At first glance it’s easy to mistake a Japanese Santoku knife for a Western chef’s knife, but the two aren’t remotely the same.
Learning how to use a Santoku knife is critical for making the best use of these versatile blades.
The design differences between Santoku and Chef’s knives mean that they need to used very differently.
Since not too many home kitchens use Santoku, a lot of people don’t know how to use these beautiful knives.
That’s a real shame because Santoku knives are some of the most versatile specialized blades out there.
They come in several different design variations, just like other knives, each one with it’s own advantages. This guide will show you what the Santoku knife is good for, why you should consider using one, and the advantages of having one in your kitchen.
In this Guide you’ll learn:
- What a Santoku is
- How to Use a Santoku safely and effectively
- And Much More!
What's in this Guide?
What Are The Benefits of Using a Santoku Knife Properly?
Santoku knives are like most Japanese knives – specialists for a very particular kind of job. Good blade design also makes them versatile and allows for a more minimalist approach to cutting and chopping preferred in many Japanese dishes.
While these knives were designed for a very specific kind of cutting, they have a wide range of uses in modern kitchens across the globe.
The main benefit of Santoku knives is that they can be used to make exceedingly thin slices. The incredible sharpness of the blade on a Santoku knife means that they are generally able to slice both meat and vegetables with equal efficiency, though they can slice vegetables more thinly.
Read More: >> The Best Knives for Chopping Vegetables
Santoku knives also use an incredibly efficient cutting motion thanks to the sheepsfoot (or rounded) tip and incredibly narrow bevel. The narrowness of the blade keeps it incredibly sharp, while the flatter edge and lack of a tip mean that this blade can cut straight down.
No more rocking motion like you’d need with a chef’s knife.
That’s a faster and more precise way to cut, critical for getting the thin slices and beautiful presentation Japanese food is known for.
What You Need To Know About Santoku Knives
Santoku means ‘three virtues’ according to some translations of the word. That’s because there are three uses for Santoku knives in the kitchen:
Those three uses cover a lot of what you’ll be doing with a knife in the kitchen.
That’s a big part of why Santoku are sometimes called the chef’s knives of Japanese designs. Santoku are workhorse knives and can be incredibly versatile, similar to a chef’s knife.
The problem with that idea is that it makes a lot of people think that you should use your Santoku the same way you would use a Western chef’s knife.
The thing is that Santoku knives aren’t well suited to some tasks a chef’s knife can accomplish. For instance, you can de-bone a chicken thigh with a chef’s knife. It might not be an ideal choice, but it can get the job done.
Try to de-bone a chicken thigh with a Santoku and you’re likely to have trouble since the knife doesn’t have a pointed tip.
It can be done, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
So, remember, chopping, mincing, and dicing. It doesn’t really matter what you’re chopping mincing or dicing, if that’s your goal you can use a Santoku.
Single and Double Bevel Designs
Many traditional Santoku are single bevel knives, meaning that one side of the knife is completely flat, while the other side has the bevel or angle used to create the blade.
Single bevel knives are great because they can often be sharper than double bevel knives, and they also create less friction between the knife and whatever you’re cutting.
Both of those features make it easier to get thinner slices when you’re chopping, but they aren’t critical to the design.
There are some double-bevel Santoku, especially if you’re looking at a slightly Westernized version of the design. These knives are similarly sharp and work the same way a single bevel Santoku does, but they can take some getting used to if you’ve only used a single beveled Santoku before.
Don’t understand these terms? No sweat, check out my Complete Guide for Kitchen Knives article.
What Do I Need to Use a Santoku Knife?
There are only three things you need to use a Santoku knife. The knife itself, a cutting board, and whatever it is you want to cut.
Using a Santoku knife is relatively simple, but you should still take standard knife safety precautions to minimize the risk of accidents. Sharper is safer. Always make sure your cutting board is completely flat and stable so it won’t move.
It’s also important to avoid cutting toward yourself and to use proper hand posture while you’re working. Santoku knives are incredibly sharp as a rule, which makes them safer, but it also means that injuries can get bad relatively quickly.
Here are some knife safety tips to help keep your hands safe while you’re working with your Santoku.
How To Use Santoku Knives
Using a Santoku knife is similar to most knives. You can use any grip that would work on a chef’s knife on a Santoku.
The big difference is in how you cut with these knives.
A Santoku blade has a flat belly, meaning that you can lay most of the blade of your knife flat on your cutting board without having to rock it. That means that the rocking chop you’d use with a chef’s knife doesn’t really work with a Santoku.
If you tried to rock with a Santoku you’d either end up moving up and down far too much, or you’d just be sliding the blade across your cutting board without cutting anything.
So, since that won’t work, here’s how you do it.
Read More: >> How to Shred Cabbage with a Knife
Vertical Chopping with a Santoku
The main cutting motion with a Santoku is straight up and down. You should cut with enough force that the blade makes a noise on the cutting board as you complete the chop, but not so much that you’re damaging either the blade or the cutting board in the process.
There can be a slight forward motion as you come down with a Santoku, but it often isn’t necessary because of the thinner and sharper blade on these knives.
Read More: >> How to Sharpen Japanese Knives (2 Simple Methods)
It’s important, when you’re working with a Santoku, to avoid lifting the blade too high. Hold whatever you’re chopping so that the first knuckle on your fingers touches the side of the blade.
The edge of the Santoku knife should never lift higher than that knuckle. Otherwise you risk injuring yourself.
To use the knife properly you should just barely lift the edge above whatever you’re cutting, and then bring it straight down to create an even slice.
Dicing and mincing are done with the same cutting motion with a Santoku. You’ll just need to slice your fruit or vegetables, then turn the slices on the side and chop again. Repeat until you’ve chopped your produce to the size you need it.
Here’s a video demonstrating the difference between using a chef’s knife and a Santoku, with good Santoku form. Pay attention to how thinly this chef is able to slice the carrot with his Santoku!
My Final Thoughts on Santoku Knives
Santoku knives might not be in every kitchen, but they probably should be! These Japanese knives are some of the most precise knives you can own. They are strong, durable, incredibly sharp, and reasonably flexible.
If you’re looking to up your food presentation game, want to start experimenting with traditional Japanese cooking, or are just looking for a highly precise knife, a Santoku is probably the right knife for you.
Just like any knives, it’s important to make sure you’re looking for a good Santoku. That means good stainless or high-carbon steel, and preferably a traditional style, from a good manufacturer.
If you’ve got those things covered you’re likely good to go.