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Santoku knives - Shun or Mac

Over the past year I have been doing lots of reading on these message boards to outfit my kitchen with some basic, quality items. I'm the type that likes to buy nice, quality things, but buy them once and have them forever. Much thanks to all of you that have provided all the useful information. I'm starting to acquire some nice stuff. =)

I'm in the process of purchasing a new knife. With my research I had settled on the MAC Professional Santoku (6.5") as the knife I would get once I found a good deal on it. It seemed like a solid knife, not crazy expensive, with good reviews to back it up. I think the Shun's were out of my price range, so did not give them too much consideration. As I've been browsing the on-line sites recently, trying to take advantage of the holiday season deals, I have happened upon the Shun Premier Santoku (7") on sale for $99.95 (free shipping), which seems like a really good deal to me. The MAC Pro is currently selling for $109.95.

Since I had already made up my mind long ago on the MAC, I'm not quite prepared to re-evaluate the benefits of the Shun over the Mac. Is the Shun premier santoku a better knife? It's awfully pretty and flashy (which I both like and dislike), and it seems like a better deal. Does it live up to the WS and SLT mass-market hype? For the price, is it the obvious choice?

So my question is there a difference in quality between the Shun Premier and the Mac Professional santokus? At $99.95, the Shun is very tempting, but are there other things to consider that says the Mac is the one to get? (durability, ease of sharpening, etc). I know handle is a key factor, I tried the Shun Classic at WS and liked it. Didn't try the Premier line since it was out of my price range at the time. I'm actually a little worried that the Shun is a bit of overkill for me, but maybe it just looks like it is overkill for me.

I'm at the point where I feel like I am over-analyzing my knife purchase so could use some external thoughts to sway me one way or the other. Thanks!

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  1. This one: http://www.amazon.com/MAC-brand-Santo...

    The Shun is perfectly nice, I just don't personally care for the look of it.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Pedr0

      Thanks for the link, Pedro. I failed to mention that I was looking at the Mac version with the "dimples" that prevent food from sticking. I seem to run into that problem a lot, either due to knife I currently have or technique.

      I am on the fence about the look of the Shun also. Initially, I seem to Iike it, but it seems a little too flashy for me...which is also part of the initial appeal.

      1. re: jj5154

        Trouble is, after you sharpen a few times you'll go into to those dimples and end up with a sorta weird quasi-serrated knife.

        For $65, you can't go wrong with the one linked above. I love mine.

        1. re: Pedr0

          "after you sharpen a few times you'll go into to those dimples and end up with a sorta weird quasi-serrated knife. "

          I had considered this in the past, but it is a non-issue. If you look at the following photo:

          http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/imag...

          You really have to remove a lot of metal before getting to the dimples. I would say more than 1/8th of an inch. By then, you should replace the knife - dimples or not.

          1. re: Pedr0

            "Trouble is, after you sharpen a few times you'll go into to those dimples and end up with a sorta weird quasi-serrated knife"

            That should take years before it happens and even then you end up with a true Granton edge...

            http://www.granton-knives.co.uk/

            Jim

      2. Since price is essentially a non-issue here, I would just focus the knife which works best for you. Two things to look out here. The Shun Santoku has a knife profile more curved than others (some called it a big belly). When looked closely, you can see the two knives have better shape (from the tip to heel):

        http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/imag...

        http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/imag...

        A curved profile has its advantages and disadvantages. It allows you to rock chop better, but it has less knife-to-board contact area.

        The other difference is that Shun Premier steel is harder than the Mac. This again has its advantages and disadvantages. The Shun knife will hold its edge better under normal situations.

        P.S.: As Pedr suggested, there are different lines of Mac knife. In addition, you can always test drive a Shun Premier Santoku at Williams Sonoma and others.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks for the tips for things to look for, CK. I don't have much experience with knives other than the Henckels Chef's knife my dad gave to me when moved out of the house. As I'm still a bit of a beginner at cooking, I'm not sure how much I will notice the differences - or on the otherhand, because I am a beginner, maybe the differences will stand out more.

          Edit - one other thing - do you know if any place carries the Mac knives in house that I could try?

        2. Having one really good santoku, etc is a real pleasure. I've got 4 of them, and like the style. I finally got a really nice nakiri, and while I am not yet ready to deliver a full write-up, it absolutely rocks. I love having a long flat edge for veggies.

          At that price point, you do have a lot of good choices. I've got a MAC mini santoku but this is the superior series. So I can't quite say what I would think of it if it was larger as it's not the same series as the knife you are thinking about. Personally, I'd rather have a high carbon santoku or gyuto but ... that's me.

