Santoku Knife vs. Chef’s Knife: What’s the Difference?

Santoku Knife versus Chefs Knife

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If you’re shopping for a new all-purpose kitchen knife or trying to figure out which one to use, you might be wondering:

What is the difference between a santoku and a chef’s knife?

When should I use a santoku knife, and when should I use a chef’s knife?

Do I need both types of knives? Or do I only need one?

In this comparison of santoku vs. chef’s knives, I explain how they stack up in terms of:

  • Design
  • Function
  • Price
  • And much more.

By the end, you’ll understand how these popular knife types are different, how they’re similar, and the pros and cons of each.

Let’s get started!


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Santoku Knife vs. Chef’s Knife: Key Points

If you only have a minute or two, and you’re trying to get a quick comparison of santoku vs. chef’s knives, here are the key points you need to know.

Santoku Knife and Chefs Knife Labeled
Chef’s Knife (top), and Santoku Knife (bottom)

Blade Design: Santoku knives have a straight edge with a well-pronounced, downward-curved spine. In contrast, chef’s knives have a curved edge that facilitates a rocking motion known as the “rock chop.” Santokus knives often have a hollow edge (evenly-spaced vertical indentations) to prevent food from sticking—most chef’s knives do not have a hollow edge.

Sizes: Santoku and chef’s knives come in a variety of sizes and blade lengths. Santoku blades range from three to nine inches, and the most popular size is seven inches. Chef’s knife blades range from four inches up to 14 inches or more, but six and eight-inch blades are most common.

Sharpness: Santoku knives are usually sharper than chef’s knives. The average Santoku edge is sharpened to a 10-degree angle per side, while chef’s knives are sharpened to a 15-degree angle per side on average.

Edge Grind: Most santoku and chef’s knives have a double-bevel edge (ground on both sides in the shape of a “V”), but many santokus have a single-bevel edge (ground to an ultra-sharp angle on one side). Single-bevel edges are incredibly sharp, ideal for producing paper-thin slices of food, but they require some skill to use, and they’re designed for left and right-handed chefs (they’re not ambidextrous, like double-bevel knives).

Uses: Santoku and chef’s knives are both well-rounded, all-purpose knives. But, due to their different makeups, some tasks are better suited for one over the other. Due to their thin, sharp blades, and hollow edges, santoku knives are best for slicing lighter, more delicate foods. With thicker, heavier blades and a pointy tip, chef’s knives are better for bulky, firm foods like root vegetables and dense meats.

Price: Chef’s knives tend to be slightly more expensive than santoku knives, but the cost varies drastically by brand, size, and style. Skip ahead to this comparison table to see the current prices of the most popular santoku and chef’s knives on Amazon.

Do You Need a Santoku and a Chef’s Knife?: The short answer, no. It’s nice to have both since they each excel in different areas. But, if you only have the budget for one, get a high-quality chef’s knife. For everyday cooking, a chef’s knife can handle almost anything a santoku can, plus some. I recommend the Wusthof Classic chef’s knife (see on Amazon), but there are tons of quality brands on the market.

What is a Santoku Knife?

The Santoku knife debuted in the 1940s in Japan.

At the time, Japanese home chefs used a variety of knives depending on the dish, as each task required a different blade.

But, in the World War II era, Japanese chefs began exploring Western cooking styles and sought an all-purpose knife to handle new cooking techniques and foods.

The answer? The Santoku.

Santoku Knife
Wusthof Classic Santoku Knife (see on Amazon)

The knife became popular amongst Japanese home chefs in the mid 20th century, but it wasn’t widely used in the United States until much later.

The catalyst for its popularity in the United States was celebrity chef Rachael Ray. On an episode of her popular cooking show in the early 2000s, she held up a Wusthof Santoku and declared her love for the knife.

Santoku sales took off, and knife manufacturers began adding them to collections.

The santoku knife is easy to love, and here’s why:

Versatility: The Santoku is an all-purpose knife that can be used for many different tasks such as slicing, mincing, dicing, and chopping. And, despite its smaller profile compared to a chef’s knife, it’s still a kitchen workhorse capable of doing everything from cutting up a whole chicken to finely mincing garlic.

Precision: Santoku knives typically have thin, lightweight blades that are easy to maneuver—ideal for precise slicing. The hollow edge featured on most santoku knives creates air pockets between the blade and food, so nothing sticks, and you’re left with clean slices. 

Variety: While the santoku has a typical design, there are variations of shape, cutting angles, construction, and even material. Some Santokus are made from steel; others are ceramic. Many Santoku blades are made from forged, laminated (layered) steel, resulting in a range of styles and finishes. There are also stamped Santoku knives on the market.

Santoku blade profiles are more straight along the edge, but some are starting to mimic the traditional design of a Chef’s knife, which has a curved blade that juts upward at the tip to help with the rocking technique, also known as the “rock chop.”

Santokus that have this curved-edge design are marketed as “Rocking Santokus.”

