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Santoku knives -- are they that great?

  • w

I keep seeing santoku knives on sale, every brand seems to have them now...they seem to be quite the rage. What's the big deal about them? Are they truly a "must have"?? I have a set of 4 Wusthof Trident knives that I love... (chef's knife, serrated bread knife, paring knife, and that other slender one...I think they call it a "sandwich knife") Plus the shears and sharpening steel. So I'm not sure I really need another knife, but would love to be convinced. :)

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  1. It's up to you if you want to put out the approximately $100 that one'll cost ya. I bit the bullet and bought one years ago as being an avid RR fan of the TVFood Network. She used one on everything. Now mind you, I am sure she had a sharperer man right there at her beckon call to make them slice a tomato. Anyway, I love mine. I had ordered one from the Mall at at specialty store and they got in a Henkel (SP?) and I was furious. No good at all and I took it back and got my $100 back on it. I ordered one Wusthoff online for #89 + tax and it came out to the hundred I knew I'd spend. It is an excellent knife in my opinion and for me, it 'is' a must have.

    3 Replies
    1. re: TUSCANY

      OK...but WHY is it a "must have"? What makes the knife so special/different from other knives?

      1. re: wyf4lyf

        I got the Wustoff Santoku - on sale when they put out the ones with the little dimples on the side so things stick less. I use it all the time (instead of chef's) since I don't cut heavy bones very often and it's thinner lighter great for all the veg I slice up. I don't really need the point or the heft of the big chef knife.

        And because it's new and pretty so I lavish it with the steel
        ; )
        of course there's an element of that

        I also really like an offset serrated bread knife I got a year or two ago (Wustoff again) - it's great on tomato, onions, or bread like it is intended for

        1. re: wyf4lyf
          Amuse Bouches

          The blade is very thin and very sharp, so it does thin slices and crisp vegetables very well. If you're chopping something that can take a lot of bruising, like potatoes or butternut squash, I prefer a heavier chef's knife, but for onions, tomatoes, and herbs, the thin blade means they slice up very nicely.

      2. I didn't buy the hype either. I love my forged chef's knife. But then I saw a high quality similarly sized santoku knife for an irresistibly low price and bought it thinking that if I didn't like it I'd just bring it back with my receipt for a refund. Well, I love it! I find myself reaching for it more than I do my chef's knife. If my chef's knife was capable of conscious thought it would be jealous and plotting a suitably knifey revenge.

        Here's the thing: the santoku doesn't have the long pointy bit at the end. The stubbiness actually works to your advantage. It feels like the fast, against the knuckles, pivoting chopping maneuver gets more leverage and is more efficient. That's the closest I can come to explaining why I seem to reach for it so much.

        But if you buy one at a reputable department store or something similar, keep the receipt and the packaging, and if you don't like it you can always return it for a refund.

        1. If you are happy with your chef's knife, then a santoku is not a 'must have'. Both work well for vegetable cutting. However many people who try a santoku end up preferring it over their chefs.

          Generally a santoku edge is straighter than a chefs, which means the rocking motion when cutting is different. While you can rock it, the santoku is better at the up down chopping, as with a Chinese cleaver.

          The santoku blade is usually thinner, and cuts through crisp vegetables easier. It isn't as good for heavy duty tasks, but fine for most home kitchen ones.

          The santoku blade may also be wider, making it useful for scooping up the cut food and transferring it to the pan.

          Some of these differences are evident from just looking at the blade shape.


          5 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            I think the Santoku is a cross between a chef's knife and a Chinese cleaver. If you already have a chef's knife, I'd think about getting the cleaver instead since it is cheaper and the two knives combined do the same thing as the Santoku

            1. re: cinderella525

              The Japanese also have a vegetable knife, that is rectangular like the Chinese cleaver, but much lighter weight.

              I believe the name 'santoku' means something like 'three way', suggesting it is a multipurpose knife, good for all around use, but not quite as good for certain tasks as more specialized shapes.


              1. re: paulj

                I have one of the Japanese "vegetable knives" and just love it. I must confess however, that I'm a bit of a knife freak. I have at least 2 chef's knives, 2 Santoku knives, several Chinese cleavers and who knows what else. Still, I use all of them at one time or another. The Japanese vegetable knife is shaped like a cleaver only about half as high and is much lighter. They are also less expensive than a Santoku knife.

