If you don’t already own a Japanese kitchen knife, the exotic sounding names – gyuto, santoku, nakiri, sujihiki, deba etc. probably don’t ring any bell. Even if you’re a knife expert, familiar with all the different types of steel and different edge grinds, you might not know about the unique names that the Japanese use for their knives.
Don’t worry. These are still kitchen knives and although there are some differences between common western knives – they still serve the same purpose, which is to cut.
What Is A Santoku Knife?
Santoku knives are larger, multi-purpose knives. They’re usually shorter than long chef knives (less than 21cm) and have wide, flat blades and fairly blunt or slightly rounded tips. As a result, they’re not very well suited for piercing.
With no belly (or curve) to the blade, you can’t rock with them either. On the other hand, the long, straight blade of a Santoku is particularly useful for long cutting strokes. The wide blade helps for transferring food, too. These qualities make Santokus especially good for chopping. Like other Japanese knives, Santokus tend to be thin, hard, and very sharp. Some Santokus feature an asymmetric grind, meaning that they can only be used in either your right or left hand. Others have a hollow grind for extra sharpness.
For more information on how Japanese knives differ from German-style knives, check out this guide. As Santokus have become more popular, knife manufacturers have begun to produce them with a wide range of options, meaning that you can find a Santoku with pretty much any combination of length, metal, handle, and grind. You can even find Santokus with a rounded edge for rocking cuts, although some purists might argue that those knives aren’t Santokus anymore.
What Is A Chef’s Knife?
Our Gyuto, Japanese for Chef’s knife – Sakai Kyuba Stainless Steel 210mm
I keep comparing things to chef’s knives, but it’s not a very useful comparison if we don’t define what a chef’s knife is.
Chef’s knives are long (6-10″ or 18-24mm) knives with pointed tips, a bit of curve between the tip and the midsection (for rocking), and wide blades (for easy food transfer). They tend to be fairly flat towards the heel, enabling easy chopping. Chef’s knives can be used for just about anything. They’re great all-purpose knives. While more specialised knives might be better at some tasks, you can usually get away with just using a chef’s knife.
“Gyuto” is a term for a Japanese-style chef’s knife. They are the response to the demand from Western countries for kitchen knives. In the past, Japanese blacksmiths were famous for producing astonishing katanas and other weapons. With time, there was less demand for such products (apart from occasional buys for collection reasons), so blacksmiths focused on producing kitchen knives. In the typical Japanese kitchen, chefs use single-bevel knives, but western versions – wa-gyuto, gyuto have been gaining more and more popularity.
Gyutos are shaped the same way as western chef’s knives and used the same way. It’s nearly impossible to tell a slightly thicker Gyuto with a double bevel and a western-style handle from a western chef’s knife. In other words, Gyutos and chef’s knives are basically the same.
Santoku vs. Chef’s Knife: What’s The Difference?
There are two big differences between a Santoku and a chef’s knife. First, Santokus have fairly flat tips. This means it’s harder to start a cut or slice by stabbing with the tip of the knife. Second, Santokus have no curve or belly. As a result, knife techniques that involve rocking the blade back and forth are pretty much out of the question.
Santoku vs. Gyuto
Since “Gyuto” is just a fancy term for a Japanese-style chef’s knife, the comparison between a Gyuto and a Santoku is the same as the comparison between a chef’s knife and a Santoku. Gyutos are slightly better all-purpose knives (due to the piercing tip and the belly for rocking), but Santokus can still be used for most kitchen tasks. One interesting note: Santokus are often cheaper than Gyutos. If you want to pick up a single extra all-purpose knife, you can sometimes save some money by choosing a Santoku instead of a chef’s knife made out of a similar metal.
Santoku knife uses
Santoku knives are best used for slicing, dicing, and mincing. They’re often shorter and thinner than your chef’s knife, meaning you’ll be a bit more agile as you work. This helps combat hand fatigue and compensates for the fact that you have to actually chop and not rock. The smaller blade also helps with small cutting boards or cramped kitchens. Santoku knives are true all-purpose workhorses. They’re comfortable, light, and fast. You can utilise a Santoku in most recipes that call for knife work. The only real exception is cutting hard foods (like pineapples or bones). Otherwise, you can probably use a Gyuto.
Santoku vs. Chef’s knife: which should I choose?
Now that you know the differences, it’s time to consider the merits of each knife. Truthfully, I think a shorter Gyuto (+/- 21cm) or chef’s knife is going to be slightly better than a Santoku for most use cases. If you already have a chef’s knife, however, adding a Santoku to your arsenal can help you with certain types of food prep. If you find yourself cutting lots of onions, for example, the smaller, faster, dedicated chopping tool will make your job quicker and easier.
Like I mentioned earlier, Santokus can also be cheaper than chef’s knives. If you’re on a tight budget and want a high-quality Japanese knife, you might be able to save some money by getting a Santoku instead. If you want a long knife with a pointed tip, however, or if you know you’ll be rocking your knife, there’s no reason to even consider a Santoku. Go with a Gyuto or chef’s knife. You simply can’t find these features in most Santokus.
Overall, though I feel like the best answer is to simply choose both. There’s no reason why your knife stand (or a knife rack) can’t hold two high-quality, beautiful knives for two different tasks. You can break out your chef’s knife for tasks that need the longer blade and use the Santoku to power through quick chopping jobs. This way, you’ll get the best of both worlds.
PS Don’t forget about proper maintenance (getting the right cutting board will help too!)