Many home cooks wonder “what is a santoku knife used for?” upon receiving their set of assorted kitchen knives. Given the Japanese origins of the santoku knife, it’s no wonder many Americans are left confused upon hearing its name. It can also feel interchangeable with a Western-style chef’s knife, but that’s not quite right.
We hope to bring you some clarity on the various capabilities of the santoku knife. That way, you can get the most out of your knife sets and get the best possible results in the kitchen.
What is a santoku knife used for?
The santoku knife is part of the category of general-purpose knives designed to perform many different tasks in the kitchen. Santoku is a Japanese phrase meaning “three virtues.” This name was given to it in the 1940s because of its ability to perform three major cutting tasks: vegetables, meat, and fish.
It combines the features of three Japanese knives: the nakiri knife, gyuto knife, and deba blade.
Related: Nakiri vs. Santoku Knives
What is a Santoku Knife
What is a santoku knife? Santoku is a Japanese term. It translates to three uses. This means it’s good for three methods of cutting: slicing, dicing, and chopping.
Born in Japan, the santoku knife became a multipurpose blade that can take on most essential food preparation tasks. Traditionally, the nakiri knife was used for cutting vegetables. Then, the gyuto knife was for cutting meat. And finally, the deba knife was for cutting fish.
In the 1940s, the santoku knife was created to accomplish all three tasks, making it the ultimate Japanese kitchen knife.
In the modern era, variations of the santoku knife feature unique ergonomics, construction, and blade design. As a result, they are more niche in their capabilities than the original jack-of-all-trades knife with less specialty.
The santoku knife has evolved since it was first created almost a century ago. It now incorporates greater durability and edge retention to complement its razor-sharp blade. A common type of santoku knife is the San Mai, a triple-layered laminated steel blade that provides enhanced full tang durability.
Japanese knives vs Western knives
To better understand the concept of santoku knives, we must compare the typical Japanese kitchen knife to the standard Western knife. Generally, Japanese knives are made to be significantly sharper than their Western counterparts. Their blades typically come in at 15 degrees sharpness or less. This means a thinner blade that can pierce through ingredients for more refined slicing.
In contrast, Western knives feature a heavier blade with high carbon steel. They have a greater emphasis on durability. Their straight-edge design makes them great multipurpose blades, especially for chopping vegetables. This is because Western-style knives enable the user to achieve a rocking motion, making them great for tackling many ingredients.
Nowadays, brands like Shun and Miyabi have strayed from the traditional Japanese kitchen knife to offer stronger materials with greater edge retention. In addition, given the nature of Japanese-style knives, super steels such as AUS-10 and VG-MAX allow the Japanese blade to retain its sharpness without chipping or cracking.
These knives come in at about 60 HRC and above on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, a score that is well above average.
Santoku vs Chef’s knife
Among the best-sellers of the Japanese and Western knife lines are the santoku knife and the chef’s knife. Both these knives are designed to be general-purpose knives. Each can perform both big and small cutting tasks. Nowadays, you’ll often find knife sets that include both of them.
Of course, there is a reason that brands would include both the santoku knife and the chef’s knife in their range, and we need to be aware of these differences.
The main difference between a santoku knife and a chef’s knife is that the santoku blade has a curved edge. In contrast, the Western-style chef’s knife uses a straight edge. As a result, it is more attuned to chopping ingredients via the rocking motion.
Essentially, the santoku knife has a greater emphasis on the pointed tip when cutting ingredients, while the Western chef knife has more emphasis on the edge.
Furthermore, most chef’s knives are designed with a double or triple rivet. Therefore, they may also be available as a single-bevel or double-bevel chef’s knife. Similarly, you can purchase most santoku knives as either double-bevel or single-bevel santoku knife.
However, unlike Western chef knives, the traditional santoku knife has a rounded handle and no rivets. Instead, it’s going for a more vintage aesthetic, as seen with top brands like Shun.
Nowadays, there are many variations and combinations of the Japanese santoku knife and the Western-style chef’s knife. Some santoku knives come with a riveted Western-style handle with a synthetic material and finger safety lock.
Similarly, many Western chef knives now come with a traditional Japanese-style wooden handle that is rounded and rivet-free, offering more aesthetic design options.
The best ways to use a santoku knife
Santoku knives excel in various cutting tasks. These are primarily dicing fruits and vegetables, and cutting through meats and fish. The thinner santoku blades can go into detail for more intricate cutting tasks. You can abuse the sharp pointed tip of the santoku blade.
The sheep’s foot tip and the slanted cutting edge provide a means to cut in a way that is “head-first,” so to speak. This allows you to get more depth into the piercing action. You can use the santoku’s blade length and design to your advantage in dicing and mincing meat. It can even help remove the small skeletons of small shrimps and crabs.
Common Japanese cuisines such as sushi and yakiniku often require very thin slices of salmon and beef (1). That’s where the slanted thin blade of the santoku is most convenient. So it’s no wonder professional chefs all over Japan use the santoku knife. They are great tools for precision cutting tasks that you can’t perform with a standard chef’s knife.
The cutting edge of the santoku blade is especially useful for dicing meats. The rocking motion you can achieve with it is more specialized than a standard chef’s knife.
Furthermore, santoku knives are great for mincing ingredients like garlic and chilis into fine sprinkles for your recipe.
Keeping in mind the various tasks achievable by the santoku knife, a great choice of dish would be any stir-fry or curry. These types of dishes often incorporate a mixed variety of fresh vegetables and meat. Sometimes, they even include fish chopped up and combined under a flavored sauce of some sort.
The santoku knife can be used for all the tasks involved in this recipe. From providing fine slices of meat to letting you precisely dice vegetables for the perfect proportions that meet your tastes.
