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What Is a Santoku Knife Best Used for? (Uses and Food Types)

 

As Santoku knives grow in popularity worldwide, and in particular in the Western world, it’s becoming more important to know what this, Japanese equivalent to a Western chef’s knife, is best used for.

Santoku knives are typically high-quality knives that many people consider to be an investment and their versatile use can often be misinterpreted. The versatility of this knife will depend solely on how you use it and what you use it to cut.

A Santoku knife, derived from the meaning “three virtues” or “three uses” is a multi-purpose knife that is best used for chopping, slicing, dicing, and mincing. The knife’s general-purpose use means that it is well suited to chopping or slicing vegetables, cutting or mincing meat, and slicing fine cuts of seafood. The Santoku is also referred to as the Japanese equivalent of a Western Chef’s knife.

While a Santoku knife is a general-purpose knife that is well suited to a variety of different uses, it is important to know the areas in which this knife will excel and also where it will struggle as general-purpose does not mean it can do everything!

Table of contents

What Is a Santoku Knife Best Used For?

 

Santoku knives are one of the most popular knives in both Japanese and Western households, they are designed for precision cutting and the great importance of this knife is its ability to make ultra-fine cuts on a variety of different food types.

As mentioned earlier, the name Santoku bōchō (Japanese: 三徳包丁) Can be translated to mean “three virtues” or further translated (for Western users) to mean three uses or three purposes which is a result of the knife’s design being optimized for mincing, dicing and slicing or for the type of food that it is commonly used with like meat, fish, and vegetables.

This all-purpose use is the reason this knife is a kitchen staple in Japanese households and it has multiple advantages when used properly.

What Are the Advantages of Using a Santoku Knife?

The main advantage of using a Santoku knife is the precise and fine cuts that it can provide. Japanese manufactured knives will typically hold a sharper edge and this is true for both the double bevel and single bevel designs.

As a result of the sharper edge, a Santoku knife can not only provide a much more precise and fine cut but it can also better preserve the flavour of the food which is an essential component for traditional Japanese cuisine and dishes.

By holding a sharper edge, a Santoku knife can cleanly pass through the food's cell membrane, and without getting too technical or scientific, this clean pass maintains the cell integrity of the food for a more enhanced flavour.

The easiest way to tell that a knife is not cleanly passing through the food (as a result of holding a dull edge) is when juice or parts of the food are left on the chopping board or knife after a cut. A sharp Santoku will leave minimal juice on the chopping board which is crucial when chopping fruit and vegetables.

The design of a Santoku knife is also optimized for professional use and you’ll find that the knife is lightweight with a balanced weight distribution which allows for easy maneuverability and long duration use without fatiguing the user.

The shorter blade is also easier to control, which is one particular reason that this knife has become so popular in a lot of households. A Western chef's knife can usually range from 8” - 12” in size which is noticeably more than the average 5” - 8” Santoku and is the reason why many Western cooks are choosing to use the smaller and easier to control Santoku.

How to Use a Santoku Knife

A Santoku knife should be used in a backward and forwards, downward chopping motion, and as a result of a flatter blade with a minimal curve, the knife will leave contact with the chopping board in between every cut. This is a technique unlike the rock chopping motion used on a western chef’s knife, whereby the blade will always stay in contact with the chopping board.

This cutting technique is not only adopted to provide a finer cut but also to allow the user to work at a quicker speed.

As a result of a shorter and thinner blade, a Santoku knife is not well-suited to heavy-duty use and will not be able to cut through the dense bone or cartilage on meat or large fish. It will also struggle to cut through larger fruits like melon.

What Type of Foods Would You Use a Santoku Knife For?

 

Santoku knives are a multi-purpose knife that is designed for a range of cutting, slicing and chopping purposes. For this reason, you can actually use a Santoku knife on a wide variety of foods which can include:

Chopping vegetables: As a result of its ability to make fine cuts, a Santoku knife is well-suited to slicing and chopping vegetables and making decorative cuts for dish presentation.

Meat: Slicing and making rough cuts on meat are common with a Santoku, however, it’s worth noting that due to a shorter and thinner blade, this knife is not well suited to cutting dense meat with tough cartilage and bone.

