I admit, I’m a knife nerd. After working in commercial kitchens for long enough, you begin to develop a love for your kitchen knives that borders on obsession. Each knife is a prized tool, one that is usually purchased after weeks of research and months of saving. There are so many different kinds of knives for so many different tasks. Today we’ll just be looking at two: the Santoku vs Chef knife, a classic matchup.
Both are great additions to any kitchen but have different strengths. They are great all-around knives. I’ll unpack the virtues of these knives and help you determine which is the right fit for your needs and your cooking style. I’ll tell you right up front that my personal favorite is the Henckels Hollow Edge Santoku.
But first, let’s get into the nitty gritty to understand what each knife is and how they differ from one another.
Santoku Vs Chef Knife. The Differences.
First thing’s first, what is the difference between a Santoku and a Chef’s knife? Before I say how these two tools differ, I will explain what they have in common. For one thing, both are great general-purpose knives in any chef’s kitchen. Both can be used to prepare meats, vegetables, and fruit.
Santoku knives are typically Japanese-style knives, although nowadays many western manufacturers make them as well. Conversely, Chef’s knives originated in the west but have since been adopted by eastern manufacturers (the Gyuto knife, for example, is a Japanese take on the classic French style Chef’s knife).
The Chef’s Knife
This all-purpose knife has its roots in France and Germany. It was originally made to slice and break down large cuts of meat. It can be used for virtually any task in the kitchen, from slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing, to breaking down tougher cuts of meat.
These western knives typically have a curved blade of about 8 inches long, are usually found with a bolster, and are forged or stamped from carbon or stainless steel. Usually, these blades feature a double bevel (both sides of the knife are angled toward the blade’s edge).
Generally, Chef’s knives will be produced from softer steel than their Japanese counterparts. This means that they tend to hold their edge less over time, but do not chip or break down as quickly.
The Santoku Knife
The Santoku is another classic knife, common in kitchens of both home cooks and professionals. Like the Chef’s knife, it is great for a variety of tasks. The Santoku was originally developed from the Japanese Nakiri knife, used for chopping vegetables.
In general, Santoku knives tend to be anywhere from 6 to 8 inches long, have a lighter weight than Chef’s knives, and have a straight edge with a distinctive downturned blade. They are typically made without bolsters and can feature either a double or single bevel.
As mentioned earlier, Japanese kitchen knives generally use harder, thinner steel for their blades. This means that they are great for delicate, detailed cuts, and can hold a very sharp edge, but may be more prone to damage over time.
Still Don’t Know Which Knife To Pick?
If you’re having a difficult time deciding which knife to choose, my advice would be to consider what types of tasks you perform more regularly in your kitchen. While both knives are great multi-purpose tools, they do offer distinct but varied advantages. If you find yourself breaking down larger, tougher cuts of meat more often (deboning a chicken, trimming fat) then consider opting for a Chef’s knife.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy preparing dishes with more fruits and vegetables, or with precise cuts, consider the Santoku. It is one of my favorite knives for mincing herbs and finely slicing vegetables for dishes like salads or for garnishes.
Now that you’ve got an idea of the basic similarities and differences between Chef’s knives and Santoku knives, let’s see which are the best of each.
Best Santoku Knives
Best for the Professional: Shun DM-0702 7 Inch Santoku Knife
The Shun Santoku Knife is my pick for any professional chef. Shun is well known for their synthesis of elegance and functional Japanese knives. The 7-inch knife features a blade made of 16-layered high-quality forged stainless steel. Like any good Santoku, it is versatile and can chop, mince, slice, and dice with the best of them.
As a classic Santoku knife, this blade is shorter and lighter than your typical knife. This allows for much more flexibility and freedom in the kitchen. It’s a perfect knife for delicate work. Another great feature is its slightly curved belly–this hybrid style between a classic Santoku and a western Chef’s knife means that the blade can be gently rocked forward and backward (this is particularly useful when mincing herbs, for example).
Finally, in terms of quality, this knife is hard to beat. Like all Shun’s knives, it is hand forged in Japan and made from the finest quality steel. The elegant design and Damascus pattern elevate this knife from just a useful tool to a work of art. The sleek wood handle is lightweight, comfortable, and simple–to perfectly offset the pattern of the blade.
- Incredibly sharp
- Retains edge well
- Beautiful Damascus design
- Durable wood handle
- Higher price point
- Must be handled carefully so the hard blade does not chip
- Must be cared for properly
Best for the Home Chef: Henckels Classic Hollow Edge 7-Inch Santoku Knife
The Henckels Hollow Edge Santoku is a great example of a western manufacturer producing high-quality Japanese kitchen knives. This is a great choice for any home cook who takes their culinary pursuits seriously. This blade is forged from high-quality German steel in Spain.
A wonderful feature of this knife is its hollow edge. The dimples (air pockets) along the blade reduce drag and provide a smooth slicing experience. This lightweight blade combines some of the best features of the classic eastern style blade and the high quality of a well-regarded German manufacturer.
