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Santoku vs. Chef's knife

I do a lot of prep work in the kitchen (mostly veggies) and I often find that my beloved Santoku doesn't cut all the way through things like red pepper (things with 'skins').. I use a steel on it often, but not every time. I'm wondering if this is because the 'rocking' motion possible with a chef's knife is better suited to some veggies. Switching knives in mid-prep isn't my preference, so I'm hoping it's also a matter of technique.

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  1. <I'm wondering if this is because the 'rocking' motion possible with a chef's knife is better suited to some veggies.>

    Very likely, but I don't think that has to do with the "cut all the way through" part. You can try to rock chop with your Santoku and see if that help anyway.

    There are many reason why one can have difficulty cutting through the foods. For example, (1) if the cutting board is not flat (2) if the knife blade is too uneven or even too flat, (3) if the cutting board is too hard like a glass cutting board, (4) if the knife blade is dull. Point 1 and 2 comes hands-to-hands. Basically, if there is high or low point between the knife and the cutting board, then you won't able to cut through the food. You can have the sharpest knife on Earth, but the knife cannot come in full contact with the cutting board, then the foods cannot be cleanly cut. Point 3 is somewhat related too.

    There are way to improve the situation. For example, make sure you incorporate a small amount of forward or backward motion when using your knife to push cut -- not just pure up-and-down push cut. Of course, make sure you knife is not dull.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      1 thru 3 = check (for me); 4 = not likely but possible (there's sharp and then there's SHARP). Push-cut is what works the best with the Santoku. It just seems as if that blade shape is meant more for a chopping motion and that a rocking motion is more efficient than a push-cut..

      1. re: Midlife

        I bought a nice usuba knife, and I found that I wasn't able to cleanly cut food. I then realize the knife wasn't completely touching the cutting board. I then sharpened and sharpened again. It turned out the knife was straight, but the cutting board wasn't. I then, resharpened the knife back. It was a mess. Funny thing is that I ruined one good knife before because of this, but I completely forgot and traveled down the same path again.

        Anyway, I read the exchanges between Mike and you. If you have a bigger problem cutting through the green peppers with the skin side down, then you likely have a cutting board/knife contact problem. i.e. The knife was sharp enough, but it wasn't able to fully contact the cutting board. Now, if you have MORE problem cutting through the green peppers with the skin side up, then your knife is not sharp enough.

        There is one more thing you can try. In fact, you should try. Given that you have a Santoku and a Chef's knife (suggested by your other reply), you should try to slice a paper by both knives and see if there are any difference. This will answer the question regarding "sharpeness"

    2. Try turning the peppers over (skin side down). I find that helps regadless of the knife.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mike0989

        Actually I find skin-side-down is where I have the problem. The knife doesn't go all the way through the skin. So it isn't the initial contact but the 'follow-through' that creates the issue.

      2. I don't think it's likely it has anything to do with the motion of the knife. Your santoku probably needs sharpening. And as Gordon Ramsey says the secret to a good cutting session is honing your knife with the steel before every time you use it. I have found from experience that it does make a very noticeable difference.

        5 Replies
        1. re: iliria

          I would agree with except for that both knives are the same Henckels series and the Chef's knife doesn't need honing to cut the same things easily that are not as easy with the Santoku. Unless Santoku's require more frequent honing than Chef's knives my logical side is focused on the knife motion.

          1. re: Midlife

            If your santoku is a henckel then i am familiar with the shape and have used a professional s henckel santoku for 3 years in a professional kitchen with no problems at all with it not cutting all the way through vegetables. Santoku shape itself shouldn:t be the issue.

            1. re: TeRReT

              Agreed. Down below, somewhere in this topic, I posted that I'd changed to a slightly forward rocking motion with the Santoku and it seems to have resolved things.

              I was asked what kind of chopping board I use and responded it was a cherry Boos block but, in truth, my wife usually asks me to use one of those plastic "mats" (the ones where you get a color for each type of food you're cutting) on top of it. I'm pretty sure that surface has something to do with this. A straight down motion was causing 'accordion-ing" on veggies cut skin-side down.