Seafood: A Santoku knife is arguably, used most commonly for slicing and chopping seafood (particularly raw fish).

Some of these foods are overlapping for a range of dishes and you’ll find that Santoku knives are often used to create sushi dishes as a result.

The ultra-fine cuts that a Santoku knife can provide for vegetables and raw fish is ideally suited to the dish presentation and preservation of the food's flavour that is required with sushi.

A sushi knife set is quite an expensive cost and for this reason, many households will opt for the more versatile Santoku as an alternative.

What Is the Difference Between a Chefs' Knife and a Santoku Knife?

 

A common misconception is that a Santoku and Western chef's knife are the same thing and whilst there are some similarities, they are completely different knives with different uses.

Below are just a few of the key differences that influence how these knives are commonly used:

Size and Weight

A Santoku knife is typically shorter, thinner, and lighter than a Western chef’s knife which makes it easier to manoeuvre but restricts the size and density of foods that it can work with.

A Santoku knife can range in size from 5” - 8” which is on the shorter side when it comes to an all-purpose knife, especially compared to a Western chef's knife which can range in size from 8” -14” (with 10” - 12” most commonly used).

Blade Design

A Western chef’s knife has a more noticeable blade design as a result of the slight curvature from the heel to the tip of the blade, this allows the user to adopt a rocking motion and make use of the pinch grip cutting technique.

A Santoku knife has a much flatter edge with curvature from the spine to the tip which is designed as a safety aspect to reduce the chance of a novice user cutting themselves.

A chef’s knife is typically made of stainless steel which is tougher, easier to clean, and more resistant to corrosion, although it doesn’t hold its edge well and therefore requires more regular sharpening. A Santoku knife can be made from a variety of materials with a high-quality carbon-steel blend being the most common.

This allows the knife to be thinner, lighter, and hold a sharper edge for longer periods of use (requiring less maintenance), though it does have some drawbacks as it can be more prone to chipping and rust if not carefully looked after.

Bevel

While western knives are predominantly double bevel-edged, a Santoku knife is unique in that it can have a double bevel (as a result of its increased popularity in Western society) or it can also be manufactured to have a single bevel edge which creates a much sharper knife.

A Santoku knife has an edge that is further enhanced when utilizing a Granton edge, this allows the blade to move more freely between food without food sticking to the knife for a cleaner and more precise cut.

Final Thoughts

A Santoku knife is one of the most versatile and commonly used kitchen knives worldwide (providing very close competition for a Western chef’s knife). Its general purpose makes it well-suited to mincing, slicing, and dicing and the precision and control means you can use it on a variety of food types including meat, seafood, fruit, and vegetables.

While it’s noticeably versatile, it’s also worth keeping in mind that this knife does have limitations and cannot be used for everything in the kitchen!

The shorter and thinner blade means it’s not ideal for larger and denser foods (particularly certain meat and fruits) and a lot of professional chefs prefer a blade to be around 10” - 12” in length for added versatility of use.

FAQs

Q: Do I need a chef's knife and a Santoku knife?

A: The santoku is a Japanese knife that's designed for chopping up ingredients into small pieces. You need a chef's knife and about six more knives to make up for the santoku.

Q: What is the difference between a chef's knife and a Santoku knife?

A: The key difference between these types of knives is their blade shapes. Slicing, dicing, and chopping tasks are all best served with either a chef's knife or a santoku western. The shape of the blade prevents food from getting squished and smushed between the cuts. There are typically two options for each type - one with a curved end and one without a curve on its end, called "western." The western style works great in multi-tasker kitchens because it can be used to not only chop up herbs for seasoning but also serve as your traditional kitchen knife as well. It excels at finer mincing that those power hacks require more finesse since the curved edge lowers risk of cutting yourself.

Q: How do I know what knife to use?

A: Knives are not just for cutting your food to eat it. They can be great tools and helpers when cooking so that your food preparation time is decreased. Santoku knives originate from Japan, which means they have been widely used for more than a century. So you know they work wonders in the kitchen! Though santoku's come in different shapes, sizes, sharpness levels, and blade lengths around the world - many chefs prefer this type of knife because its size make it versatile to use without lots of extra effort which makes it a good all-around choice for any one looking to maximize their cooking experience!




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