Santoku vs Chef Knife: The History And Major Differences

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When shopping for kitchen cutlery, chefs often have to choose between a Santoku and a chef knife.

Both are all-purpose knives that can be used for a variety of tasks, including chopping, dicing, and slicing a wide variety of ingredients.

But which one is the better option?

For most cooks, the chef knife is the better option because it is larger and easier to control, making it easy for chefs to cut through ingredients.

But the Santoku, while it is a smaller blade, is still a great all-around kitchen tool, especially for those who prefer smaller blades.

In this Santoku vs Chef knife comparison, we take a look at the features of each knife to figure out which one belongs in your kitchen.

Santoku Chef knife
Size 5”-7” 9”-12”
Bevel Single and double-beveled (depends on the model) Double-beveled
Handle Wa-handle Western handle
Edge 10-15 degrees per side 15-18 degrees per side
Construction Forged Forged or Stamped (depends on the model)
Bolster Usually none Yes

Related: The best santoku knives for your money

Santoku Knife’s History

Originally in Japan, people use Nakiri knives to cut vegetables and Sashimi knives to cut fish. For slicing meat, they use Santoku knives. It is available in every Japanese home.

The Santoku looks like a Western knife on the outside, but it is lighter, thinner, shorter, stiffer, and sharper than its Western counterpart.

In this Santoku design, the knife’s handle is shorter, making it possible to use its full length. The knife’s tip runs along the soft bend. But next to the blade, it is flat.

It was available extensively after the war when Western dishes were integrated into Japanese cuisine. During the war, the Japanese only ate their traditional dishes with vegetables. When the Western beef arrived, it became useful.

Nagini is a typical Japanese knife specializing in chopping vegetables. Once Western cuisine was introduced, this Japanese Newkirk knife faced difficulties in separating fish meat from bones.

As a result, the Japanese often divide their traditional knives into categories, such as the Japanese Sashimi knife used exclusively for making Sashimi. The Japanese Deba knife’s main job is fishbones removal.

Besides, the Japanese Maguro is popular in slicing tuna meat. Gyuto Japanese knife is efficient in meat slicing.  They are usually sharpened at two sides, a wide plate and an edge. You will grind fish, meat, and vegetables with ease using it.

The Differences

As introduced above, both have the same purpose when put on the tabletop. So basically, you can choose either a Santoku or a chef knife according to your preference. However, the shapes are slightly different. I will introduce each detailed feature below.

Santoku Knife Features

Although the Santoku is inferior to a chef’s knife in slicing meat and preparing some specialized recipes, it is famous as a piece of versatile equipment for home use. They are the most commonly used cutters in Japanese home cuisine art.

The name “Santoku” means “three uses” as it can be used for a wide range of ingredients, such as meat, fish, and vegetables. The Santoku blade length is about eight inches – not too long, and even beginners can use it without fear.

Its best functions include slice, dice, or chop vegetables. A cook can also use it to mince vegetables or meat. Their wide blades can help to get food from the cutting board. They are perfect for seafood due to their ability to cut in good shape.

Chef Knife Features

The chef’s knife was originally a Western knife for cutting chunks of meat into smaller pieces. Therefore, the chef’s knife length is up to 12 inches. A slightly larger blade might be a little intimidating at first. However, because of the blade’s length, it comes in handy when preparing various dishes.

They are of French and German origin, designed with a wide blade that usually curves upwards to create a pointed tip. You can only find these ones with a double bevel design.

Some of the chef’s knives may come with a Granton edge. They typically range from size ranges of 6 inches to 12 inches.

The chef’s knife is also popular with professional and skillful cooks that is indispensable for slicing beautiful cross-sections, such as roast beef.

About the Difference

Santoku has a blade length of about 7.8 to 11.8 inches. It is wide and has a sharp tip when the cook needs it. The knife is thin, and it gently curves the back.

Most of the Western blades have a length of 11.8 to 20 inches, but many versions can exceed 22 inches. The width is slender, and the tip is sharp. Overall, their sharpness is almost identical.