What is a Chef’s Knife?

Chef’s knives, also called cook’s knives, were birthed many years ago through influences from Solingen, Germany, Seki City, Japan, and Thiers, France—three cultural centers in knife-making history.

A chef’s knife is the most frequently used knife in most modern kitchens. It’s the king of all knives.

Why?

Because it’s incredibly versatile. If you want to invest in one good kitchen knife, a chef’s knife is my recommendation, hands down.

Chefs Knife
Top: Made In Chef’s Knife (see on MadeInCookware.com). Bottom: Wusthof Classic Chef’s Knife (see on Amazon).

You can use a chef’s knife for slicing, dicing, mincing, cutting, breaking up bones, smashing, and just about anything else you can think up.

With a gradual curve from the heel to the tip of the edge, the chef’s knife can have different functions depending on what portion of the blade you engage:

  • Front: Ideal for small cutting jobs such as slicing an onion or other small vegetables like mushrooms.
  • Middle: Good for cutting through both firm and soft foods, and mincing vegetables, garlic, or herbs.
  • Heel: Good starting point for cutting through very firm foods such as butternut squash, carrots, and pineapples.
  • Spine: Can handle small bones, shells, or shellfish casings.
  • Surface: Perfect for smashing garlic cloves, flattening or shaping meats, and can act as a shovel for chopped foods.

Although chef’s knives can handle nearly every cutting task in the kitchen, they are not the ideal choice for delicate, precision cutting, such as preparing sashimi or deboning a fish. These tasks require a smaller, thinner, and more agile knife.

Next, let’s compare santoku and chef’s knives head-to-head.

What’s the Difference Between a Santoku and Chef’s Knife?

Now that you know what santoku and chef’s knives are, let’s dive into their differences. 

In this section, I’ll cover how these knives compare in terms of:

  • Blade design
  • Sizes
  • Sharpness
  • Edge Grind
  • Uses
  • Price

Blade Design

The first noticeable difference between a santoku and chef’s knife is the shape of the blades.

A traditional Santoku has a flat or straight edge profile with a well-pronounced, downward-curved spine.

Santoku knife blade design
Santoku knife blade design

By contrast, the modern chef’s knife has a curved edge that bends gradually from the heel to the tip with the spine following suit, culminating in a fairly straight, pointed tip.

Chefs knife blade design
Chef’s knife blade design

The curved blade of the chef’s knife facilitates a rocking action (rock chop)–perfect for quickly dicing a carrot or green onion–but you can also use a chopping motion with the knife.

The santoku is best suited for an up and down chopping or slicing motion. That doesn’t mean you can’t rock a Santoku; it’s just more difficult because the edge is straight, and it may cause undue stress on your hands.

Let’s take a look at a real example. If you’re cutting a bell pepper, the curved edge of a chef’s knife allows you to cut down and then complete the cut by rocking forward.

Rock chop with a chefs knife
Rock chopping with a chef’s knife

With a santoku knife, the straight edge only allows for a one-time downward chopping motion.

Chopping a pepper with a santoku knife
Chopping downward with a santoku knife

The textures and style of blades differ as well. For example, many Santokus have a hollow edge, signified by evenly spaced indentations commonly known as Grantons (named after the company that invented the hollow blade).

Santoku hollow edge vs chefs standard edge
Santoku knife with a hollow edge and a chef’s knife with a standard edge

Hollow edges are designed to reduce friction and keep food from sticking to the blade during use.

Some chef’s knives have adopted a hollow edge design, but it’s typically associated with santokus.

Santokus are inspired by Japanese artisans and often feature multiple layers of steel, referred to as Damascus style. Most chef’s knives have smooth, single-layer blade surfaces.

Additionally, forged santoku and chef’s knives may both feature bolsters, but chef’s knife bolsters are usually much thicker and more substantial.

Santoku knife bolster vs chefs knife bolster
Chef’s knife (top). Santoku knife (bottom).

In general, santoku knives are lighter, and the blades are thinner compared to chef’s knives, which have thick blades and are heftier.

However, if you compare across different brands, you can find chef’s knives that are lighter than santokus.

For example, the Global Classic 7-Inch Santoku weighs in at 10.6 ounces, heavier than the Wusthof 7-Inch Classic Chef’s Knife weighing 6.7 ounces. So, if weight is a concern, you can shop different brands to find a knife that feels right.

Sizes

When it comes to sizes, chef’s knives have a wider range of blade lengths to choose from.

Santoku knives, in general, come in a handful of blade lengths from a paring knife size of three inches up to nine inches. The most popular blade length for a santoku knife is 7 inches. Most handles are four to five inches long, so the total size of the average santoku knife is 11.5 inches.

Santoku knife blade size vs chefs knife blade size
Top: Made In Chef’s Knife (see on MadeInCookware.com). Bottom: Wusthof Classic Santoku Knife (see on Amazon).

