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

Find out the difference between these two common kitchen knives

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
    Wusthof 4183-7 Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife, Hollow Edge
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    This German-made santoku has a 7-inch forged blade that curves slightly towards the tip and a granton edge with hollows on alternating sides that help keep food from clinging to the blade. The handle is polypropylene with a full tang and three rivets for strength.

  • 02 of 06
    Victorinox Fibrox 7-Inch Granton Edge Santoku Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    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
    Shun Premier Santoku Knife, 7-Inch
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    This Japanese-made santoku knife has a 7-inch blade and a beautiful pakkawood handle. The blade is made from layered Damascus steel with a hand-hammered finish that gives it a unique look.

    While this doesn’t have a granton edge, the divots made from hand-hammering serve the same function, reducing drag when cutting, and helping to keep foods from sticking to the blade.

  • 04 of 06
    J.A. HENCKELS INTERNATIONAL Classic 8-inch Chef's Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    Made from German steel with an 8-inch forged blade and with a full tang and three rivets, this is a great multipurpose blade that makes quick work of slicing, dicing, and mincing.

    This knife is assembled in Spain and has a black man-made handle for a sure grip. While this is dishwasher safe, it’s best to hand-wash any knives for longer life. 

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06
    DALSTRONG Chef's Knife - Shogun Series X Gyuto - VG10 - Hammered Finish - 8" - w/ Chef Knife Sheath
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    If you’re looking for a knife that not only works well but is a piece of art, this chef’s knife has a stunning hammered finish that is both beautiful and functional. Like the granton edge on some knives, the hammered surface reduces friction when cutting and helps keep food from sticking to the blade. The blade is made from layered Japanese steel and is hand-sharpened and nitrogen-cooled for enhanced hardness, flexibility, and stain resistance.

    This has a full tang with three rivets and a large...MORE metal bolster for good balance despite its weight. The handle is made from a military-grade material that is hand-polished and the spine of the blade is smooth for a proper and comfortable pinch grip.

    This is the perfect blade for people who enjoy the esthetics of cooking tools, but it’s engineered for people who cook. It comes with a sheath for safe storage.

  • 06 of 06
    OXO Good Grips Professional 8-Inch Chef's Knife
    Courtesy of Amazon.com.

    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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