What Is A Santoku Knife? Where to Buy one?

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Someone who spends a good amount of time in cooking is likely to look for what is a santoku knife. Those who are familiar with it know it as the most useful Japanese knife. Having a blade of Japanese style, the santoku has become the must-have knife for many in the past few years for many cooks.

When it comes to knives, most foodie fans or cooks will think of a chef’s knife. On the other hand, the santoku seems to be very close to this knife and is considered as being its younger cousin. A  great santoku can achieve many of the same tasks as an ideal chef’s knife.

In this post, let’s explore the santoku knife in detail. This will help you decide whether you should have it in your kitchen or not apart from what is it and how it works.

Shun Cutlery Premier 7

Introduction to Santoku

A santoku is known by its shape featuring a flat cutting edge and a blunted front. However, the most unique feature that distinguishes it from other knives is its row of shallow hollows or pits on the blade side.

These depressions technically are termed as the Granton or kullenschliff edge that minimizes friction and prevents food particles from sticking to the blade. Due to the popularity of this knife, various knife manufacturers tend to add the hollow edge to other knives.

This means you can get Granton in other knives as well. Such an edge not only look cool but is also highly functional, especially when it comes to slicing potatoes that then do not stick to the blade.

Thus, for slicing foods, the santoku has this subtle benefit over standard. However, do not feel so much persuaded that you replace all good knives with santokus. This is unwise, as each knife has its own use and benefit.

The knife boasts a sheepsfoot blade, which means it appears like that of a sheep’s hoof. The curve is less than that of a German chef knife with a truly curved tip. While the latter uses a rocking motion at the time of chopping, the santoku employs a bit forward motion followed by a vertical chopping motion going straight down.

After being accustomed to this motion, you enjoy more control. This motion is possible because of harder steel construction, unique shape, and thinner and sharper shape than its western equivalent.

Even the blade is wider than the western counterpart due to which the santoku is ideal for scooping items from the cutting board for putting them into a prep bowl. The blade’s shape and the handle’s size are well-balanced to ensure optimal comfort.

These features make the santoku ideal for those who feel an 8- or 10-inch chef knife is big. This is also why many females use the santoku as their main knife.

Is Santoku Hollow or Hollow-Ground?

Several knife enthusiasts use hollow ground to indicate hollowed or dimpled knives. Well, this is technically incorrect. In the world of knives, hollow ground is the way in which the cutting edge is ground. It has nothing to do with dimples or hollows on the blade side.

The Evolution of The Santoku

The saga of the santoku knife has its origin in Japan. The knife was first introduced during the mid-20th century and after World War II for the home cooks. It was made as an alternative to the conventional vegetable cleaver popularly known as a ‘nakiri’ that many cooks did not like.

Although the santoku retains the cleaver’s straight edge and height, it comes with a user-friendly sheepsfoot tip instead of a sharp triangular point. This tip curves down in the direction of the edge to give you a gentle point.

It is true that this knife was born in Japan. This makes many people say that the santoku is a typical Japanese knife. However, this is not fully true. This is because this knife is actually a new style that encompasses the Japanese and Western knife styles.

The fact is that many cooking styles were introduced in the country due to which they demanded a new kind of knife. This gave rise to the santoku, which is a Japanese style of a Western/German chef knife. While sashimi is a Japanese knife, the santoku is more of a hybrid than being purely Japanese.

Still, this does not defy the fact that santoku is the most popular knife used in kitchens in Japan. Today, it is also a beloved choice of home and professional chefs across the globe.

Reasons Why You Need a Santoku in Your kitchen

Not having a santoku knife is missing out something efficient. The Japanese word Santoku literally means three uses or three virtues. There is some debate on what these virtues exactly are.

While many people interpret these uses as meat, veggies, and fish, others consider them to be the three types of cuts a santoku is designed to make namely, mincing, dicing, and slicing. Many enthusiasts consider the performance of this knife for making these cuts to be second to none.

Another belief is that these virtues mean three parts of the knife that play a major role in performing different jobs. These are the heel for intense chopping, the main edge for grunt jobs, and the tip for detail effort.

No matter which of them you believe in, santoku tends to fulfill all of them. This means that it plays several roles in your kitchen to be a versatile chef knife. There are more reasons why these knives are gaining popularity in different parts of the world. Let’s explore them now!