              1. re: Midlife

                i loathe those plastic mats almost as much as rubber cutting boards, both cause me an inability to cut things properly. Definitely that is part of the problem as well.

                Glad you are getting it figured out, my laptop is broken so i dont have as much time to read so just answered midthread :p

                1. re: Midlife

                  Just to put it in perspective, most professional chefs prefer the Chef's knife/Gyuto shape over the Santoku. However, there are professional chefs who prefer the Santoku design. TeRReT worked in several professional kitchens where those chefs prefer Santoku. Quoting, TeRReT:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5724...

          2. It is possible that you need to adjust your technique a little as well assuming that your knife edge and cutting board are even. Sometimes when you think you are putting the edge all the way to the board you arent quite there and you need to concentrate on making sure you hit just the right angle. I keep my knives razor sharp, but sometimes when I try to work too fast i end up with a lot of "tails" as well from not hitting the angle just right.

            1. Sounds like a technique issue. Chem did a good job of pointing out some of the most common problems. I'll just elaborate here and there.

              For starters, I'll point out that perhaps the easiest fix is to keep your santoku reasonably sharp and then to cut peppers and other veg with skin with the skin side up. But that's probably not what you were hoping to hear.

              A straight up-and-down chop is sometimes called a 'push cut.' But it requires a few things. Your edge must be sharp and not have any major dull spots or sections. Your cutting board must be flat. And, significantly, it only works on sections of your knife's edge that are dead straight. It's possible that you are chopping peppers toward the tip of your knife, which is more curved (some Japanese makers include a second straight section of edge near the tip - Henckels does not), thus making sure that your edge isn't fully contacting the board. Equally problematic, it is entirely possible that a Henckels santoku doesn't have a completely straight section on their santoku at all, not even towards the heel. I can't remember the last time I used a Henckels santoku and specifically checked for this kind of thing, but it would not surprise me. If that's the case, chopping straight up and down would have to be reserved for ingredients that aren't prone to leaving accordion edges.

              But often when I talk about 'push cutting,' I'm referring to a cut where you put your knife on an ingredient and push the tip forward while cutting down. This cut is not, really, very different from rock chopping. The main differences are that the tip of the knife doesn't start on the board, the knife is not angled downward much (if at all) during the cut, and the follow through is not as long. But there can still be a follow through - a continuation of that forward pushing motion once your knife contacts the board - if you are cutting an ingredient that needs it. This can make using a Japanese style knife that has a gentle curve to its edge significantly easier.

              You also might want to look into using draw cuts for some things. They always cut through food entirely, but there is the added benefit that they tend to leave ingredients right where they are. This is especially useful if you want to cut, say, a very fine brunois or a very long julienne. Take a look at the video below, about 30 seconds into it:
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OAyoG...

              3 Replies
              1. re: cowboyardee

                Thanks to all, but especially to you and chemicalkinetics.

                I'll do some serious examination of the knives and the board before posting back. It could be I'm assuming something about the Santoku that is incorrect. Sounds like it would be helpful to do a tennis or gold instructor's video of me as part of this, but I'll stop short of that.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Great reply as always CBD, here is a vid I like that explains a lot of what you are speaking about in pretty clear terms.

                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=...

                  1. re: twyst

                    Excellent video. Strangely, I seldom mention the pull cut on knife technique threads, even though I use it often.

                    Your earlier point was right on, btw, about how sometimes minor imperfections in technique can lead to accordion edges, even when all other factors are right. Used to happen to me a lot. Now I mainly just find that I sometimes start leaving accordion cuts when cutting fast if I just switched from one knife to another or if I'm using a knife besides my go-to gyuto, because the shape of the knife is just slightly different. Slowing down just a bit and making a minor adjustment usually fixes things. For someone newer to these techniques though, it might take a while to get one's cutting motions really consistent in the first place.

                2. "Accordion cuts" are exactly the problem that inspired my question in the first place. Great descriptor!

                  So here's the detailed report........