          I don't think that you will go wrong with either of those, provided that it is comfortable in your hands. They are both well made, use good steel and are easy enough to sharpen. Do you already have some kind of good sharpening system or are you planning to have it professionally sharpened?

          3 Replies
          1. re: jkling17

            Wow, 4 Santoku's! Do you have a particular use for each one? And is the high carbon preference is to get a sharper edge?

            Regarding sharpening, that's next on my list to look into. Well, after I get a better cutting board to go with my new knife. I've read some of the discussions here on sharpening the knives and have a basic idea of what is involved, but need to go back for the details. I seem to remember seeing at one of the online retailer's site that Shun had an electric knife sharpener, but hadn't looked into it yet.

            1. re: jj5154

              "Shun had an electric knife sharpener"

              It has a bad reputation. Anyway, once you are done in selecting your knife, you are more than welcome to ask about the sharpening option. cowboyardee wrote a very good summary which is worth a minute or two of your time:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7971...

              Select what you need and go from there.

              1. re: jj5154

                LOL. Well first I LIKE Santokus - I prefer their feel to a chef's knife or gyuto and their flatter edge profile.

                One of them is a Cutco. i bought it about 2 years ago - simply to help out the son of a friend. It is what it is - and it doesn't get used at all.

                I've got a Calphalon santoku with those scooped out hollow areas. I bought it perhaps 2 years ago on a whim. It was $15-20 and looked cool. It takes a nice edge and is a decent "standard kitchen knife". Nothing special but it has a good feel in the hand. It gets little use.

                My "go to" santoku for a many years has been a Mundial Future all stainless. It's heavy, solid, looks great - and has a great feel in my hand. It takes a nice edge and holds it reasonably well. But this is a very standard stainless steel - probably 440. I probably paid too much for it but I really like this knife and still use it.

                About 3 years ago, I bought a Japanese high carbon Tosagata santoku from japanwoodworker.com. Compared to the Mundial it is light, agile, thinner and takes a VERY sharp edge - very easily. I also love the feel of the Japanese handle with this. But ... this is a softer carbon steel so it doesn't keep that edge so well. So I would also shy away from "less delicate cutting/slicing" with this knife. For example, I wouldn't use it on winter melons - and instead was using a cheap chinese cleaver on those.

                But ... now that I finally have a truly high quality japanese nakiri (think like a santoku but a FLAT edge profile and rounded tip) - I use it for nearly everything. It has opened my eyes to what one truly great blade can do.

                For sharpening ... that'll be a whole different topic. Quite a few of us have written lots of stuff here. Here are some resources: http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/ and Bladeforums.com.

                Read up and see what seems suitable for you. I can't recommend any electric sharpener - you'll ruin that Japanese knife faster than you can say "bonsai". Some of us use stones, some of us use guided systems.

                Whatever you do - just practice on your old knives until you are good - before you touch that new and awesome Japanese knife.

            2. Get this http://www.chefknivestogo.com/tojiro-... it is significantly better than anythng you are looking at. Not a Santuko but Santuko's are actually a bit of a gimick. Once you do some digging you'll find there is a whole world of Japanese knives out there beyond shuns and MACs, that are better AND cheaper. Jeff (Oh, and I have NO affilation with this site)

              20 Replies
              1. re: jeffreyem

                "Santuko's are actually a bit of a gimick"

                I know many people do not like Santoku, but I won't call it a gimmick.

                There are indeed many more knives out there beside Shun and Mac, like the Tojiro knives you have suggested. In light of this, I also recommend the some knives from JapaneseChefsknife. The ES and VG-10 series fit the original poster's price point. CarboNext is a semi-stainless steel series which is great.

                http://japanesechefsknife.com/JCKOrig...

                Gekko is also in the ~$100 price range:

                http://japanesechefsknife.com/images/...

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Wow, what a great site. Thanks for that link. Maybe I'm just a sucker for marketing, but I love that they feature and talk about the craftsmen that are making the knives. It brings back the knife as a piece of art instead of it being just a functional tool used for cutting food, which I guess it is. Part of the appeal of the Shun premier was that it had some artistry in the way it looked, although I did appreciate the simpleness of the Mac. There are some really beautiful knives there on JCK. I'm tempted to up my price range a little, or expand what types of knives to get. I could also use a good paring knife and maybe instead of just one all-around knife, I should get a few different specialty knives instead...yeah, I wish! I was in Japan a month ago for business, but just didn't have the time to look for knives while I was there. This probably site probably beats what I would have found.