Where to get santoku knives
Fortunately, the extraordinary cutting prowess of the santoku knife is no longer restricted to Japan. Instead, they can be purchased through all the big-name kitchen knife brands you can think of. In fact, they don’t even need to be Japanese, as brands such as Cutco and Henckels also offer these sharp blades in their product range.
Of course, if you want the traditional experience with a more authentic touch, you may choose Japanese brands such as Shun and Miyabi. They have their high-carbon Japanese steel and vintage wooden handles.
Most chef’s knives come as part of an essentials knife set with most of these kitchen knife brands. The santoku is no exception to this concept. In fact, many brands provide santoku knives and chef’s knives in the same set. Again, this alludes to their expertise as a brand in being aware of their differences.
In addition, brands like Shun and Miyabi will often provide bonus accessories such as a cutting board and knife sharpener in their bundles.
Cleaning and maintenance
In general, when it comes to kitchen knives of any kind, it’s always safer to handwash them rather than resort to using a dishwasher. So naturally, santoku knives should be treated similarly, though many companies will claim their santoku knives are dishwasher-safe.
In these scenarios, you should avoid using the dishwasher if the knife comes with a traditional Tagayasan or Pakkawood handle. This material will expand and contract in response to moisture exposure.
Invest in a quality knife sharpener to get the best out of your santoku knives. This will retain the edge and keep it from going dull. These often come in sharpening blocks and can be purchased in a bundle with your knife set.
You may want to invest in other maintenance tools, including a honing steel rod. It’s vital for maintaining the blade’s shape, which can often go out of whack through excessive use.
Caring for your santoku knife is a daily effort. There are a few things to remember to get the best out of these Japanese-style blades. When in use, always use a cutting board to avoid damage to your kitchen table and to the edge of your santoku blade.
After each use, you should clean the blade by running it under some warm water. Then, use a cleaning cloth to wipe down the blade and handle, and keep your hand away from the bare edge.
Santoku knives require consistent knife sharpening sessions to ensure the blade retains its edge for longer periods. Luckily, many brands of knives offer free sharpening services and a limited lifetime warranty when you purchase their knives.
Cutco and Shun knives are typical examples, with both brands covering their customers with lifetime free sharpening guarantees. This allows the customer to ship their knives back to the manufacturer and have them sharpened at little to no cost.
Now, you can care for and maintain your santoku knives yourself. While this service is not essential, you should at least ensure that you go for a brand with a limited lifetime warranty. This is because no amount of maintenance and care can save you from factory defects and poor material quality that was not your own doing.
What is a santoku knife used for FAQ
What is a Santoku knife best for?
A santoku knife is used for slicing, dicing, and mincing many different ingredients, primarily meats, fish, and vegetables. The slanted edge, sharp pointed tip, and thinner blade make them exceptional for smaller tasks. These include chopping chili and garlic or deboning small meats like shrimps or crabs.
How is a Santoku knife different from a chefs knife?
The key difference between a santoku knife and a Western chef knife is the sharpness and shape of the blade. Also, in some cases, the handle design. While both are multipurpose knives with a wide stainless steel blade, the santoku is more adept at smaller tasks requiring more in-depth ingredients piercing.
Is a Santoku knife all purpose?
The santoku knife is an all-purpose kitchen knife that takes on three different tasks. These are cutting, slicing, and chopping mechanics of the nakiri, gyuto knife, and deba Japanese knives. Its slanted edge, razor-sharp 10-degree angle, and sheep’s foot pointed tip make it an exceptional blade for this purpose.
Can a Santoku knife replace a chef’s knife?
In many ways, a santoku knife can replace a chef’s knife as they are more or less designed for many of the same tasks. For example, the rocking motion of the Western chef’s knife is more effective in dicing vegetables. At the same time, the santoku’s razor-sharp slanted edge is better for cutting through thick meats.
How do you chop with a Santoku knife?
Depending on the task, there are many ways to hold your santoku knives and motions of cutting you can apply for best results. For example, for precision slicing meats, hold the knife firmly in your hand and allow your pointer finger to rest on top of the handle for greater control.
Are Santoku knives good for cutting meat?
Santoku knives are great for cutting meat because the slanted, curved edge of the blade and the razor-sharp pointed tip provide more depth to the cut so you can penetrate tough ingredients more efficiently. The santoku’s thinner blade and extended blade length also allow you to complete smaller tasks like deboning a shrimp or crushing chilis and garlic clovers.
Can you sharpen a santoku knife?
Like any kitchen knife, you should sharpen a santoku to maintain its cutting edge and performance for longer. The slanted, curved blade can be maintained using knife sharpening tools such as sharpening rocks and honing steel rods designed to maintain the sharp edge as well as the shape of the blade.
What does Santoku mean in Japanese?
Santoku is a Japanese term meaning “three virtues” or “three uses.” The knife’s name comes from its many capabilities under three main categories. These are the abilities of the gyuto, nakiri, and deba knives. Separately, these achieve precision cutting, slicing, and dicing of all ingredients, namely meat, vegetables, and fish.
What is the point of a Santoku knife?
A santoku knife is a multipurpose blade that can take on myriad tasks for which you otherwise would have needed separate knives. Such tasks include chopping vegetables, making thin slices of meat, and deboning a fish.
Do chefs use santoku knives?
Absolutely! In particular, Japanese chefs all over the world love to use the santoku as it was primarily designed for tackling Japanese recipes such as thinly sliced yakiniku beef and delicate salmon sashimi dishes. But, of course, the santoku has since evolved from its Japanese origins to become a global kitchen knife used by home cooks and professional chefs worldwide.