All in all, the main differences are its sharpness and length. The Japanese knives are not as sharp as their Western counterpart. It is also shorter and easier to cut vegetables.

Everything You Want to Know About the Santoku Knife

It is sickle-shaped, and its tip is not sharp. The thin blades are straighter than that of a chef’s knife, while its width is thicker. Therefore, it is easy to shred cabbage or cut long vegetables.

Even if you cut watermelon or cucumber with this piece of cutlery, it will not loosen after slicing. For large vegetables, such as root vegetables, the wider edge requires less power than the chef’s one.

How About the Chef’s Knife?

Since the chef knives’ tip is sharp, it is easy to poke and slit the meat, regardless of the meat chunk’s thickness. A decent piece of equipment, right? Because it is inserted by taking advantage of the blade’s warp, it is relatively easy to cut large meat.

The chef’s knives are not suitable for julienning vegetables but unarguably ideal for chopping. Compared with others, chef knives are less likely to be damaged at the blade and have a slightly better blade holding.

The Last Call, Which Knife is Better?

It is hard to answer, but I trust Santoku knives are safer for beginners even when you buy in a set or gift someone.

They are overwhelmingly used in Japanese homes for making both ordinary and special recipes because they are all-purpose knives made in the Japanese style, thus having characteristics that match the Japanese food culture.

Chef knives are wonderful for people who enjoy being in the kitchen. Many professional cooks use it as it is easier to cut meat and fish. For people who have decent experience, we recommend you pick up a chef’s knife.

FAQ’s

What is the disadvantage of a chef’s knife?

The only disadvantage when comparing it with a Santoku knife is that the straight handle is too short.

When cutting ingredients larger than the blade’s straight part, you can make up for the shortcomings by using a slide swing cut. If you can compensate for the weaknesses by devising the cutting method, it is easier to use than the Santoku knives.

What is the disadvantage of a Santoku blade?

They are all-purpose knives with an intermediate shape between a chef’s blade and thin blade ones. The unit is suitable for households who often prepare vegetables.

Of course, you can prepare meat and fish with a Santoku knife. However, there are some drawbacks, namely the short blade length and the non-sharp cutting edge.

The latter feature can be awkward when preparing meat, such as trailing along the bone. Otherwise, it is one of the most versatile kitchen knives suitable for vegetable dishes.

Do I really need it?

It depends. a Santoku knife is suitable for vegetables and small meat and fish recipes. It’s convenient for cutting anything.

But when you cut big meat blocks or meat-like Jibie, Santoku knives may not be enough. They do not have such a long blade length, so when cutting a sizable chunk of meat, it is loosened, making it difficult to cut.

Therefore, it is better to use a chef’s knife for dismantling large or hard meat.

How do you use a Chef’s knife?

People use chef’s knives for anything from preparing vegetables and different types of meats. There is hardly a single food that you cannot chop or slice ​​with it.

Before using it, make sure that there is no one behind. When holding, you must hold it tight enough while the other hand fixes the ingredients. The blades before and after use must be cleaned, stored in the designated areas.

If the cutting edge is thin, the finger’s movement will be small, allowing easy insertion of the blade when removing the core of cabbage and onions.

Since the edge of this kitchen knife has a gentle warp, the movement is smaller when slicing food with a vertical width at the cutting edge.

Is there any difference when sharpening these two blades?

Even though they’re a bit different, these two types of knives won’t differ much when it comes to sharpening the edge.

What sharpening device should I use to sharpen those knives then?

You can use your typical whetstones, sharpening steel, or any other equipment that works with your kitchen knives.

Which one is better to gift someone?

It’s up to you, but I believe both options are great as a gift to your special ones.

Santoku vs Chef’s Knife – The Bottom Line

The Western blade (mostly from German) is characterized by a slim blade overall and a narrower tip.  However, this type of kitchen knife is easier to bend yet easier to sharpen.

Santoku knives have a thick blade and are characterized by a strong remnant of Nakiri knives. I trust that it will become a long-term loyal cooking assistant.

Last Updated on September 2, 2021

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.