santoku vs chef knife

Santoku Vs Chef Knife

Comparison of the Santoku vs Chef Knife. This post compares knife design and cutting uses for the Santoku knife vs Chef knife.

Santoku Vs Chef Knife

The Santoku knife is becoming increasingly popular in western home kitchens.  Many kitchen knife sets include a Santoku knife. Some will even omit the western chef knife altogether and feature the santoku knife as the “chef” knife.  So which one should you get?  Do you need both?  This article covers the chef knife vs Santoku knife.  We’ll go over each knife’s design, cutting techniques, and uses.

Chef Knife

Chef knife traits for chef knife vs santoku knife comparison

Western Chef Knife

The Western chef knife is the “workhorse” of the kitchen.  It performs a large range of tasks in the kitchen – handling meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.  The chef knife blade can range from 6 to 12 inches long, with 8 inches being the most popular.  The belly of the western chef knife curves upward to a sharp point.  This is important functionally for two reasons.  First, this curved belly allows for a fast and energy efficient cutting technique called the rock chop.  In the rock chop, the tip of the chef knife is fixed to the cutting board. The chefs knife rocks back and forth to perform the cutting.  This rock chop tackles a large variety of tasks such as chopping herbs, mincing garlic, dicing onions, julienning carrots, etc.  

The second functional consequence of having a curved belly results from the sharp tip. As a result, you are able to pierce objects and perform some knife-work with the tip itself.  Consider, for example, cutting a large watermelon in half. The knife must first be inserted into the watermelon using its sharp end to pierce through the skin.  For a smaller ingredient example, consider coring a tomato. The sharp pointed tip of the knife is an asset for this task.

Santoku Knife

Santoku means “three virtues” in Japanese, though specifically which three virtues is up for interpretation.  Some say it refers to the ability to slice, chop, and dice. Some say for its ability to tackle meat, fish, and vegetables. Still some say for the three different regions of the blade (tip, middle, and heel) that you can use for different cutting tasks.  Choose whichever interpretation you like.  The point is that the Santoku is multi-virtued and is an excellent all purpose knife like the chef knife. It can also perform a large range of cutting tasks in the kitchen.

Unlike the Western origin of the chef knife, the Santoku originated in Japan.  The Santoku may have a double bevel (meaning the cutting edge is angled on both sides) or a single bevel (angled only on one side, like a chisel).  This single bevel is common among Japanese knives.

Santoku Knife

Santoku knife characteristics for santoku knife vs chef knife comparison

Chef Knife vs Santoku Knife: Anatomical Differences

The Santoku knife is anatomically different than the Western chef knife.  This Japanese knife is usually shorter and ranges from 4 inches to 8 inches, and it is typically lighter as well.  The Santoku blade is thinner than the chef knife blade, making it easier to cut and slide through ingredients as well as to produce very thin slices of food.  

The shape of the blade is the most striking difference between the two knives: while the cutting edge of the chef knife curves upwards towards the tip, the cutting edge of the Santoku knife is flat, with the blade shape being similar to a sheep’s foot.  This means that the blade does not form a sharp tip, and so it is unable to pierce objects like the chef knife.  The flat cutting edge also means that the rock chop is difficult or impossible with the Santoku knife.  It does mean, however, that the entire cutting edge can make contact with the contact board. This makes use of the entire length of the blade for each stroke.  This sheep foot blade design is ideal for up and down cutting motions, in which the entire knife lifts off the cutting board with each stroke.

Santoku Knife Vs Chef Knife: Granton Edge

Santoku knives also typically have a granton edge, unlike a chef knife.  A granton edge refers to the shallow dimples that form a row on the sides of the knife.  These dimples reduce the amount of surface area of the knife that comes in contact with the food.  This results in less food sticking to the side of the knife while cutting.

Santoku Vs Chef: Summary

Both the chef and Santoku knife are all purpose kitchen knives that perform a large share of the cutting tasks in the kitchen.  The chef knife is usually longer, heavier, and thicker than the Santoku knife.  The belly of the chef knife is curved upward to a sharp point. This makes it possible to pierce objects with the tip and also perform a rock chop.  The Santoku is shaped like a sheep’s foot and has a flat cutting edge. It is ideal for an up and down cutting motion since its entire edge can make contact with the cutting board at once.

Either knife makes a great all purpose knife. It comes down to personal preference and the type of knife work you typically perform in a kitchen. Do you prefer a rock chop motion or an up and down cutting motion? Also, since they excel in different areas, many people own one of each and use them for separate cutting tasks.

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