What Is A Santoku Knife? Find Out Here

The Santoku bōchō (Japanese: 三徳包丁; “three virtues” or “three uses”) or Bunka bōchō (文化包丁) is a general-purpose kitchen knife originating in Japan. Its blade is typically between 13 and 20 cm (5 and 8 in) long and has a flat edge and a sheepsfoot blade that curves down an angle approaching 60 degrees at the point.

The term Santoku may refer to the wide variety of ingredients that the knife can handle: meat, fish, and vegetables, or to the tasks it can perform: slicing, chopping, and dicing, either interpretation indicating a multi-use, general-purpose kitchen knife.

The Santoku’s blade and handle are designed to work in harmony by matching the blade’s width and weight to the weight of the tang and the handle.

History

A Santoku knife’s design is originated in Japan. In Japan, a Gyuto knife is used to cut meat, a Nakiri knife is used to cut vegetables, a Deba knife is used to cut fish. In the 1940s, the Santoku knife was created.

General usage

As a general kitchen knife, a Santoku knife in Japanese is a “Three Virtues” knife. It is used in the kitchen for cutting, slicing, and chopping.

Design

Santoku blade geometry incorporates the sheep’s foot tip. A sheep’s foot design essentially draws the spine (“backstrap”) down to the front, with very little clearance above the horizontal cutting plane when the blade is resting naturally from heel to forward cutting edge.

Providing a more linear cutting edge, the Santoku has limited “rocking” travel (in comparison to a German/Western-style chef’s knife).

The Santoku may be used in a rocking motion; however, very little cutting edge makes contact with the surface due to the extreme radius of the tip and very little “tip travel” occurs due to the short cantilever span from contact landing to tip.

An example of this limitation can be demonstrated in dicing an onion—a Western knife generally slices downward and then rocks the tip forward to complete a cut; the Santoku relies more on a single downward cut and even landing from heel to tip, thus using less of a rocking motion than Western-style cutlery.

The Santoku design is shorter, lighter, thinner, and more hardened steel in the tradition of Samurai sword steel (to compensate for thinness) than a traditional Western chef’s knife.

Standard Santoku blade length is between 15 and 18 cm (6 and 7 in), in comparison to the typical 20 cm (8 in) home cook’s knife.

Most classic kitchen knives maintain a blade angle between 40 and 45 degrees (a bilateral 20 to 22.5-degree shoulder, from cutting edge); Japanese knives typically incorporate a chisel-tip (sharpened on one side) and maintain a more extreme angle (10 to 15-degree shoulder).

A classic Santoku will incorporate the Western-style, bilateral cutting edge, but maintain a more extreme 12 to 15-degree shoulder, akin to Japanese cutlery.

It is critical to increasing the hardness of Santoku steel so edge retention is maintained and “rolling” of the thin cutting edge is mitigated. However, harder, thinner steel is more likely to chip, when pushing against a bone for example.

German knives use slightly “softer” steel but have more material behind their cutting edge. For the average user, a German-style knife is easier to sharpen, but a Santoku knife, if used as designed, will hold its edge longer.

With few exceptions, Santoku knives typically have no bolster, sometimes incorporate “scalloped” sides, also known as a Granton edge, and maintain a more uniform thickness from spine to blade.

Some Santoku knives are sharpened on one side of the blade only. This is the traditional Eastern way and enables the chef to have greater control over the direction of cutting.

Most Santoku knives are a hybrid of West meets East, in that the shape of the blade is curved with a flat cutting edge and the sharpening is 50/50 on either surface. This makes for easier sharpening and maintenance with traditional steel or pull-through sharpener.

A Santoku knife is ideally suited to precision work thanks to the light, narrow blade, which can make thinner cuts, as less food has to be pushed out of the way as the blade makes each slice.

Japanese knives require a different technique to Western knives in that they slice through food in a forward and backward motion, rather than Western knives which require a rocking motion, which generally creates thicker slices and takes longer to cut than the quicker Santoku blade.

Variations

Santoku with Damascus steel blade

Some of the knives employ San Mai (or “three-layered”) laminated steels, including the pattern known as suminagashi (墨流し literally, “flowing-ink”).

The term refers to the similarity of the pattern formed by the blade’s damascened and multi-layer steel alloys to the traditional Japanese art of suminagashi marbled paper. Forged laminated stainless steel cladding is employed on better Japanese Santoku knives to improve strength and rust resistance while maintaining a hard edge.

Knives possessing these laminated blades are generally more expensive and of higher quality.

There are many copies of Santoku-pattern knives made outside Japan that have substantially different edge designs, different balance, and different steels from the original Japanese Santoku.

One trend in Santoku copies made of a single alloy is to include scallops or recesses, hollowed out of the side of the blade, similar to those found in meat-carving knives.

