The chef knife, the boning knife, and the paring knife, oh my! There are so many different kitchen knives to choose from, and each has its own special skills. And what about that one with the uniquely shaped blade with the little indentations? That would be the Santoku knife, which has plenty of uses in the kitchen.
What is a Santoku Knife?
A Santoku knife is a Japanese chef knife that serves as a multipurpose tool in the kitchen. Crafted differently than a Western-style chef’s knife, the most noticeable feature is usually the shape of the blade, which is often referred to as a “sheep’s foot” although not all modern Santoku knives carry this trait.
Usually measuring about six to seven inches long, the blade features a curve from the spine to the tip, rather than coming to a point like a traditional chef’s knife. The edge of the blade is usually flat compared to the curved belly of Western chef’s knives, and is designed for the up and down chopping technique often referred to as “push-cutting”, which involves lifting the blade between each cut – a much different technique compared to the rock chop method used with traditional chef knives.
The thickness of a Santoku blade is often another notable feature, along with how it is sharpened. Japanese-style blades are traditionally known for being much thinner compared to a Western-style chef’s knife, although you’ll find many variations since the boom in popularity of the Santoku knife since the early 2000s. For example, the F.N. Sharp Santoku knife captures some of the same traits of a Western-style chef’s knife, with the same blade thickness and a slight belly, rather than the traditional flat edge.
Traditional Japanese chef knives were almost always single bevel (sharpened on one side), however, the double bevel feature common in Western chef’s knives has also become more common in Santoku knives. The difference is that double bevel Santoku blades are usually sharpened at angles ranging from symmetrical 50:50 ratios to asymmetrical 70:30 ratios, while the Western style is almost always 50:50.
Another unique trait is the Granton or “scalloped” edge, which features indentations on the face of the blade that allow food to easily slide off while slicing, reducing the need to stop and remove sticky ingredients between each cut.
Just like the Western-style chef’s knife, the Santoku knife is a multipurpose tool with many uses, and after learning how to use it, it’s sure to become one of your favorite kitchen tools.
Top Santoku Knife Uses
The word Santoku translates as “three virtues,” or “three uses,” and after using a Santoku knife, you’ll find that its design helps it excel at three common kitchen tasks: slicing, chopping and mincing.
How to Use a Santoku Knife for Slicing
A Santoku knife is ideal for slicing cooked and raw meats, fresh vegetables and any other ingredient that requires a uniform cut. If properly sharpened, the blade cuts through the skin of any ingredient quickly, and without tearing the flesh of meats or ripping the skin of vegetables. The increased width of the blade versus a standard chef’s knife helps create thin and uniformed slices with ease, while the Granton edge releases each slice as you cut through, allowing you to effortlessly begin another slice.
A major advantage of the releasing effect of the Granton blade is it’s much easier to butterfly chicken breasts, pork chops and steaks without the proteins clinging to the blade. It can also slice through fish without the soft meat sticking to your knife.
Just like working with a chef’s knife, you’ll want to keep your offhand in a claw formation to avoid nicking a finger, then begin slicing with a quick downward motion while pulling the blade slightly towards you during each cut. It will be tempting to cut straight down without moving the blade towards you, but this can bruise and crush the ingredient rather than cut it cleanly, so be sure to practice!
How to Use a Santoku Knife for Chopping
When it comes to chopping with a Santoku knife, the method differs from standard techniques so you’ll definitely want to practice until you get the hang of it. The flat edge requires you to lift the blade off of the cutting board between each cut, rather than using the rock chop technique commonly used with the Western-style chef’s knife where the tip of the knife stays on the cutting board between cuts.
To begin chopping, be sure your your cutting board is stabilized on a flat surface (placing a damp paper towel underneath your cutting board is a handy trick) and keep your offhand is in the claw position. Also be sure to stabilize your ingredient – if it’s round, you can cut it in half or take a thin slice off the top or bottom so it lies flat on the cutting board. Once your ingredient is held in place, align the flat side of the blade against your knuckles (fingers should be curled under), then begin chopping in a smooth up and down motion, slightly moving the knife forward as you chop and lifting the blade off the cutting board between each cut.
When it comes to chopping with the Santoku knife, it’s also a good idea to make sure you have the right cutting board on hand. All kitchen knives dull with regular use, and the surface you’re cutting on has an important role in prolonging the sharpness of your blades. Check out our guide to learn more about the best cutting board for your knives – and be sure to store them properly.
As you become more comfortable with the up-and-down chopping technique, you can start chopping even faster by employing also the push-cut technique which involves pushing the ingredient towards the blade as you chop.
How to Use a Santoku Knife for Mincing
A Santoku knife is one of the best choices when preparing a recipe that calls for minced herbs, garlic, or any other ingredients that call for very fine cuts. The Granton edge helps release sticky garlic from the blade and avoids tearing delicate herbs (which can impact flavor), while the length of the blade and weight of the knife offers greater control between cuts.
As an added bonus, the width of the blade is ideal for scooping up ingredients – just be sure to use the spine of the blade rather than the edge to avoid rolling or chipping the sharpened edge, leaving you with a dull knife.
How to Sharpen a Santoku Knife
Knowing how to properly sharpen your kitchen knives takes time to learn and a bit of practice to perfect – especially when it comes to the Santoku knife. Since most Santoku blades are double bevel (and feature that handy Granton edge), the sharpening process can be a bit complicated for a novice. In order to properly sharpen a Santoku knife, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specifications of your knife as the sharpened angles can vary. It’s also important to practice, especially when using a whetstone because you’ll need to sharpen at the correct angles for each side of the blade.
Sounds like it takes a bit of work and a whole lot of practice, doesn’t it? Then how about one of those home electric sharpeners? When it comes to using an electric sharpener for your Santoku knife, it’s better to just avoid it altogether as it can easily destroy the Granton edge. If you’re not comfortable using a whetstone, it’s really best to leave the sharpening up to the professionals – like us over here at F.N. Sharp, a new brand of kitchen knives that takes all of the guesswork (and the hassle) out of keeping your knives sharp!