                1. re: paulj

                  I, too, have the rectangular Japanese vegetable knife, and I use it for most things. I also have a much older version of that knife that belonged to my grandfather, and has since passed to my grandmother, my mother and now to me, so I guess I consider it a family heirloom. I love these knives because they really take a great edge.

                2. re: cinderella525

                  No. I 'cleave' nothing with my santoku. I have three. A Henckels, a Messermeister Meridian Elite (still from my original Le Cordon Bleu tool set from college) and a Mundial 5000. The Meridian is very thin and goes through any vegitable like a scalpel. My only concern with it is how easily the blade can ding on the edge. The henkels is a little heavier and does not hold an edge as well as the meridian. The Mundial is the latest purchase for me. It is very heavy for a santoku. The shape of these knives has more to do with proper knife handling technique than any cutting purpose. The Meridian is a $130 knife, while the Mundial is about $60. The only shame this knife carries is in it's association with rachael ray. Poor knife. I would like to see her poached in pomace.

              2. America's Test Kitchen did a comparison of them against other kinds of knives. (link below)

                Link: http://americastestkitchen.com/testin...

                2 Replies
                1. re: Pman

                  Please don't put links to America's Test Kitchen here. They lead ONLY to a site that says the article is ONLY available to members. To become a member, you have to sign up to receive "free" issue of their mag. If you don't subscribe, they start dunning you. They even resort to a fake collection agency letter (which is actually in-house and which, I was told by a staff person when I called to complain, "doesn't mean anything". I boycotted them ever since.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    i think you may be confusing the america's test kitchen (ATK) site with their sister site, cooks illustrated magazine (CI). there is no fee for registering with ATK, but i there is one for CI. also, ATK does not put out a magazine, that would be CI. i have been registered with ATK for several years and have never been charged a fee, and have never received a dunning letter.

                2. I got one for my birthday and love it ... I chose a Henckel (sp?) after trying out both the Wusthof and the Global. Got it at WS - about $80. It has become my first knife of choice, I think b/c of the flat blade.

                  1. WYF, There is no comparison between commercial German knives and Japanese craftsman knives (non mass-produced). It's like the difference between a VW and a Porsche. I suggest you go to www.epicedge.com and research some genuine Japanese cutlery. Once you experience the difference, the Kraut stuff will be in a box in the garage. They are worth the investment and a joy to use.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Leper

                      Ah, to quote B. Kiddo in Kill Bill 1., "I need Japanese steel."

                      1. re: Leper

                        Leper (great name!)-

                        I am afraid we must agree to disagree-
                        While I have owned a Japanese vegetable knife, a fine German made santoku, and a Japanese sashimi knife, and used many Global knives, I have found no single knife more suited to MY own style than the German Wusthoff 10" Extra wide chef's knife.

                        Though I certainly appreciate the lightness, keenness and beauty of true Japanese craftsmanship, A heavy knife with a fine point suits my kitchen best.

                        Specifically on topic here- I bought a granton edge Wusthoff santoku to hang out with my other knives. When I picked up my second (larger) chef's knife, I gave all of my 8" and under knives to my parents... I did not miss the santoku for more than a year. It is indeed a fine knife- the slimmer blade is wonderful for many applications, but I prefer my European stule chef's knife 9 times out of 10.

                        Wyf4lyf- If you don't want more knife than cutting board, a compact, sharp santoku is a great knife and will do most of what you could ever ask for from a knife. As with most knives, you get what you pay for (unless you overpay)- try the knife out- feel it in your hand, whack a carrot... make your own decision.

                        Leper- I may not agee with what you say, but I'll defend your right to say it!
                        Monty- Hattori Hanzi would be pleased...

                      2. A must have? No. Fun luxury item? Yes. I have a Shun Santoku and I love it. It is much sharper than my expensive 10" Henkels and I can cut things (garlic, cucmbers, potatoes, onions, etc) so thin that I don't even bother much with the mandoline.

                        For me, it's an entirely different feel. I have a hard time going back and forth btw them- I don't use the same rocking motion with the Santoku, which took some getting used to, but now I much prefer it. I only use the Henkels when I'm cutting bigger, heavier things like squash.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: amp156

                          The Shun was too heavy for me. Sharp yes. But it didn't feel comfortable for me. I have a Four Star Henckels 7" hollow edge.

