Santoku Knifes: East meets West

Santoku Knife

The Santoku knife has gained popularity in the last few years in the United States, thanks to their use by celebrity chefs on cooking shows. We asked ourselves why the sudden popularity? The answer was really quite simple. The Santoku which loosely translated into English means “three virtues” lives up to its name. A multitasking knife that can chop, mince and dice vegetables, meats and fruits with precision.

A close relative of the rectangular Japanese vegetable knife, the Santoku is often referred to as the Japanese chef’s knife. It has a blunt tip and often has a hollow blade with a granton edge, which are small divots along the blade that prevent food from sticking to it. Compared with a classic Chef’s knife, the Santoku is typically shorter and has a thinner blade, a stubbier tip, and a straighter edge.

We brought in several Santoku knives from various manufacturers and price points ranging from $24.95 to $149.95 into the kitchen to see how they would stand up verses a traditional 8 inch Chef’s knife. The Santoku knives were made from various materials including high-carbon stainless steel, ceramic composite and a titanium silver alloy. They also ranged in blade size from 6-8 inches in length.

To properly test the knife we had various tasks included slicing and dicing an onion and tomato, chopping a carrot, de-boning a chicken, slicing a tomato, sharpening, as well as, making various precision cuts.

Test #1: Slicing and Dicing an Onion

During the slice and dice onion test, the shorter Santoku knife especially the Kyocera ceramic Santoku had some difficulty getting through the entire width of the onion. However, the longer Santoku blades managed to slice thinner than its chef knife counterpart. In dicing the onion the Santoku knifes precision was a clear cut winner.

Winner: Draw

Test#2: Carrots Slicing, Dicing and Basic Cuts

The Santoku really began to show its strengths during the tasks requiring more delicate or precise knife work. Compared with the chef’s knife, the Santoku’s thinner blade was able to cut through the carrot smoothly. Because of Santoku’s narrower the blade, less of the carrot has to be moved out of the way as the blade slices. As opposed to the Chef’s Knife’s thicker blade which requires more force. Several users also felt that the Santoku knife gave them a great sense of control. We also noticed that we had less of the carrot sticking to the Santoku.

Winner: Santoku

Test#3 De-boning A Chicken

The testers ran into several issues with de-boning a chicken with the Santoku. In all fairness, the Santoku isn’t really meant to chop through chicken bone. Although it did manage this task, the Santoku knife really shined in butterflying the chicken breast.

Winner: Chef Knife

Test #4 Tomato Slicing

The Tomato Slicing test speaks more to the knife’s sharpness than its design. While both the high end Chef’s knife and the Santoku performed well. Some of our testers liked the smooth feel and control of the Santoku over that of the Chef’s Knife.

Winner: Draw

Test#5 Sharpening over time

Our fifth and final test revealed a basic design flaw in almost all Chefs’ Knives. That is the bolster of the knife over time gets in the way of sharpening the full length of the knife. Over time, professional sharpening will take enough of the blade off that a gap will form between the cutting board and the blade when chopping or slicing. This will cause the knife not to cut through the food completely.

Winner: Santoku

The Verdict:

If you are going to have only one type of knife in your kitchen, it should be a chef’s knife. Although, we are not ready to give up our trusty all-purpose Chef’s knife yet, the Santoku knife is a great contender and a good value for the money. We recommend using them as an alternative knife complementing your existing knife set not replacing it.

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