Chef’s knives tend to start at a blade length of four or five inches and can get up to fourteen inches or more.

Longer knives make it easier to handle large cuts of meat, watermelons, or pumpkins. Add in the length of the handle, and some Chef’s knives can be more than 20 inches long.

Although you have several lengths to choose from, the most common blade lengths for a chef’s knife are 6 and 8 inches.

Sharpness

Santoku knives are usually sharpened to a lower edge angle than chef’s knives.

And, for those that are not familiar: the lower the edge angle, the sharper the knife.

The average Santoku edge is sharpened to 10-degree angle, while chef’s knives tend to be sharpened at an edge angle range of 10 to 20 degrees, with an average of 15.

In other words, santoku knives are typically sharper than chef’s knives.

Edge Grind

Another difference between santoku and chef’s knives is the type of edge, or edge grind.

The two most common types of edges are double-bevel and single-bevel.

Single bevel vs double bevel edge

A double-bevel edge is sharpened on both sides in the shape of a “V.”

This type of edge is best for everyday household use because it holds up well against thick, bulky food items, and it’s easy to maintain. Since double-bevel knives are sharpened on both sides, lefties and righties can use them with no issue.

Almost all chef’s knives and most santokus have a double-bevel edge.

Although few chef’s knives have a single-bevel edge, many santoku knives do. A single-bevel edge is ground on just one-side while the other side remains flat.

It’s easier for knife makers to create an ultra-thin edge when they’re working on just one side, which means single-bevel knives are magnificently sharp.

The fine edge is sharp enough to produce paper-thin slices of food, which are often prevalent in Japanese cooking. This added sharpness comes in handy when slicing sushi or peeling certain fruits and vegetables.

The downsides of a single-bevel knife are that it requires a moderate level of skill to use properly, and each blade is designed explicitly for righties and lefties. So, if you’re an average cook and there are righties and lefties in your household that could be using the knife, avoid a single-bevel santoku.

Uses

While santoku and chef’s knives are both well-rounded and built for a range of uses, there are some tasks in which one is better than the other.

So when should you use a santoku knife, and when should you use a chef’s knife?

In short, santoku knives are best for slicing and peeling lighter, more delicate foods like seafood, soft vegetables, and cheeses because the blade is thinner with a sharp, straight edge.

Chef’s knives are best for bulkier foods like root vegetables and dense meats, because the blade is long, thick, heavy, and comes to a sharp point.

Both work well for all the stuff in between—mincing herbs, chopping vegetables, dicing fruit, etc.

If you think about the edges of both types of knives, it becomes even clearer to see which knife is better suited for a task.

For example, if you are preparing a quick stir fry, sushi, sashimi, salad, or any dish requiring thin slices of meat or finely chopped vegetables, a santoku knife is the best choice.

If you’re breaking down a raw butternut squash, head of cabbage, or whole chicken, you’re better off using a chef’s knife. 

To sum it up, below is a list of typical uses for santoku and chef’s knives:

Santoku Knife Uses:

  • Slicing, dicing or chopping plant-based foods
  • Cutting meat
  • Slicing cheese
  • Mincing meat or herbs
  • Thin or fine cuts of vegetables, meat, or seafood

Chef’s Knife Uses:

  • Handling complex cuts of meat of varying thickness
  • Disjointing meats such as whole chickens or turkeys
  •  Cutting thick root vegetables or fruits
  • Slicing, chopping or dicing any type of fruit, vegetable, or nut
  • Poking meat to create small pockets for herbs and spices

Price

Chef knives tend to be more expensive than santoku knives, but this all varies depending on the brand and the size of the knife you desire.

In general, prices will also be lower for stamped knives than forged knives.

Brands that make their knives with high-quality material, use advanced manufacturing techniques, and have unique designs such as layered steel, will usually cost more.

To get a better idea of the difference in price between santoku and chef’s knives, check out the table below that lists the current cost of popular options.

Note: These prices are pulled in real-time from Amazon. You can click/tap the price to view each knife on Amazon. 

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Should you Buy a Santoku Knife, a Chef’s Knife, or Both?

Now that you understand the differences between santoku and chef’s knives, the question is:

Do you need both? Or is one type of knife enough?

The truth is, you don’t need a santoku knife and a chef’s knife. You can get by with one or the other. But, as I explained, each type of knife excels at different cutting tasks. So having both makes life in the kitchen a little bit easier.

If you only have the budget for one knife, go with a high-quality chef’s knife. They are the most well-rounded type of knife on the market and can handle most of your daily needs as a home chef.

The one I recommend the most is the Wusthof Classic Chef’s knife, which you can check out on Amazon or at your local kitchen supply store.

Or, if you want to explore other options, read my Definitive Guide of the Best Kitchen Knife Brands, where I explore the top five kitchen knife brands in the world.

I hope this comparison helped you learn more about these popular knife styles. What style of knife are you thinking of buying? Let me know in the comment section!

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