                        2. Go buy a KitchenAid santoku from Target. Cheap and good. Keep and use and/or buy an expensive one if you like it. Toss it if you don't.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I got a cheap henkels at a Ross or similar store. Within a few days I was sold on it. I think this is a great way to go, cause I can understand people not liking it.

                          2. My favorite knife turns out to be a small serrated edged red plastic one I picked up for $6.95 at Sur La Table. I've given it to lots of friends who also now swear by it. The serrations are very close together and small - not like my much larger Wusthoff serrated knife.

                            Anyway, I love this knife.

                            1. My Wusthof and Chicago don't come out of the drawer much these days, unless I need the heavy cleaver for hacking chicken or a nice bread knife. My knives of choice for daily use are cheap-cheap-cheap. Very thin, lightweight Kiwi brand out of Thailand. They take a nice edge, and are very nimble in the hand. I have them in the santoku style, the chef's style, a small-cleaver shape, and as a paring knife. I wish I could say I want something *better*, but these knives are incredibly good. And they cost between $1.99 and 5.99.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cayjohan

                                Hooray for us cheapskates!

                                Actually, I just spent $80 for weirdly shaped and sized baking pans that I'll probably use twice a year, so I should just shut up.

                              2. If you're happy w/what you've got, stick to it. If you aren't, or like/can afford experimenting, get a santoku. The 'must' business is half salesmanship, hal;f foodie faddishness.

                                An awful lot depends on the feel, so I agree w/the idea of buying a cheapie first. I got a granton Farberware for $20. Kind of heavy, didn't sharpen v. well, a bit clumsy. But it was good enough that I kept using it, getting used to the feel, until I saw a Wusthoff non-granton santoku on sale--$69 w/paring knife included. Much lighter, much thinner, very nimble, wide blade, super-sharp. My main knife now.

                                I'm a bit crazy for knives. Have some lovely Gerber chef's knives (not avbl any more)--thin, light, well balanced. My 8" Wusthoff is fine, but just as tad too long for ME. Then in France I saw a 7inch Wusthoff Grand Prix at a great price and grabbed it. Excellent, but heavy, esp for its size. So it's the santoku I use most of the time. I take the others out occasionally, for exercise, like walking the dog. If you do French chopping, you'll probably prefer the standard chef's knife, though.

                                I disagree about the Chinese cleaver--it's unbalanced except for cleaver-type work, which is ax-type chopping. The blade is so wide that when cutting veg. it's too hard to see--not good when working with a knife.

                                The extra-expensive Shun santokus strike me as slightly fraudulent. I suspect the exotic patterning on the blade is an applied finish, not really the result of samurai-blade construction. This is my suspicion, remember. Don't like the handle shape or feel. They seem thick in the blade and overweight. Don't like the Global--the handle curves slightly up, which strikes me as not good unless you're cutting board is below waist level (I think). Handle also looks a bit skimpy.

                                But with all knives, feel is very important. All else being equal, if you feel comfortable with a given knife, that's probably the one for you--but give it a good long workout first, if you can. Try your friends' knives!

                                Now I'll have to try to catch Rachel fumbling with her santoku. She's tolerable if your remote has a mute button.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: billmarsano

                                  The Shun damascus finish is indeed applied. It is the result of a vacuum deposited atomic layer of material which has nothing to do with the structure of the blade. That being said, the Shun and Global knives have a Rockwell hardness above 60 which is far harder than Western knives (think Henckels and Wusthof) and as such can support a more acute cutting angle on the edge. Because these knives have a more acute cutting angle, the force required to cut food is reduced and is why people who use them, like them so much. Sharpness is not a defined term and that is why every knife maker can make any claim to sharpness that they want without fear of being sued. Consumers want the cutting effort to me minimized and that is determined by a combination of cutting edge profile, cutting edge angle and the coefficient of dynamic friction between the knife blade and what is being cut.

                                  1. re: Theodore

                                    Theodore: I've been off-line and on deadline so missed your helpful reply (thanks!). I gather you have expert knowlege in metallurgy and knives? Certainly want to know more (esp because me fell suspicion has been confirmed!!) Can you suggest where to look for more on 'vac-de;posyed atomic layers'?