These scallops create small air pockets between the blade and the material being sliced in an attempt to improve separation and reduce cutting friction.

The Top Three Santoku Knife Applications

Slicing

Santoku and chef knives are both great at slicing, though their usage varies depending on what you’re cutting.

The long, curved blade of a chef knife allows for it to quickly cut small items like herbs and garlic by way of a rocking motion (during which the tip of the knife stays firmly planted on the cutting board).

In contrast, a Santoku blade — like the blades of many Japanese knives — is much more flat. Some Japanese knives are actually totally flat the entire length of the blade, while most Santokus (like Made In’s Santoku Knife) typically have a small upward curve of the cutting edge near the knife’s tip.

This small curve aids in making slicing smoother, but isn’t steep enough for a rocking motion method to be used.

What does all that mean? Santoku users slice by lifting the entire knife off the cutting board then pushing down and away from them into the food item rather than slicing by way of a rocking motion.

This technique is slightly slower than that used with a Western-style chef’s knife because a little more care has to be put into where the knife’s blade is placed, but the tradeoff is that it allows for the creation of thin slices.

Dicing

The Santoku is a kitchen knife that excels at precision cuts like dicing because of its smaller, easily maneuverable blade size (typically around 7 inches, which is shorter than a typical Western chef knife).

In addition, most Santoku knives have a blade angle of 10 to 15 degrees, giving them the ability to dice more precisely than knives with a wide blade.

Compared to a chef knife or serrated knife, a Santoku can dice more precisely. However, this comes at the expense of a marginal amount of prep time as chef knives and their rocking motion can dice a little more quickly than a Santoku Japanese knife. Because they’re more precise, though, Santoku knives are better mincing tools than chef knives. 

Chopping

Santokus were built for chopping — literally. The sharpness of the knife’s blade means they’re able to cut through foods quickly while the flatness of the blade means they’re able to cut through foods uniformly (due to the knife contacting the food at multiple points simultaneously).

No matter the type of knife, it’s important to learn how to sharpen kitchen knives to keep them in the best condition. 

The technique for chopping with a Santoku blade is the same as with slicing — quick, intentional pushes rather than a back-and-forth roll.

Because chopping doesn’t require as much uniformity and precision as slicing, a Santoku — with its maneuverability and quick up and down motions — can actually chop faster than a Western chef knife (even though it typically slices slower than one).

The Finest Ways To Utilize A Santoku knife

The meaning of the word ‘Santoku ’ clearly explains what it is best used for: the ‘three virtues’ or ‘three uses’ of chopping, dicing and mincing. It handles all of these jobs in exemplary fashion but avoids chopping large meat bones, slicing bread, and precision tasks (such as peeling).

Santoku knives are particularly adept at creating very thin slices of foods, which improves the overall aesthetics of completed dishes.

Best used for:

  • Cutting meat
  • Slicing cheese
  • Slicing, chopping, or dicing fruits, vegetables, and nuts
  • Mincing meat or herbs
  • Scooping food off a cutting board due to wide blade
  • Creating fine slices, particularly useful for vegetables and seafood

As a Santoku knife is slightly shorter in length compared to a Chef’s Knife (at 8” while a standard Chef’s Knife is 10”) and possesses a seamless handle-to-blade design, they are well-suited for those with small hands.

Why You Should Choose a Santoku Knife

Like a chef knife, the Santoku knife can be used for almost any cutting task. As mentioned above, you can use it to prepare fruit, veggies, boneless meat and poultry, fish, etc., thanks to its wide blade, which makes cutting a breeze.

Also, being handy and light-weighted makes the knife convenient for cutting larger quantities of ingredients. Its thin blades allow you to cut with precision even without exerting force. overall, the Santoku knife is built to give you more control over the kitchen job.

Frequently Ask Question:

  • What does the Santoku knife cut? – Santoku means three uses in Japanese. The originally vegetables fish and meats. They are designed to cut this foodstuff with one knife without difficulties. Once you learn skills use santoku can them many other knives too. 
  • What are the benefits of a Santoku knife? – The good thing is that once you get a hang of the Santoku knife, you can use the skills with many other knives as well. It’s a base of various knives, as well as basic cutting techniques.
  • Is a Santoku Knife truly necessary? – Santoku is designed to cut vegetables, fish, and meats with one knife. Santoku is a versatile kitchen knife. It is intended to be a good first knife you have in your kitchen. And it is a must-have for many cooks.
  • What is the best way to use a Santoku knife? – All you need to do is put some food, like meat or a vegetable, on a cutting board. Then, you will be able to just push the edge of the knife in a downward quick motion. A lot of Japanese cooks use this way of cutting; forward and backward strokes or straight up and down chop.

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