                  8" Che'fs knife vs. 7" Santoku
                  - Paper cutting/sharpness = both the same
                  - blade shape = BOTH knives are perfectly straight/flat for the first 4+" of their length beginning at the HEEL. BOTH begin to curve up from that point, but a lot more gently than the Chef's knife. That's the portion of the blade I tend to use almost exclusively.

                  Conclusion:

                  I'm going with hand motion. I'm guessing that my brain is expecting the Santoku to be able to cut through anything relatively soft with a push touch (which can cause accordion cuts) BUT, by habit, I always use a rocking motion with the Chef's knife.

                  I suppose the next question has to do with whether the Santoku is really as good to use with all types of veggies............ or whether they're really both the same for the most part....... if they're essentially the same shape in the part of the knife I use most.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Midlife

                    <"Accordion cuts" are exactly the problem that inspired my question in the first place. Great descriptor!>

                    Does your push cut involves any forward or backward motion? Or is it pure up and down?

                    <That's the portion of the blade I tend to use almost exclusively.>

                    Wait, so you use the curved up portion the most?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      No..... sorry! I use the flat portion pretty much exclusively, so the two are almost identical. I find that I can usually avoid the 'accordions' when I make sure I include a little forward or backward motion. It just seems less natural with the Santoku for some reason. That's why I'm thinking my brain is assuming something about what I thought was different about a Santoku. Turns out the difference is mostly the depressions on the side of the blade....... at least with this particular Santoku.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        I see. You use the area near the heel. Yes, a little forward or backward motion usually will solve this "accordion" problem. One last question for us. What is your cutting board made out of? The reason is that to make a clean cut, the knife need to able to cut slightly into the board. Even if your cutting board is flat and your knife profile is flat, they will never perfectly contact in full. An extreme case is a glass cutting board which is very hard and allows very little compression. If the knife is allowed to cut into the board a bit, then it can cut through the foods. Same reason why all paper cutter allow the blade to go underneath the paper resting surface -- to cut through:

                        http://www.sflaimaging.com/media/cata...

                          1. re: Midlife

                            Good board. In that case, it is unlikely the problem is related to the board. Thanks.

                    2. re: Midlife

                      The santoku will be worth its salt when you have things that raise up higher on the knife and have a slight bit of moisture and let those scallops in the blade keep them from forming a suction. Things like a zuchinni, squash, potato and so forth. My own opinion is that they excel as slicers.

                      I'd like to ask if your knife is the type that has a very thick bolster, like a Henkels, Chicago Cutlery, etc because there's one mechanical issue that may be happening. With alot of sharpening and honing, the bolster of your blade may extend past the heel or get in the way of it. If you're not sure what the bolster is, its the part on some knives where the blade 'fattens up' and becomes part of the handle and tang. If that's getting in the way, you will get that accordion cut alot of the time.

                      1. re: Irregular

                        As stated elsewhere in this topic, the Santoku IS a Henckels. And.......thanks for your interest.

                        As of a few hours ago I've altered my technique with the Santoku to something similar to how I use the Chef's knife (a mild forward rocking motion) and things seem to be fine. That shifted the conversation to whether a Santoku is any better for typical veggie cutting. chemicalkinetcis has been fully dissecting this whole thing and I'm not sure there's really any more than can be said.

                        BTW, the Santoku is not very old, so I don't think the bolster thing is relevant.

                    3. Ramsay is the only one that uses a Santoku to slice bell peppers. Where as most tutorials use a chef's knife. He does it skin side down with a little knife rocking motion which one would typically use with a Western Chef's Knife.

                      He's able to make a fine julienne but the knife needs to slice rather than just up/down chopping.

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fU1p-...

                      1. I found the topic linked below while looking for an explanation as to what might make a Santoku preferable to a Chef's knife if, as I seem to have found, the shape of the blade is almost identical. It may just be the depressions on the side of the Santoku making some things easier to slice through.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/284187

                        One poster in that topic says that the Henckels Santoku was NOT good, but a Wushof WAS. Both of my knives are Henckels, so I can't speak to that. Somewhere else a poster says that Santokus are lighter. I don't find that with my Henckels, so perhaps that's something else to think about.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Midlife

                          < the Henckels Santoku was NOT good, but a Wushof WAS>

                          Not sure, but there are a lot of personal opinions, but people preferences are not always the same. A lot of people love Shun santoku, while many think it is incorrectly designed.