                                    Re the hardness--correct to say thet willl also be harder to re-sharpen? Can you set the edge with a steel, as w/Western knives? Or is professional re-sharpening on the cards? (Possibly a real problem for folks outside large cities.) Excellent point about sharpness not defined!

                                2. I love my Wusthof Culinar Santoku. It took a while getting used to the shape, but now I use it for almost everything!

                                  1. amkirkland, oakjoan, and Cayjohan--thank you. I have my favorite Sabatiers (light, now old and much loved and used) and classic German Dicks (pandering to the heavy metal craze but wanting better than Wusthoffs and the like). But I've also used those light, thin, sharp Kiwis when I lived Asia (and still use at the finca up in the hills); and delight in such quality for the $ you get from KitchenAid (santoku with red handle) from Target and LamsonSharp from the hardware store. And to billmarsano, I have a cleaver I bought in Hainan--very heavy--that I must have to prep the (1-2 kg) Amazonian fish we catch.

                                    1. I gave away my chef's knives after I got my first Santuko. I've got a thin and light Wusthof for delicate work and a Calphalon with a much heavier blade for work I would have traditionally used the chef's knife for. They suit my way of cooking more than any other knife I've ever used.

                                      My other day to day knife is a wooden handled cleaver I inherited from my father in law. He loved cooking and would use it for everything.

                                      1. I bought the Henkel's 4 Star Santuko knife about 5 years ago. This is a great knife and very sharp. The first time I used it I was cutting some garlic and sliced right through my fingernail like it was butter. I really like the handle design on the 4 star series. I picked it up for $75 from Amazon.com, but the knife store at the local shopping mall wanted $92 for it.

                                        I can't compare the Santuko to a Chef's knife. This is the only high quality knife that I own. After getting divorced, my Ex kept all the good kitchen stuff and left me with all the old crap. When my mom came over and made turkey for Thanksgiving, I was embarassed that I didn't have a decent knife to slice it. That's when I started shopping for a better knife. I wanted a good sharp knife that would last a lifetime. This one is easily sharpened and dishwasher safe. The ice hardened high carbon stainless steel really holds an edge better than plain stainless steel. I mostly use this knife for stir fry. Great for slicing vegetables and meat. The Santuko design makes it easy to use the knife to scoop up the vegetables off of the cutting board and put them in the wok. Not heavy enough for a cleaver, but very durable.

                                        On a side note, I'm also very impressed with the quality of the Kiwi Brand knifes. I have Kiwi Brand 4 inch un-serated steak knife and a mini 3 inch cleaver. The Kiwi Brand knives are are very inexpensive with plain wood handles, but stay sharp and hold an edge well. These are great little knives for the money. I saw a Kiwi Brand Santuko one time for about $5 in an Asian grocery store. I wish I would have picked it up, because I can't find one now. If you aren't sure about the Santuko design and want to try it out, the Kiwi Brand would be a great inexpensive way to try it out.

                                        1. I received a santuko from my daughter for X-mas. I have used various Santukos as work, but I have never owned a similar vegetable knife of my own.
                                          I was wondering about spending too much as I love my forged German and French shape(SABATIER au Carbon),knives that I didn't know how much I will use it.

                                          She found a forged santuko made by Kitchen-aid at Bed Bath and Beyond that is amazing, especially that it cost less than $25.00. I doubt it will replace my favorite carbon knife, but I like the shape and it makes veggie work very simple.

                                          1. I've used a santuko for just about everything for a decade or so... destroyed a Kershaw santuko being plain stupid, moved to a Henkel 4 Star, gave that to my son and now use a Shun Santuko and Nakiri (the rectangular, thin blade vegetable knife). Then I bought a Susan Komen Kyocera Santuko for a niece who asked me to help her learn the art of cooking. And that was a wonder - thin, ergonomic handle, light weight and sharp! Got one for my mother, who loves it, another for my wife, and just bought a Kyocera santuko and nakiri for my just engaged son. Pricey, but take a Google search I bought at <www.knifepro.com>.

