The Chef Knife Showdown: The Santoku Knife vs. The Chef’s Knife
In the world of performance cutlery, there are two types of chef knives that serve as multipurpose tools in the kitchen: the classic Western-style chef’s knife and the Japanese-style Santoku knife. While both chef knives are similar in purpose, they definitely have their differences, from shape and design to cutting styles and techniques.
If you’re unfamiliar with these two kitchen knives, then here’s what you’ll learn in this guide:
The Chef’s Knife vs. The Santoku Knife: What’s the Difference?
As the most popular multipurpose kitchen knives, both the chef’s knife and the Santoku knife can be used for a variety of meal prepping tasks, from slicing meats and other proteins to chopping fruits and vegetables and mincing herbs and spices. However, the differences in design and the way each knife hits the cutting board require different knife skills and cutting techniques.
For a better understanding of the differences and similarities between these two chef knives, let’s take a look at the specifications and uses for each.
What is a Chef’s Knife?
Designed specifically for the “pinch grip”, the double bevel blade of the chef’s knife measures anywhere between 8 and 12 inches long from heel to tip, and often features a bolster at the top of the handle (opposite the cutting edge) to keep your fingers from slipping while you work.
The pinch grip, which is the best way to hold a chef’s knife, involves positioning your right (or left) index finger underneath the bolster and “pinching” the blade between the knuckle of your forefinger on one side and your thumb on the other with the rest of your fingers safely tucked under the handle.
The cutting edge of the chef’s knife also features a generous curve known as the “belly” and is designed for the rocking technique known in the culinary world as the “rock-chop” and makes slicing through ingredients a breeze. This technique involves anchoring the tip of your knife on the cutting board as you rock the knife up and down through ingredients while using your guide hand (which should be in the “claw position” with fingers curled under) to push the ingredient forward between each cut.
Check out this video to see how the rock-chop is done in action:
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Different parts of the chef’s knife are used for different tasks, as well. The heavy-duty heel of the blade is great for cutting through thick slabs of meat and even bones, as well as dense fruits and vegetables like squashes and melons, while the pointed tip is perfect for detailed work like scoring meat and trimming fat. Some chefs also use the flat of the blade to gently crush ingredients like garlic.
Once you learn how to use different parts of the blade and master the skills needed to achieve different knife cuts, you’ll start breezing right through all of your slicing, dicing and mincing tasks just like the pros.
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What is a Santoku Knife?
In the culinary world, Santoku translates as “three virtues” and is often used to define this knife’s three main uses: slicing, chopping, and mincing. Some chefs also say these three virtues refer to using three different parts of the blade: the main cutting edge for slicing, the heel for intense chopping, and the tip for detailed work. Then others say it simply refers to its ability to cut meat, vegetables and fish. Whichever translation you prefer, the Santoku knife also comes with many uses in the kitchen.
Crafted differently than the chef’s knife, the Santoku knife is lighter and smaller in size, with the most notable difference being the shape of the blade. Measuring between 6 and 7 inches long, the Santoku knife features a shorter, wider blade with a “flatter” cutting edge and curved tip versus the generous belly and pointed tip of the Western-style chef’s knife.
The flatter edge of the Santoku allows for more of an up-and-down chopping motion that requires lifting the blade off the cutting board between each cut (just think of that sound you hear when a chef is chopping through ingredients like a boss).
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Another notable trait of the Santoku knife is the “Granton” or “scalloped” edge, which features indentations that allow tiny air pockets to get between the blade and your ingredients to help prevent them from sticking between slices.
This feature makes the Santoku knife a go-to tool for tasks that involve creating perfectly uniform pieces. Think perfectly sliced fish for sushi and sashimi, a medley of evenly cut veggies for a ratatouille, or thinly sliced sticky garlic and delicate herbs for adding the right amount of flavor to a dish. The width of the Santoku blade is also great for scooping up and transferring ingredients.
Although Japanese style chef knives are traditionally sharpened on one side (single bevel), double bevel Santoku knives have become more popular over the years. For example, the F.N. Sharp Santoku knife captures some of the same traits as our Western-style chef’s knife, with a double bevel edge sharpened at a 50:50 ratio (13 degrees per side) and a slight curve (belly) to accommodate the rock-chop technique.
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When to Use a Santoku vs. a Chef’s Knife
When it comes to using the chef’s knife vs. the santoku, both serve as multi-purpose tools in the kitchen, however, there are some advantages to using one over the other.
The Western-style chef’s knife tends to be thicker and heavier, making it the workhorse for your kitchen, while the light-weight Japanese-style Santoku is perfect for fine, delicate slicing.
Although both are considered multipurpose tools for slicing, dicing, and mincing fruits, vegetables and herbs, the chef’s knife is a must when it comes to preparing proteins as it has the length and heft for cutting through thick slabs of meat and even bones. while the Santoku is often the go-to for fish.
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Check out the video below to see how a chef’s knife is used to break down a boneless pork loin:
The chef’s knife may also be the right choice when cutting through large and/or dense ingredients like melons, squashes and other fall vegetables, while the Santoku should be your go-to for recipes that call for thinly sliced and perfectly uniform ingredients.
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Choosing between the chef’s knife and the Santoku can also be a matter of personal preference and chopping style. Smaller-handed people might prefer the way the Santoku feels in their hands as it’s light, smaller and has a certain ease of handling, while people with larger hands may prefer the chef’s knife due to its heft.
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