When it comes to kitchen knives, you can have a full knife block of options (bread, pairing, serrated, boning, butcher...you get it. The list goes on and on), but there are really two main multi-purpose knives home cooks should be familiar with: the chef’s knife and the santoku knife.
What is the Difference Between a Chef's Knife and a Santoku Knife?
Although many chefs find the santoku knife and the chef's knife interchangeable due to their similarities, there are distinguishing features that make each unique as well. Here is a little background about the two knives and some of the main differences that would be important to inspiring cooks.
- Chef’s Knife - Also known as a cook’s knife or French knife, the chef’s knife, which originated in Thiers, France, is typically made from carbon steel and stainless steel, which is the most popular. Most chef’s knives are around 8 inches, but you’ll occasionally see a 10-inch blade. These functional knives have a pointed tip, with a curved cutting edge with a 20 to 22-degree angle that allows the user to utilize the fluid rocking technique while cutting. It’s also important to note that the tip of the knife is much sharper than other types of knives (including the Santoku). The whole blade - tip, middle, and heel -are used to cut.
- Santoku Knife - This Japanese santoku knife, whose name means "Three virtues" for its ability to slice, dice, and mince, is typically made from stainless steel but is also available in ceramic and even carbon steel. The santoku knife was created to be a versatile alternative to vegetable cleavers, but it’s really more multi-purpose than that. It’s made with a light, thin blade between five and seven inches long and has an angle between 12 and 15 degrees. With a focus on the blade, the tip of the Santoku knife isn’t as important to the functionality - it’s generally rounded and requires a user to push harder to slice through tougher vegetables and meat. Another difference from other types of knives? The "Granton" edge, which contains scallops or indentions on the sides of the blade so that food does not stick to the knife when cutting.
While both knives are designed quite differently, the main notable difference is the way they perform when used on a cutting board. When using a chef’s knife, you will experience a fluid rocking or back and forth motion when you find your chopping rhythm. The santoku knife, however, is less fluid and more abrupt, for quick, short chops. Either is acceptable, it just depends on the preference of the cook.
How are a Chef's Knife and a Santoku Knife Alike?
Home cooks will find that the chef’s knife and the santoku knife may differ in size, geometry, and angle, but they’re utilized in the same way. They’re both versatile go-to kitchen knives: great for cutting meat, fruit, and vegetables.
I have to pick one: Santoku or Chef?
It’s a tough one. If we had to pick, we’d choose the Chef Knife. It’s longer blade helps you handle more than the Santoku. A chef's knife can chop through a thick cut of meat, but it can tackle small, precise cuts and open ingredient packages (we’ve all been there - sometimes muscle isn't enough!).
Our only real words of wisdom are to make sure you’re getting a fully forged chef knife. There’s a spectrum when it comes to “good” chef knives, but something that’s fully-forged should intrinsically have a good metal composition, great balance, and blade hardness.