Santoku vs Chef’s knife (Is Bigger really better?)
“What is the difference between a santoku knife and a chef’s knife ?” Here’s a quick summary of some basic differences between the shapes of a santoku knife and a chef’s knife so you can more easily choose the right one for your kitchen cutting and slicing tasks.
The Santoku is a <Japanese modification of the French type of Chef’s knife, specifically designed for use in preparing Japanese cuisine. It is typically shorter than most chef’s knives, with a harder blade sharpened using traditional Japanese edge geometry.
The thinner flat-ground blade has an edge angle of 15-18 degree and is made of a harder tempered steel (often 58 – 62 HRC or higher). This design makes the knife ideal for precision cutting and thin slicing. The shorter blade and hardened, thin-profile edge of the Santoku mean that it is not designed to perform the same heavy duty tasks (disjointing bones) as the Chef’s knife since these tasks could damage the cutting edge.
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The Santoku (which loosely translates to “three good things” or “three uses”), is also a general-purpose utility knife, originating in Japan. The blade itself is typically 5 – 8 inches long with a flat edge and a sheeps foot blade which curves in an angle approaching 60 degrees at the point.
The blade and handle of the Santoku are carefully balanced to match the width/weight of the blade with the blade tang and handle. The Santoku’s sharp, tough blade makes the knife ideal for cutting fish, vegetables, and boneless or lightly-boned meats such as chicken.
Focusing on strength and sharpness, other Japanese modifications include piercings through the body of the blade (the air pockets reduce friction for a smoother cut) and hand-hammered blades (which are said to improve strength while presenting a more rustic appearance).
Some of the best Santoku blades employ laminated steels (known as San Mai ) including the pattern known as Suminagashi. Suminagashi refers to the blade’s multi-layer steel alloys that resemble the traditional Japanese art of suminagashi, floating swirls of ink over paper. The better Japanese santoku knives also employ forged laminated stainless steel cladding to improve strength and rust resistance while maintaining a hard edge.
Knives with these expensive laminated blades are generally considered to be the ultimate expression of quality in a genuine Japanese santoku.
As a result of its smaller size and lighter weight, the santoku is especially popular among people with smaller hands.
There are many copies of santoku-type knives being manufactured outside of Japan that have substantially different edge designs, different balance, and softer steels. These changes make the knife more similar to a classic Chef’s Knife since a thicker blade is required to obtain the same cutting edge profile as those used in the original Japanese santoku.
To compensate for these differences, some non-Japanese santoku variations (made of a single alloy) include scalloped recesses (known as kullens), 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 reduce cutting friction.
Genuine Japanese santoku blades do not employ such features, but instead rely on inherent quality of steel and edge geometry in order to make clean cuts.
The Chef’s Knife
The chef’s knife, is the most versatile, and widely used knife for professional and home cooks alike. This utility is due to the fact that it is designed to do many things well, in stead of excelling at one particular task.
The Chef’s Knife started as a butcher’s knife (originally designed to disjoint and cut large cuts fo beef) and has evolved into a multi purpose knife for slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing, and still able to disjoint large cuts of beef. The knife’s utility results from both its shape (widest at the heel and tapering to a thinner tip) and the weight of its blade.
The modern chef’s knife can range from 6 – 14 inches in length (8 inches being the most common) and 1 ½ inches in width (at the heel). There are two basic blade shapes, the more common German (shown above)featuring a pronounced curve from heel to tip which allows the blade to be rocked up and down while chopping. The classic French blade is more triangular, with less curve towards the tip and a longer straight section of the blade, designed to slice the food while being pulled toward the user. Both blade styles provide the same amount of versatility so your own personal preference will determine which is right for you.
A typical chef’s knife has an edge profile angle of between 20-22 degrees, and an HRC hardness ranging from 37 – 58. The relatively thick profile allows the blade to be sharpened to different edges along its length. The heavy heel is given a strong, thick edge for the heavy-duty tasks of disjointing beef. The mid-section (belly) of the blade keeps its moderately sharp edge of 20 – 22 degrees for general cutting, chopping and slicing. Finally, the tip can be ground to a very fine bevel making it perfect for precision tasks such as mincing.
So which is better?
So, after all this explaination, which is the better knife? Although this may sound like the easy way out, the answer is – it depends on your personal preference, and the tasks you expect to be performing. Knife selection is completely subjective and depends entirely upon what’s most important to you. Some questions to ask will be:
- Does the knife fit comfortably in your hand?
- Is it too heavy for you to work with for long periods of time?
- What tasks will you be using the knife for?
- What is the blade made from (1 piece forged, laminated, ceramic)?
- Does the knife have a full tang?
- Do I really need just one knife?
Some chef’s prefer one knife over the other, while others use both. Like I said, the choice is yours, and that’s much better than having no choice at all.