  • The blades of santoku are thinner than most chef’s knives. This indicates more refined slicing and no smashing.
  • The knife is shorter than its Western equivalents and is 5-8 inches long, which makes it more comfortable for those who cannot handle longer knives. It is also shorter and thinner than most western styles of knives. Thus, it is stronger and more stabilized.
  • The weight distribution of santoku is more balanced than any other knife.
  • The scalloped granton edges introduce air between the food or material being cut and the blade, which makes it simpler to release anything that sticks to the blade. This means that you need not stop and push slices off a sharp blade with your fingers. Thus, the santoku is the best choice to slice something thinly. Most foods meeting the santoku are likely to be sticky or juicy, ranging right from onions to red peppers. These foods will cling while cutting them if the knife is not santoku. While you can always glide the food off with your finger and proceed, you will not like to do so every couple of seconds.
  • The blade shape is less curved than the traditional American counterpart. It is also what makes it stand apart from the chef’s knife. The shape facilitates the distinctive chopping motion that many pros from around the world embrace for its ultimate precision, efficiency, and speed. This design gives a less-intimidating look and reduces the risk of piercing unintentionally.
  • The blade is flat, which makes santoku set apart from several western knives in the rounded style. Most chef’s knives come with a rounded blade due to which the knife rocks at the time of cutting. While some time will go in getting used to the santoku’s flat edge, it is swifter and more efficient.

Top Sanoku Knives in the Market

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Santoku’s Blade: The Benefits of Being Tall, Thin, and Sharp

Knowing that the blade is tall when it comes to learning what is a santoku is likely to catch your attention on the spot. So, why the blade is tall? Two reasons exist for having such a blade.

First, a tall blade helps in making those paper-thin slices. The knife should be taller than the food to be sliced. Second, a tall blade acts as a hurdle while slicing so that the resultant slices are even. A blade whose length is within two inches is going to give you uneven slices when used.

Another benefit of such a blade is that you can move the already cut food to a bowl or dish. To do so, just turn the blade and sweep those food bits. However, do employ extreme caution while doing so, as the risk of harm is there.

The blade of a santoku is also thin and sharp. The blade ideally must be sharpened to an acute angle to process any skin of any food item positioned it its path without finger work. After all, you need to chop in an up and down manner with a santoku.

Here, no serrations or up and down motion of a chef’s knife can help you achieve what you want. A thin blade is what you need to make extra thin slices. Here, a thick blade is futile.

It is vital to have a sharp cutting angle. So, how do you determine the edge’s sharpness? You do so by knowing the angle of the bevel, a lean strip on any blade side that shrinks to make the cutting edge.

It is found that a more acute angle on this cutting edge is essential to enjoy easier slicing. Almost all knives are expected to have an acute angle of 15 degrees, a normal angle already present on Asian-style knives and now increasingly seen on the Western knives. However, there are knives having an angle of 10 degrees.

An angle of over 20 degrees will be too large. Thus, it is wise to have a blade sharpened between 15- and 20-degrees angle. A better option will be to have a blade that is sharpened to below 15 degrees.

To know how sharp a santoku is, you can perform a simple paper test. If aptly sharpened, the knife will easily pass through the paper with the least resistance. Such knives will be thinner at the spine (usually 2 mm or less).

Knives with slimmer spines give a razor-like feel while sliding through food instead of a full wedge-like experience. Yes, wedge-like blades will end up cutting foods rather than slicing them, making them squirt juices.

Santokus have slim blade spines with the blade’s top being exactly opposite of the cutting edge. This is because less metal exists to push through the item being cut. This gives a razor-like feel and performance while sliding through dense veggies.

Recognizing the fact that not all knives are identical, it is unwise to assume that any santoku knife will have a sharp edge and a thin blade. It is recommended to check these features before shopping. Do look for cutting angle in customer reviews to know how sharp the knife is if it is not mentioned in the product description.

Newer santokus come with slightly curved bottom edges to facilitate delicate rocking motion. This is essential for effectively mincing herbs. However, there are santokus with a deeply curved bottom edge essential for a full rocking motion.

Both these designs are exceptional to the traditional santokus having a flat edge. Interestingly, you will also find a few santokus having a tip whose design sits between the straight tip of a chef’s knife and the typical sheepsfoot tip.

Santoku’s Blade Build: Strong and Non-flexible

A strong knife is essential in any kitchen. Thus, you need to find a knife whose blade is made up of hard steel. While some knives such as bread knives need to be flexible, santokus should not be so. This is because you need a solidly constructed santoku with a tough blade.

Such a blade should be made using high-carbon stainless steel or steel. This is because the high carbon content is responsible for giving additional strength.

In case you want to go with a purely stainless-steel blade, consider choosing a fully forged one. In simple terms, go with the one that has been nailed into a shape using a big mass of steel rather than been carved using a sheet of steel.

The process of forging makes any steel sturdier. It would be wise to use a forged model regardless of any kind of steel although it would be costly. Ceramic blades are also sharp and do not flex. However, they are quite brittle for the tasks a santoku is made for.

