses” and refers to the three types of cuts the knife is made for: slicing, dicing, and mincing.

The blade has a flat cutting edge and the handle is in line with the top edge of the blade. The end of the blade has a rounded curve called a sheep’s foot, rather than a sharp point that’s more common...MORE with western blades.

Because of the flat blade, the santoku doesn’t rock on the cutting surface the way that the blade of a chef’s knife does, so it might take some practice to get used to the style.

Santoku knives are shorter, lighter, and thinner than Western-style chef’s knives. Because of the thinness, they tend to be more hardened than Western knives, to add strength. Many santoku knives have flat divots on the sides of the blade near the cutting edge, which is known as a granton edge. These divots help keep food from sticking to the knife. It’s not foolproof, but it does make a difference, particularly when slicing hard vegetables like potatoes.

Most santoku knives have a 6- or 7-inch blade, compared to the more common 8-inch length for many chef’s knives. While most Japanese blades are sharpened on just one side with, compared to Western blades that are sharpened on both sides, traditional santoku blades are sharpened on both sides, but with a more extreme angle, similar to other Japanese blades.

There are traditional-style Japanese santoku knives sold in the US, and there are also santoku knives that have some attributes more common to Western-style knives.

Santoku knives aren’t better or worse than chef’s knives—they’re simply a different style of knife that performs similar tasks.

Chef’s knives were originally designed for slicing and for disjointing large cuts of beef, but they are now a general use knife that’s good for slicing, chopping, or any other basic cooking task.

Chef’s knives come in two basic styles, either French or German. The French knives have a somewhat straight edge that curves more at the tip, while the German style is more continuously curved along the entire cutting edge. The blades of both styles are typically eight inches long.

While there are basic styles of chef’s knives and santoku knives, there are a number of variations of both styles. Blades can be made from metal or ceramic, and metal blades can be forged or stamped. Forged blades are considered to be superior, while stamped blades are lighter and less expensive. Handles can be wood, composite, or plastic.

Some knives have a large bolster (the thick transitional piece between the handle and the knife blade) that strengthens the knife and helps the knife’s balance. Other knives have no bolster or a very thin one.

Full-tang knives are made from one piece of metal with two pieces of the handle material riveted through to hold the handle in place. These are the strongest knives, but also more expensive.

The best way to determine whether a knife is right for you is to hold it in your hand and see if it feels comfortable and balanced. Try cutting something with the knife, or if that’s not possible, mimic cutting action and see if it feels right. You might find that you prefer a chef’s knife for some tasks while you prefer the santoku for others.

While some knives are rated as dishwasher safe, it’s best to hand-wash any good knife to preserve its life and for safety when loading and unloading knives from the dishwasher. Some dishwasher soaps can also speed the dulling of the blade, and banging against other cutlery can also cause damage.

All knives need to be sharpened occasionally. How often depends partially on the blade material, but also on how often the knife is used, what surface you cut on, and how the knife is taken care of. While sharpening is an occasional task, it’s good to hone the blade regularly. This doesn’t cut material off the knife, but straightens the edge.

Now that you know the difference between the two styles, here are the best santoku and chef’s knives on the market.

  • 01 of 06

     Made in Germany with an ice-hardened stamped blade, this Sanoku knife is a worthy addition to any cook’s kitchen. It has a full tang that provides the best weight and balance, and three rivets for security.

    The handle on this blade is particularly comfortable. The handle’s shape positions the hand for proper cutting technique, so even new cooks will use proper cutting techniques.

    The 7-inch blade has a razor-sharp edge that makes it perfect for fine cuts, and particularly for cutting meat and...MORE fish into small pieces for stir-fry dishes or fajitas. Meanwhile, the contoured edge makes it idea of chopping vegetables and the hollow grind helps keep food from sticking to the blade.

  • 02 of 06

    A good santoku at a budget price, this has a stamped blade with a granton edge. The handle is made from a patented material that’s slip-resistant and it is ergonomically designed for comfortable cutting. Because the blade is stamped, this knife is lighter in weight, which some cooks might prefer.

  • 03 of 06

     This blade is beautiful as well as functional. While a pretty knife might not be your first priority, there’s something special about taking a knife from the rack that looks so stunning, with a tsunami rose Damascus pattern on the blade. It makes cooking just a little bit more pleasurable.

    But it’s not all about looks. This has a full tang and good weight, and it’s designed for impressive performance. This is made from 67-layer high carbon Japanese stainless steel that has a razor-sharp edge...MORE that makes slicing easy.

    This is hollow ground, so foods won’t stick, and it is tempered in liquid nitrogen for long-lasting performance. The handle is triple riveted for security, and even the rivets are decorative, with a 3-metal mosaic pattern.

    The handle is designed to be ergonomic, while the tapered bolster makes it comfortable to hold, with perfect balance. Made by a multi-generational family-run business that prides itself on engineering and innovation, this is sure to be one of the prettiest knives you’ll own.

    Of course you need one for yourself, but this comes in a box that would also make it a lovely gift for any cook you know.

  • 04 of 06

    This is the knife I reach for more than any other on my knife rack. It feels good in the hand, and has a full tang and finger guard. The 8-inch blade is long enough for most kitchen tasks, without being too long and unwieldy. It’s great for slicing, chopping, mincing herbs, and whacking garlic with the side of the blade. It’s also ideal for cutting through hard vegetables like carrots or potatoes, or cutting the rind off of a melon.

    The blade is forged form high-carbon steel for strength and the...MORE ability to take and keep a sharp edge, and the handle is made from a black synthetic material for a classic look. The blade is secured with three rivets.

    While it is dishwasher safe, hand washing is recommended.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    If you’re looking for a luxurious chef’s knife that’s different from the norm, this is it. This Japanese-style chef's knife has a thinner and lighter blade than traditional American or European blades, but the feel when cutting is similar enough that there’s no learning curve when using the knife. Unlike some Asian blades, this provided plenty of knuckle clearance when cutting on a board, while the light weight makes it easier to work with for long periods of time.

    Known as a gyuto knife,...MORE this one is made from vg-10 stainless steel that is clad with 32 layers of high-carbon stainless steel. This creates a patterned, layered Damascus steel surface. It has an ultra-sharp 16-degree edge that stays sharp longer.

    The handle is black laminated pakka wood that adds to the sophisticated look of the knife. The D-shaped handle is comfortable to hold, no matter how much cutting and slicing you need to do. This is an all-purpose knife that slices, chops, and cuts a variety of foods with ease. The knife is made in Seki City, Japan, forged in the tradition of samurai swords, and is a knife you’ll treasure and pass down in the family for generations.

  • 06 of 06

    A budget knife with quality features, this has a nonslip black rubber handle with an ergonomic grip, and a stamped, full-tang blade. This is a well-balanced utility knife that should last for years, but at this price, it’s inexpensive enough to toss in a picnic basket or leave at the vacation cabin.

    This can be washed in a dishwasher, but hand washing is preferred.

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