                                            1. Santoku knives are excellent! I remember getting my first Chef's knife. It was a Regent Sheffield. It lasted a long time. I then wrecked it, & bought a Thai-made Chef's knife. I still have it. I bought a Thai-made, KIWI Nakiri (rectangle vegetable knife), and fell in love with it! I had to get a Santoku knife, and I wanted it to be Japanese-made, so I bought the 7" Sekiryu Santoku knife. A nice knife for the price, but I still liked the thinness and sharpness of my KIWI Nakiri knife. I want to get the KIWI beveled tip Santoku, which is less then $10 U.S. I just replaced my chef's knife with a KIWI, and I am looking to purchase their Santoku-style knife, as well as their steak knives, but every Asian store where I live is out of the small Santoku knife at the moment! More proof that you don't have to spend more than $10 for a really good knife! You can pay some high prices for a Japanese Damascus Steel Knives (around $55-$1,000), but if you're just cooking in the kitchen, look into the KIWI knives and cleavers. I highly recommend them!
                                              Here's a link: http://wokshop.stores.yahoo.net/kiknf...

                                              1. Think of it as an alternative to a chefs knife.

                                                I like to use mine for veg as I find it has a better "chop" action

                                                1. Holy necropost.

                                                  My $0.02? They're fine, but just don't get anything with the dimples. They greatly reduce the life of the knife. Once you sharpen to the point of the dimple (which depending on the brand can be quite close to the factory edge), the knife is done. They also don't really do very much for food sticking.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: sobriquet

                                                    That's not true with the overwhelming majority of dimpled or granton-edged knives. For a granton to ruin the knifes lifespan, it would have to extend at least halfway through the thickness of the knife. Think about it and it's obvious (for a 50-50 double beveled knife anyway). Most grantons are not that deep.

                                                    You are right that they don't do much for food sticking, though.

                                                  2. Sam's Club has a WP Santoku set which includes four different sizes for about $22. I am not an expert or even intermediate cook but they had a good feel to them; it seem like the cuts were very smooth and controlled. I sliced some potatoes today with great ease.

                                                    As far as them being better than any other type of knife, I cannot speak on.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: cityhopper

                                                      I got a ChefMate Santoku at Target in DC a month ago for my use there. $2.95 and really good.

                                                    2. just like with any other knife, like a chef's knife, there are good santokus and bad ones. At this point pretty much every knife manufacturer makes a santoku shaped knife, but it's the quality of the blade and of the steel that makes it a good tool, not the shape.

                                                        1. re: 1munchy1

                                                          same here, but i also heart my MAC, wusthof, messermeister, and henckells. a good knife is a good knife

                                                          1. re: chuckl

                                                            Very True! I heart my Dexter Cleaver and my (believe it or not) cutco bird's beak, slicer, and bread knife, as well as my Henkel Chef knife and my Japanese veggie knife.

                                                            What I don't heart is trying to find a good sharpening service!

                                                            1. re: 1munchy1

                                                              not sure where you are, but there's a good one in the Bay Area

                                                          2. re: 1munchy1

                                                            Same here.. it fell through zucchini like a hot knife through "butta" .. I'm in looove!

                                                          3. I have a MAC Santoku, and I LOVE it for any softer veg/meat. Is it essential? Of course not, but I'd rather chop softer veg and herbs with my santoku.

                                                            1. Resurrecting this thread-very interesting. Wondered myself about the benefits of santoku over chef (have a Wusthof Wunder Knife-very handy, has edge shape like the santoku, can carve and chop!). So I got a cheap santoku to test the concept. Looked around and found a line that is amazing for a number of reasons. It's KUHN RIKON, a swiss company making German steel knives in China??? Knives are low cost, thin bladed, very sharp, German steel, Teflon-coated, have holes in the blade to prevent sticking and they have SHEATHS!! Got the smallest santoku and it is very handy.

                                                              Ultimately got a Wusthof Silverpoint santoku w/Granton edge (some are snobbish about stamped knives. I work with tools and the Wusthof stamped lines are more than good enough for the home kitchen.). Don't know if the edge works to prevent sticking but I can feel the edge location better when I wipe off the blade. With a non-Granton edge, I've already shaved some skin off my fingers when I was slightly careless. I work to keep my knives sharp!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: big50_1

                                                                I've used an 7 or 8" chef for years. My experience with santokus is that they are handier in close or compact spaces. For larger meals (which my wife and I don't do with the kids older and on their own) the chef is more practical. But we're finding the 7" santoku is handier for smaller meals and smaller spaces. Just an observation.