                  It looks like my knife purchase is taking a new direction...some questions though - are there any reviews on the particular knives around? How does one tell whether the knife will feel right? Or can I assume that these master craftsmen are so good and the art of Japanese knife making so well established that they can create a knife that works for everyone (or most everyone)?

                  1. re: jj5154

                    "are there any reviews on the particular knives around?"

                    What particular knife you need reviews? If you are thinking about Shun Premier, then it is essentially the same as Shun Classic with a better presentation and there are many reviews on Shun Classic knives. For example:

                    http://zknives.com/knives/kitchen/ktk...

                    "How does one tell whether the knife will feel right? "

                    Unfortunately, you cannot tell for sure unless you use it. Not holding it, but using it in real kitchen tasks, and you won't even know until you use it for a few days. On the other hand, I have rarely used a knife which I cannot adapt. Humans are amazingly adaptive. A knife which I love the most felt the strangest when I first hold and used it.

                    jj,

                    Here are a few question I like to ask you (on behalf of others). I think these few simple questions will narrow down what each of us can suggest to you.

                    1) What is a price point which you are comfortable? There are reasonable knives under $100, so don't feel like you have to pay a lot.

                    2) Do you prefer carbon steel or stainless steel knives? Stainless steel knives, as their name implied, are very nonreactive and easy to take care. Carbon steel knives usually perform better than stainless steel knives (cut better, sharpen easier..etc) for at the same price point.

                    2) Do you have a preference for the blade appearance? Plain simple shiny steel look? Damascus look? Traditional kurochi look? Shun Premier has a Damascus and hammered design. A kurochi looks like this:

                    http://www.edgeobserver.com/wp-conten...

                    3) Do you have a preference for handle? Western handle vs Japanese Wa handle?

                    http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/121...

                    4) Anything else you like to add?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      The question about the reviews were more for the knives on the JCK site in terms of how they handle or how heavy they are. There are plenty of reviews and comments on the Shun and the Mac knives.

                      To answer your questions:
                      1) Price point is a little bit of a sliding scale. Generally, I'm looking to pay around/up to $100-120. That said, there could be some argument to pay up to $150, if there is something extra appealing. Of course, a great deal is always nice too. =)

                      2) I don't have an overwhelming preference, but the ease of care of the stainless steel knives are probably better suited for my purposes (see #4) than the carbon steel.

                      2b) For blade appearance, simple is fine, some amount of decoration would be nice, even it is just the manufacturer's name imprinted on the side of the blade. Damascus and Hammered are also nice, but I do not like when the pattern becomes too busy (can't find an example at the moment). Kurochi is okay too. I am a bit of a traditionalist, in some ways. But I would like having a distinctive-looking knife, if possible, but what defines distinctive is a bit open.

                      3) Handle is a complete unknown. I've never used a Japanese Wa handle, but I tend to agree with you that I would adapt to whatever I choose. I would prefer a wood (or other natural material)-based handle over a completely synthetic one.

                      4) In all honesty, a Japanese knife is probably overkill for my current purposes. Any of the knives mentioned are probably a significant enough upgrade from my current Henckel chef's knife. Right now, I get to really cook about once every couple of months, so just need a basic all around knife (I am looking to add a paring and bread knife in the near term as well). But I like to have nice things, and feel that if I am going to buy something, I want to invest in something of quality, that will last, and that I will enjoy now and down the road. I do expect that sometime down the road (in a few years) I'll be doing more cooking and don't want to necessarily re-buy something that I already have.

                      I appreciate all the recommendations that you have all made so far. It has opened my eyes to a whole additional set of options that I was too intimidated to want to tackle several months ago.

                      1. re: jj5154

                        jj, IMO, I think you'd be happier with the Mac Pro. Make no mistake, that Shun is a good deal, but the curve of the edge is going to be very similar to your Henckels. In that respect, you won't really be experiencing anything different from your current knife (other than being dazzled by its appearance every time you use it). :-)

                        The Mac Pro line looks to be a much nicer level of knife than their standard fare, but I have no personal experience with Mac.

                        And from what you've said, I agree that stainless is your best choice. Of course, there are all kinds of choices, but I think your initial decision is still the best one. Don't get paralyzed by all of the options out there, or you'll never get anything! A santoku is a great knife, & a great way to study the similarities & differences between what you have now & what else is possible. It'll help you to realize what features you want in your next kitchen knife.