                          < Somewhere else a poster says that Santokus are lighter. I don't find that with my Henckels>

                          An average Santoku is much lighter than an average Chef's knife, but that is because many santoku knives are made noticeably thinner. This does not mean a Henckels santoku is much lighter than a Henckels Chef's knife. I believe they are about the same thickness. The Henckels Santoku is shorter, so it is ligther for that. However, it is not much lighter like some Japanese made Santoku.

                        2. More than likely your technique but also a Santoku does not rock shop as well as a Chef's knife.

                          We own a Santoku at home but I rarely use it preferring A Chef's/Guyuto style knife for it's versatility.

                          In a pro kitchen setting I once worked in a Prep Room for a large corporate (scratch kitchen) cafe that put out 3K or so meals a day. The Prep Room had about 10 Prep Cooks doing nothing mroe than knife work for the majority of their shifts. The consensus tool of choice was a 10 inch Chef's knife. I believe that the consensus among most Prep Cooks is that a Chef's knife is more versatile than any other kitchen cutting tool.

                          Regarding peppers, I cut with the skin side up and don't cut peppers like Ramsey. His method in the video is too slow for me. Like many celebrity chef's Ramsey may be using a different knife in his personal use versus what he shows in the public based on corporate sponsor's preference.

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: bbqJohn

                            >>"More than likely your technique but also a Santoku does not rock shop [chop?] as well as a Chef's knife."<<

                            I thank you for your opinion but would like your take on the detail I posted about the comparison I did:

                            "8" Che'fs knife vs. 7" Santoku
                            - Paper cutting/sharpness = both the same
                            - blade shape = BOTH knives are perfectly straight/flat for the first 4+" of their length beginning at the HEEL. BOTH begin to curve up from that point, but a lot more gently than the Chef's knife. That's the portion of the blade I tend to use almost exclusively."

                            I certainly defer to your professional experience, but I don't see what it is that would make my particular Chef's knife 'rock chop' any better than my Santoku of almost exactly the same size, shape and weight. If there really should be more difference I'm thinking that Henckels just got into the Santoku 'act' to sell more knives without making a truly different product.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              " but I don't see what it is that would make my particular Chef's knife 'rock chop' any better than my Santoku"

                              "BOTH begin to curve up from that point, but a lot more gently than the Chef's knife. "

                              You answered your own question ;) The curve in the chefs knife allows you to rock chop more effectively

                              1. re: twyst

                                I don't use the extreme front end of either knife ..... all the motion I give them is over the parts that are pretty much identical. I'd take a video for you if it were really that big a deal.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  tywt does not mean anything harsh. What he meant is that the classic rock chop technique uses the the knife tip as a pivotal point, and a curve tip is easier is easier. Here is a classic example of rock chop demonstrated by the fame Norman Weinstein:

                                  http://youtu.be/veE0E79dEEc?t=2m13s

                                  While only the heel part (straight part) was actually cutting the food, the curve part was for rocking motion. This is why many believe a Chef's knife with its more pronounced curve tip is more comfortable.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Agree with Chem.. on the Chef's more suitable for rocking motion cutting based on the belly and curve of the knife.

                                    Also you may want to try a guilatine type of angle on your technique and see if that improves the cutting. We don't have sharp knives at work and time is crucial so sometimes I need to use a guilatine type of angle to help cut the food product.

                                    Hard to describe but instead of a straight up and down chopping I start with the tip first pushing and then following with cut by pushing down on the heel.

                                    Maybe it's best described here:
                                    http://www.cookfoodgood.com/?p=405

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      It's just a bit frustrating when you think you're making your point clearly, but it doesn't seem to be getting through. I didn't mean the video comment to be defensive or aggressive. Just trying to accentuate my point. Sorry if it seemed that way.

