santoku vs chef knife

Santoku vs Chef Knife

Which is the Best All-Purpose Kitchen Knife?

By Bobby B.  |  Updated July 22, 2020  | Blog

Two of the most popular knives in the kitchen today are the santoku knife and the chef’s knife.  It’s a very common question to get, asking what the differences are and which is better…Santoku or chef knife?  There are many similarities in these very helpful all-purpose blades, yet there are some nuances that make their cutting traits a bit different also.  This post will discuss both their similarities and their differences.  We will also help you determine which is best for your kitchen, or perhaps if your style requires a hybrid version (more on this later), or even both.   

In order to better understand which blade is better, let’s discuss each knife’s roots.  That’s starts with where it was made first, and what it was designed to do.   Their origins will help us appreciate why each is better and certain tasks.

The Santoku Knife

Santoku Knife

The origins of the santoku knife hail from Japan.  It is an all-purpose knife, and like most Japanese-inspired blades is lighter weight than its Western counterparts.  Due to the fish and softer vegetables in the diet of this region of the world, santoku knives are made with thinner blades and sharper cutting edge angles for more finesse than overall power.  Many of them also have a hollow edge, or grantons along the length of the blade.  These are said to reduce friction and help vegetables not stick to the knife during slicing and dicing. 

Prior to the early 2000s, santokus were rarely found in American kitchens.  They were popularized when Rachel Ray declared it her favorite blade on national television.  It has since turned into one of the most used knives in our kitchen.  Check out our favorite santoku knife at Amazon… 

The Chef Knife

Chef Knife

In contrast to santokus, chef’s knives are considered a Western knife.  Their origins are European and many of the best chef’s knives are still made in Germany today.  The chef knife has long been the most commonly used knife by American chefs, and this still remains true today.  This traditional blade tends to be heavier and more powerful than its Asian counterpart, the santoku.  The larger, bulkier blade is designed to power through more tough meat and possible bones.  Check out our favorite chef knife at Amazon…

Similarities and Differences

As mentioned above, there are many similarities and differences between knives in the santoku vs chef knife debate.  To explain them all, we’ll break the two blades down into the critical areas of the knives.  

Types of Cuts 

Both of these knives are considered a do-it-all solution.  They can both cut meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and so on.  They are also both popular tools for slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing.  In this aspect, both santoku and chef knives are very similar.

Blade Weight/Thickness 

This has to do as much with Western knives versus Asian knives as it does with a chefs knife vs santoku knife thing.  Western knives tend to be thicker blades and bulkier.  Due to the additional metal, they are also heavier in weight.  This helps them force their way through food powerfully.  On the contrary, Japanese knives like, a santoku included, are usually a thinner blade and lighter weight for a more delicate cut.

Edge Angle

In additional to thinner blades, Asian-style knives (like Shun brand knives) also tend to have sharper edge angles, averaging around 15 degrees.  This is compared to an average of closer to 20 degrees with most western knives (like Wusthof brand knives) like we would expect to see on most chef’s knives.

knife edge angles

Blade Shape 

This is an area of difference between a santoku knife vs a chef knife.  We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but a chef’s knife has a gradual curvature on both the top and the bottom of the blade, bringing it to a pronounced point on the front of the blade.  Conversely, a santoku knife is near horizontal on both the top and bottom of the blade and the nose brings the point towards the bottom.

Blade Length

Not only is the shape of the blade different on the two, but the length is also different.  Accommodating larger hands better, the chef knife is longer and averages between 8-10″, and sometimes goes up to 12″.  Whereas, the santoku blade typically comes in two slightly smaller sizes.  They are commonly offered in the standard 7″ version and a mini 5″ version.

Material Hardness 

This can sometimes be hard to comprehend as all steel blades may seem hard, but they are not all the same.  Because Japanese-style knives, including the santoku, are thinner blades with sharper angles, they also tend to be more brittle and conducive to chipping.  For this reason, santokus are often offered with “super steel“, which is basically an ultra-hard steel alloy that reduces the likelihood of a fracture taking place.  This is a good reason not to be a cheap santoku knife.  The thicker blade on a chef’s knife allow the allow to be a bit softer.   

Grip/Technique/Cutting Motion 

The way you grip both knives is very similar, however the technique and cutting motion used can be quite different.  Due to the shape and length of the blade, a santoku knife requires either an up and down or a down and forward chopping-type motion.  On the other hand, a “rocking” motion is a common technique on a chef’s knife.  It’s the slight curvature on the bottom of the blade that allows for this.

Hybrids Coming Together

As santoku knives become more popular in America, the top knife manufacturers are trying to figure out how to profit on the new market.  Enter the hybrid santoku chef knife.  Although we couldn’t find anyone marketing their knives as hybrids, it’s definitely happening.  There are features of both knives that we love, so why not combine them into a single, true “all-purpose” hybrid knife?  Let’s take a look at an example from one of our favorite up-and-coming knife makers, Zelite Infinity.  

Traditional Santoku Knife

traditional santoku knife
traditional santoku knife - blade detail image

Hybrid Santoku/Chef Knife

hybrid santoku-chef knife
hybrid santoku/chef knife - blade detail view

Traditional Chef’s Knife

traditional chef knife
traditional chef knife - blade detail view image

What’s Different About These “Western-Inspired Santokus”?

Pay extra close attention to the shape of the blade in the detail views above.  As you can probably see, the top of the blade is still shaped mostly like a santoku knife.  It’s basically horizontal and the nose still comes down towards the tip.  This increases safety, reducing the likelihood of a novice cutting themselves by accident.  Conversely, the bottom of the blade more resembles a chef’s knife.  Can you see how rather than a horizontal edge, it’s more rounded like chef’s knives?  This allows for the rocking motion that American’s like to use when cutting veggies, rather than the up and down chopping motion typically used with a santoku knife. 

In addition, we still see the grantons, or hollows, along the length of the blade for food release.  This of course is indicative of the santoku.  We think this is a great option when you can’t decide between the two blades, but don’t have the budget to purchase both.  

To be clear, there is no real classification of hybrid santoku/chef’s knives or Western-inspired knives.  These are terms we made up and things we’ve just noticed throughout our research of the best knives for BladeAdvisor.  You won’t be able to “google” this term and find much.

The Showdown:  Santoku Knife vs Chef Knife

So which is better, chef’s knife vs santoku knife?  This really comes down to the individual’s personal preference and their comfort level with each knife.  Those will smaller hands may tend to like the santoku knife due to its smaller size and finesse cutting action.  At the same time, larger-handed folks may lean towards the chef’s knife for the same reason.  You may find comfort in what you’ve been using also.  But, we encourage everyone to try new things.  If you’ve used the chef’s knife for years, give the santoku a shot!

For all the reasons outlined above on this page, the BladeAdvisor team is a real fan of the santoku knife.  However, we think both are great options and one or the other is necessary in every kitchen.  While having one of each knife probably isn’t essential, we think you will find uses for both of them.  If you can only afford one good knife in your kitchen, we definitely recommend looking into one of the hybrid-types we mentioned above.  

Chefs Knife vs Santoku Knife Showdown Video

Before we conclude, we thought we’d share a video we found that goes into great detail about the differences between these 2 great knife types.   

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