                        1. re: jj5154

                          I see. I know most of the JCK knives have good reputation, especially the CarboNext. Eiron, cowboyardee and I have used the CarboNext Santoku. It is a good knife, but it is not a true stainless steel. It is a semi-stainless steel. The JCK VG-10 is a solid VG-10 knife, not a cladded VG-10 knife. It is fairly inexpensive for its steel (~$100 for a Sanotu) , but you will have to work on it a bit here and there, and I am not sure if you are comfortable for this. You can see a LONG discussion here:

                          http://www.knifeforums.com/forums/sho...

                          So here are my suggestions for you.

                          1) Fujirwara FKM Santoku ($72):

                          http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/FKM...
                          http://www.chefknivestogo.com/fufkmsa...

                          Fujirwara FKM knives have been widely considered to be a great transition knife from German to Japanese knives. They have knife profile of typical Japanese knives, but made of slightly softer and tougher steel between typical German and Japanese knives.

                          2) Tojiro DP Santoku ($70) with or without dimples:

                          http://www.cutleryandmore.com/tojiro-...
                          http://www.chefknivestogo.com/todpsak...

                          Tojiro DP series is the standard for good quality inexpensive Japanese made knives. Good stainless VG-10. I have a Tojiro DP gyuto (Chef's knife).

                          3) CarboNext Santoku ($100):

                          http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/HON...
                          http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/KAG...

                          It is more or less a stainless steel. I have one. It holds its edge very nice for a long time. It does not rust, but it can acquire stains here and there. Some people don't care and some people think it adds characters. Bar Keeper Friend can remove the stains if needed.

                          4) Shun Premier Santoku ($100).
                          It is actually a good deal considering it is on sale now. A VG-10 steel knife with Damascus pattern and Tsuchime hammered pattern for this price is a good deal.

                          All of these are $100 or below fitted with a wood related handle with stainless steel blade (CarboNext is semi-stainless

                          )

                          Edited: Eiron has a good point. You may want to consider if the knife profile matters to you. The Shun santoku as mentioned has a more curved knife profile (from tip to heel). Some people like it, but some do not.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Thanks for the suggestions, Chem. I'll take a more detailed look at them late tonight.

                            another quick question - how much does having the dimples on the side of the blade matter for food sticking to the knife? Is this something that can be compensated for by technique?

                            To Eiron's point, I think I would like to have something more different than the chef's knife, which was part of my reason for choosing a Santoku in the first place. Which is a shame cause that Shun sure is pretty and is a good deal.

                            1. re: jj5154

                              "how much does having the dimples on the side of the blade matter for food sticking to the knife?"

                              Not much, according to many other opinions as well. The only knife which its dimples make a real difference is the Glestain. Glestain knives have large and effective dimples:

                              http://japanesechefsknife.com/GLESTAI...

                              In reality, the overall grind on the blade makes a bigger difference. It is really an entire topic. I am more than happy to talk about it, but I am concern throwing too many information out.

                              "I think I would like to have something more different than the chef's knife, which was part of my reason for choosing a Santoku in the first place"

                              Make perfect sense. Please let us know if you have any question.

                              1. re: jj5154

                                Ok, three more Santoku for you to look at. All are stainless steel with the VG-10 steel core.

                                Gekko 190 mm Santoki $109:

                                http://japanesechefsknife.com/images/...
                                http://japanesechefsknife.com/SPECIAL...

                                Kanetsune Mesisho Santoku $72

                                http://japan-blades.com/big-seller/13...

                                Kanetsune Damascus Santoku $98

                                http://japan-blades.com/big-seller/25...

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  oooh. Thanks! Lots of good options. I'll be doing lots of thinking this weekend.

                                  1. re: jj5154

                                    jj, I have a Kanetsune damascus gyuto & absolutely love it. It looks like the $98 Kanetsune is similar in construction to my KC-102 gyuto, but without the Tsuchime finish. For $98, I feel very comfortable highly recommending this knife.

                                    Here's the knife I have:
                                    http://japan-blades.com/chef-knives/w...

                                    1. re: Eiron

                                      I am very sure that the $98 one is a level below yours, but like you said for $98, it seems reasonable.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Yes, I think you're right. The method of construction is a little different, which appears to be the reason for the cost savings. But the blade has identical materials, with a VG-10 core & nickel damascus patterned cladding. It also has the nice resined-wood handle, which improves the balance of the knife compared to the POM (acetal plastic) handle. To me, these features make it an easy recommendation.

                                        To be honest, I don't know why the price of the KC-102 gyuto has gone so high.

                                        1. re: Eiron

                                          "It also has the nice resined-wood handle, which improves the balance of the knife compared to the POM (acetal plastic) handle."

                                          You mentioned this before, but I don't understand and did not follow up. Exactly why is resin wood better? Which one is heavier?