I love this knife for making paper-thin cuts on vegetables like tomatoes and onions. It is a classic and beautiful addition to any good knife collection.
- Affordable price point
- Sharp blade
- Hollow edge allows for smooth cutting
- Well balanced
- May need some sharpening out of the box
- Edge must be maintained over time
Best Budget: Mercer Culinary Genesis 7 Inch Santoku Knife
For those who are just starting to get into building out their cutlery collection, the Mercer Santoku is a great starting place.
This is another forged blade from high carbon German steel. It features a nonslip Santoprene handle, which allows for a firm grip while performing various tasks. This is a great knife for any home cook who wants to experience professional quality.
- Great value
- High-quality steel
- Sharp blade
- Nonslip handle
- Must be dried thoroughly so as not to rust
- Edge must be maintained over time
Best Chef’s Knives
Best for the Professional: Wüsthof Classic IKON 8” Chef’s Knife
Wusthof knives are German classics. They produce some of my favorite knives and this 8-inch Chef’s knife is no exception.
Forged from a single block of high carbon stainless steel, this knife is great for prepping all kinds of meat and vegetables, particularly hardier vegetables and thicker cuts of meat. This knife features a sturdy handle and a half bolster, which reduces weight.
Due to its higher price point, this is my pick for professionals. It is certainly a delight to use, has great balance and weight, and can tackle pretty much anything. Like all high-quality knives, this blade must be well cared for–that means occasional sharpening, and careful washing, drying and storing.
- Incredibly sharp blade
- High-quality materials
- Great balance
- High price point
- Requires careful maintenance
Best for the Home Chef: Zwilling Twin Signature 8-Inch Chef Knife
Another classic German brand–Zwilling–makes a wonderful Chef’s knife. This blade is well crafted and affordable, an excellent choice for any dedicated home chef. These knives are well known for their comfortable ergonomic design–the perfect blend of comfort and efficiency.
This knife is precision stamped from a single block of steel. It is lightweight and razor-sharp, an ideal combination. Its unique three-riveted handle is incredibly comfortable and fits snugly in the hand. For a high-performance, visually stunning addition, I recommend the Zwilling 8-Inch Chef Knife.
- Very sharp
- Unique and comfortable handle
- Requires careful maintenance
- Curved handle may not be ideal for everyone
Best Budget: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife
This stamped Swiss Chef’s knife is a great choice for anyone on a budget. The blade on this knife is surprisingly thin for a chef’s knife, which allows for greater precision. This knife is a workhorse–for the low price point, it can tackle many different tasks with ease.
The Victorinox Chef’s knife features softer steel, which means that while it does not retain its edge as consistently, it can be easily honed back into a razor-sharp, precision cutting edge.
What it lacks in style or packaging, it certainly makes up for in efficiency and versatility. Although this is a great budget knife, it is also an excellent choice for anyone who appreciates a good knife.
- Great price point
- Well balanced
- Nonslip handle
- Sharp out of the box
- Handle is less aesthetically pleasing than other knives
- Requires more frequent honing
Do I Need Both?
You may still be wondering how to choose between a Santoku or Chef’s knife–do you need both? While I think that either knife–Santoku or Chef’s knife–does an excellent all-around job in the kitchen, this all depends on your preferences.
For anyone just starting out on their culinary journey, any one of these knives will last you a long time and provide a great foundation. Beginning with a lower-priced knife will be helpful for those learning how to care for knives: properly washing and drying (never use the dishwasher!), honing, and occasionally sharpening. This is great preparation for adding higher and higher-quality knives to your collection.
For those who want to experiment more and aren’t as worried about price, it could be a real learning experience to buy both a Santoku and Chef’s knife and compare. You’ll find that the Santoku will be adept at making those fine slices and minced herbs that you see in professional kitchens. The Chef’s knife will be a real help for tackling tougher ingredients and bigger cuts of meat. With both of these knives, there’s nothing you won’t be able to slice, dice, chop, or debone.
You’re probably wondering which knife of all of these is my favorite. It’s a difficult decision to make since all of these products have unique features. When all factors are taken into consideration, my top choice is the Henckels Hollow Edge Santoku. It is the perfect blend of affordability, precision, and all-around efficiency. I like that this knife is accessible for both home cooks and professionals.
My second pick would be the Zwilling Twin Signature 8-Inch Chef Knife, which not only features a signature ergonomic handle but a razor-sharp blade that will last a long time. For those who want to take their knife game up a notch, I recommend either of the professional knives–the Shun DM-0702 7-Inch Santoku Knife and the Wüsthof Classic IKON 8” Chef’s Knife, for an elevated experience.
Finally, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8-Inch Chef’s Knife. This is the ultimate bang-for-your-buck knife. It’s cherished by professionals and home cooks alike. While it may not be the most elegant looking, it is definitely efficient, and deadly sharp. If you’re not as particular about looks and care more for a job well done (and at a steal), I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase this trusty blade.
Regardless of which knife you choose, these are all excellent options. Whether as a gift to someone else or a gift to yourself, picking any one of these will be an excellent investment.