If you are a crazy fan of ceramic, it is essential to select a cutting board wisely. The board should be made using plastic or wood, as such a material is friendlier with the ceramic blade than marble or glass.

A santoku should have the handle and blade firmly affixed to each other for performing the intended tasks efficiently. Keeping this in mind, it is wise to invest in a full-tang, triple-riveted model. If the latter is not what you want, at least, get a full-tang blade. Otherwise, the risk of the blade and handle falling apart will increase while chopping.

Santoku’s Handle:

Cooks and chefs usually prefer handles that are not over 3 inches at their widest spot. A knife that is thicker or slimmer than this benchmark results in making a stressful attempt to retain a secure grip. Further, a knife with big bumps, bends or arcs, and sturdily tapered shapes force hands to be in uneasy positions.

If a handle is made using smooth plastic or metal, it is likely to slip when hands become wet or oily.  In short, the bottom line is that all these aspects should be there in your santoku handle.

It should feel substantial, not large, should be made of lightly textured material, and should be neutrally shaped to facilitate a myriad of comfortable grips.

Santoku Vs. Chef Knife: What’s the Difference

Both these knives are different although they may look quite similar. Due to very close similarity, most people think that both can be sued interchangeably. However, this is only partially true as you can use both for chopping, dicing, mincing, and slicing. Still, they both are different. Let’s explore the differences in this section.

  • Length: A chef’s knife is longer with the length being 8-10 inches than a normal santoku that measures around 5 to 8 inches long. From the user’s perspective, a santoku’s length is that of an average hand. Thus, it is handy for those with small hands.
  • Weight: A santoku is heavier than any other shorter knife. This is because it has been modeled after the solid cleaver knife. Moreover, a Japanese steel type is usually heavier than any type of Western steel due to which a santoku somewhat has a hefty feel.
  • Shape: A santoku has a straight cutting edge and comes with a less distinct point. This shape allows for refined and neat slices without any sharp tip meddling in the way as well as reduced risk of the unintentional piercing. It also facilitates a quick downward chop. However, it is not that efficient for rocking motion required for slicing repetitively. On the other hand, a chef’s knife is better for back and forth cutting due to its curved lower blade. Its sharper point is helpful for piercing through the target items or split up any stubborn packaging.
  • Bevel: An acute bevel angle means easier slicing. A traditional Japanese santoku has a sharper angle of 12–15 degrees along with a single bevel. The latter indicates that the blade is tapered on one side. On the other hand, a chef’s knife or any other western design comes with double bevel and have an angle of 20–30 degrees.

So, should you choose a santoku or a chef’s knife? Well, this is a personal choice although santokus are viable alternatives to western knives. At the end of the day, it comes down to cutting the ingredients into the right size.

A santoku is exclusively designed for making thin slices of all veggies, dairy products, and fruits. No other knife can give you finer cuts that you would normally see in Japanese dishes. Further, its wide blade is useful for lifting food from the cutting board and putting into a pan or bowl.

On the other hand, a chef’s knife goes one step ahead in terms of functionality. Its ability to swing back and forth means easy chopping of many veggies. Its sharp tip and longer blade play an effective role in separating different parts of a food item to be cut.

Keeping aside the tasks of slicing bread and peeling, these two knives can handle most kitchen tasks. However, if you are comfortable with a smaller knife, a santoku is the ideal choice. On the contrary, if you are happy with the extra length and pointed tip, a santoku will only be an addon instead of replacing your chef’s knife.

Sharpening a Santoku

Due to the absence of a bolster, it is usually easy to sharpen a santoku. Further, as most santokus made from harder steel feature a single bevel, it requires less sharpening effort than the double-beveled knives. It is easier to make a finer angle on a single side for gaining a sharper knife.

Generally, you can sharpen a santoku to approximately 10 to 15 degrees. The best tool to sharpen a santoku knife is a whetstone. A sharpening steel is likely to harm the knife, as it is usually made up of more durable and thinner steel.

This stone gives a sharper edge than any other sharpening method. You must follow the detailed sharpening instructions given with the whetstone you brought. Following are the general steps of sharpening a santoku using a whetstone:

  1. Immerse the stone in water until the duration mentioned in its instruction manual.
  2. Focusing on the coarse side, roll the knife at the precise angle.
  3. Smoothly move the knife up and down across the stone. Do cover the full blade. Repeat steps 2 and 3 on the other side in case of a double-beveled knife.
  4. Shift the stone to its finer side.
  5. Repeat the process and then wash the knife.

Top sharpening stones in the market

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A santoku is a must-to-have tool in your kitchen if you want those super-thin slices. Do not consider it as a replacement for a chef’s knife.