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Chem, the plastic handle is heavier. It shifts the balance of the knife more to the rear, like on your CarboNext. Many people don't notice the difference, so it's a detail that's likely to be overlooked.

                                            The acetal handle is commonly marketed as "anti-microbial," & many people feel more comfortable choosing a knife with this handle material. But any resin-impregnated wood is going to be just as water-&-germ-resistant as plastic. And it just feels better on a knife to me. :-)

                                            1. re: Eiron

                                              "the plastic handle is heavier"

                                              Thanks. :)

                    2. re: jeffreyem

                      Lots of us are big fans of chefknivestogo :-)

                      I can't agree that the Tojiro is "significantly better than a MAC Pro or Shun Premier". ALL those knives will be very comparable to each other in the edges they will take and how long they will hold them. And they will all be really sharp out of the box. In fact, unless you have serious sharpening skills, all 3 of those knives are capable of taking exactly the same edge. But, they won't feel the same in your hand. And they may not have the same "knife porn eye candy appeal". And they will feel a bit differently when in use.

                      It's your $70 - 110+. Buy what you want. fyi - Tojiro does make that knife in a santoku. Another brand that might be new to you is Dojo - they make a very nice santoku for $80. It uses a super blue steel core with stainless cladding. But ... I have to kind of assume that you don't want a high carbon core since you are interested in the MAC and Shun?

                      Out of the 2 knives on your list, the Shun is very sexy ...

                       
                      1. re: jkling17

                        I never really considered the steel type when I picked out the Mac initially and then the Shun. As this is my first foray into purchasing a good quality Japanese knife, the steel type was one characteristic too many for me to wrap by brain around. From a bit of browsing, it seems that the high-carbon core can be sharpened to a sharper edge that also holds for longer as well. Considering that I currently do not do much cooking, I do not think I would appreciate the additional benefits of the high carbon blade, but would be worried about the susceptibility to rusting. That said, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out right off the bat either.

                        I found the Tojiro site and they have some nice knives too. I especially like their Soba cutting knives. Tried to find the company site for Dojo but couldn't find one (didn't look too hard either), but the knives from the on-line sites are appealing as well.

                        So many options, how does one ever decide? I guess I know why y'all have more than one... =)

                        1. re: jj5154

                          Hi JJ,

                          When I finally got serious about getting a nakiri, part of my process was to have a dialog with Mark at chefknivestogo. I told him in detail what my needs were for a high carbon blade that would hold it's edge well - and for under $100 And he suggested the Tojiro (not DP - those are stainless) and the Dojo. I already knew about Tojiro and they are a well-known brand. The Tojiro is a good white carbon steel blade so I spent more for super blue steel for better edge retention.

                          Like you, I wasn't able to find too much on Dojo (I think the name gets in their way) but I trust Mark so I went with it and have been very pleased. The only thing that I'd change is I prefer a Japanese handle, for ascetics if nothing else. But for that core steel every other choice was a lot more money.

                          SOME high carbon steels will hold their edge better than some high quality stainless edges. Is that so important to you? You mentioned that you don't cook that much so ... perhaps not? As you said, it sounds like one thing that you do know is that you don't wish to worry so much about the edge rusting or developing a patina.

                          Ok ... no worries. then good stainless is perhaps better for you. Please note that you still need to hand wash and dry them, especially if you just sliced acidic fruit or tomatoes.

                          Anyway ... technically - yes - carbon steel "can" be sharpened beyond the high quality stainless core. But ... this is a mostly academic distinction. ALL of those knives will certainly take VERY sharp edges, and all will hold them reasonably well, unless you start cooking like a madman.

                      2. re: jeffreyem

                        Jeff - thanks for the suggestion. I remember Tojiro being well liked when I did my initial research. I ended up deciding on the Santoku as I have an inexpensive chef's knife and wanted something a little different in style to experiment with and get a feel for, yet still have something that was a decent all around knife.

                        I do remember being a bit over-whelmed by all the Japanese knives that were out there and wishing that I did enough cooking to have a reason to get some of them. I have to admit that decision-making is not one of my strengths, especially when the number of options is large. =)

                      3. I can't offer a comparison since I have no experience with Shun knives. I do have experience with Mac knives. My family has always used them. I own a few now too. I personally love them. They've lasted forever!

                        The Tojiros look like they're worth looking into. I tried to purchase a nice set of knives while in Japan last year but ran out of time (and couldn't decide with too many options). So I'm with you about it being overwhelming with all the choices out there. Good luck! Let us know what you decide on!