                                      It appears to me that both knives are almost identical in shape and curve throughout the entire portion of each that I believe I use when I'm cutting. That is probably 75% or more of the length of both. Both have enough curve toward the tip to act as a pivot point within the tip portion. Both are able to rock. In order to use the very forward part of the Chef's knife that curves up more than the Santoku I have to raise my hand enough that I would be aware of it. At least that's how it seems.

                                      Perhaps it's necessary to actually see my two knives in person to get what I'm trying to say. Or................ maybe it just seems that way? ;o]

                                      1. re: Midlife

                                        I am not positive I am understanding you, but I'll give it a shot at explaining:

                                        It's not quite a matter of what part of the knife you use to cut with that makes a chef knife easier to rock than a santoku. It's more about where the fulcrum of your rocking motion is (basically, the part of the knife that's touching the board at the beginning of your cutting stroke). In a chefs knife, the fulcrum is both further down the blade (mainly because the blade is a little longer) and more curved than that of a santoku. This curvature of the part of the knife touching the board - not the part cutting your food - helps steer your knife into a rocking motion.

                                        You can still rock chop with blade that has a more gentle curve than a chefs knife, but you have to steer this motion more for yourself. Especially if you were used to rock chopping with a chefs knife before buying a santoku, this can be an adjustment. To practice, try exaggerating the rock chopping stroke when using a santoku - a motion like you're rolling up a car window. Go slow to get the motion down, and you'll eventually get faster and shorten your stroke with practice.

                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          Thanks for your help. I have to pay more attention to what I'm doing when I 'rock with the Santoku' (a song title..... perhaps ;o]).

                                          I am concluding that the difficulty here is that my two knives have an almost identical shape in that part of the blade I believe I'm using. My original problem was that I wasn't 'rocking' the Santoku as much, thinking it was supposed to be used in a flat chop motion, and thus sometimes getting the accordion effect.

                                          It has been my perception that no part of the blade, forward of the area where the Chef's knife is more curved, touches the cutting board with my Santoku. So.............. to me anyway...... I'm creating the the same fulcrum with both. When I began to 'rock the Sanbtoku' with the same motion as the Chef's knife............ problem apparently solved. It may be possible that the Santoku itself was part of the problem, and that I now compensate with a changed motion, but I don't think so.

                                          At least that's how I think it went. Anyway.............. I'm happy again, so I hope I can let go of my OCD on the specifics of this.

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            <I 'rock with the Santoku'>

                                            Hey, if Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is performing for The Legend of Zelda (a game):

                                            http://manncenter.org/events/legend-z...

                                            if Ryashon (a rock group) can make a popular song based on Street Fighters (game):

                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6TTtO...

                                            Then why not a song about Santoku?

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              "When I began to 'rock the Sanbtoku' with the same motion as the Chef's knife............ problem apparently solved"

                                              Good to hear. I had to dice some peppers today (12-15) and I tried different methods. Straight up and down was difficult to cut through the skin. Maybe if the knife was a lot sharper. But rock chopping provided more force to get through the pepper skins and more control for even size cuts.

                                            2. re: cowboyardee

                                              cowboyardee, thinking about it some more and need to ask if the fulcrum needs to be at a physical point on the blade, that actually touches the cutting surface, or is it more of a 'spacial' thing?

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                More of spatial thing, since the actual point that touches the cutting surface changes at different times in your stroke. It's basically the 'hinge' your stroke moves from, not the actual literal point on the knife touching the board, and it's probably not even be correct to think of it as a single point on the blade but rather a section of the knife's edge.

                                                Sorry if I misled you earlier with my too-simplistic-to-be-accurate description.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  :o] The important things is I just diced some bed pepper using the Santoku and ............... no accordions. ROCKIN' THAT SANTOKU !!!!!

                                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            Oh my! Thank you for the rock chop video. The high, low technique has made my onion dicing stress free. Perhaps I'm slow but this man explained an onion dice better than anything else I've read or watched, and believe me, I've watched plenty!