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Jul 5, 2012 10:31 AM

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:


          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:

              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.


                  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.