My dad loves knives. We have so many of them, people. It’s a little ridiculous. However, one of the things I remember from my childhood is my dad explicitly telling me the difference between a santoku vs. chef's knife: Santokus were for thin cuts, and chef's knives were for meat and hard stuff.
Being a young child, I blindly chose to believe what he said, of course. The truth is, though, I didn't know whether or not he was right. He said the word "santoku," so it sounded legit.
To my small child brain, I thought all knives did the same thing: They cut stuff. While it may appear that way, that is not the case.
Knives Serve Different Purposes
There are so many different kinds of knives that, if you’re inexperienced, it can seem really intimidating. However, different knives really are necessary for every aspect of the kitchen.
Some knives are better suited for cutting veggies, while others are for meat. For example, you need to know what is a paring knife. These small knives are suitable for peeling and chopping. There are also cleavers, which are good for cutting through the hard stuff.
The world of knives is vast and full of choices, but there is a debate that is particularly significant in the knife world: santoku vs. chef's knife.
Santoku Vs. Chef's Knife: The Main Differences
These knives may seem remarkably similar, but they really do have their differences. The santoku originated in Japan, while the chef’s knife originated in Germany and France.
A santoku knife doesn’t come to a point at the tip of the blade like a chef’s knife does. A chef’s knife is heavier, and the spine of the knife is usually thicker to add weight.
Another thing that differs between the knives is the sharpening process. Since a santoku is thinner steel, you’ll need to use a wet whetstone to sharpen them, as a sharpening steel is bad for the blade. However, a chef’s knife will be sharpened best with a sharpening steel.
Santoku knives are not hard to come by. You can find a plethora of options online and in stores. When you purchase a santoku knife, it’s important to understand the knife you’re buying. If you just choose one randomly, and it doesn’t have all the benefits of a good santoku, the debate of santoku vs. chef’s knife will quickly be lost on you.
Where do they come from?
Santoku knives come from Japan. However, their history only began fairly recently. Up until the 1940s, Japanese people had used nakiri blades, which are a type of vegetable cleaver. The santoku knife became a mashup of a nakiri blade and a traditional meat cleaver, making it a versatile blade for the typical home kitchen.
What do they do?
Santoku blades cut things into thinner, more precise slices. When looking at a santoku vs. chef's knife, it’s clear that they’re different; a chef's knife will cut things into bigger pieces. A santoku is for precision, for slicing and dicing as fast as you can handle it.
When to use them
Santoku knives are incredibly versatile and can serve many purposes in the kitchen. The word santoku translates to “three virtues,” and it has three main uses: chopping, dicing, and mincing.
The precise nature of the santoku makes it perfect for slicing cheese, sushi, and some vegetables. A good santoku will give you the minced garlic of your dreams, and your veggies will be so finely chopped that you'll be the go-to for a good salsa.
Santokus are for precise cuts, so naturally, they're very sharp. Take extra caution in making sure they're stored safely out of reach of children and make sure to follow some safety tips when you're handling them.
Now that you know all about the santoku, it's time to discuss the other side: the chef's knife.
Chef's knives are easy to find and more common in most kitchens than a santoku. They're heavier, pointier, and thicker, and most people use them for cutting thicker slices.
When you're searching for a good chef's knife, keep in mind that they are not all created equal. The market may be wide, but that does not mean that some won't crumble at the first sign of a chicken breast. There is a chef's knife out there for everybody, and it's worth the wait to find the perfect one for you.
Despite the differences between a santoku vs. chef's knife, one thing is the same: safety. Chef's knives are incredibly sharp, and you need to handle them with care. They also form more of a point than a santoku, so be careful not to prick a finger while you're cutting your pork chops.
The history of chef's knives
Chef's knives originated in France and Germany, though both of those countries have their own variations. German chef's knives typically weigh more and feature a blade made of a softer steel than a French chef's knife.
Interestingly enough, some say that chef's knives stem from swords rather than being a mashup of different types of pre-existing knives. The French took a lot of inspiration from Japenese swordsmen, so you'll find that a French chef's knife is more similar to a santoku than a German chef's knife
The purpose of a chef's knife
An area where a santoku vs. chef's knife differs pretty significantly is the purpose. Though a chef's knife can be useful for some precision cutting, it is more intended for thicker cuts.
A chef's knife has a pointy end, which makes it ideal for separating meat at the joint, such as a chicken. They're also suitable for slicing meat into thicker parts, like creating chicken tenders or cutting up a pork loin. A good chef's knife is also good for cutting through bread.
Best times to use chef's knives
Chef's knives are ideal for those times when you don't have a meat cleaver, but you need to take apart something like a chicken. The tip is good for disjointing the meat, while the blade will cut each part off with ease. In addition, you can use a chef's knife to chop up vegetables or fruits.
A chef's knife won't do well in the world of mincing, though. When looking at a santoku vs. chef's knife, you'll need to consider what you need it for the most. If you're mincing or finely dicing, a santoku would be a better fit for your kitchen.
Do You Need Both?
The question of a santoku vs. chef's knife raises an important question: Do you need both?
The short answer is yes. A santoku and a chef's knife are two separate entities, and if you don't have both, you may find yourself disappointed in your cheese platters or staring at your pork chops with disdain. Though it may seem redundant to have both, some things work better together.
Of course, whether or not you actually purchase one, the other, or both depends on your specific needs. The types of foods you eat and the tasks you find yourself performing with knives frequently will determine what you need. You can find the best knife in the world, but if you're not using it, it's not doing you any good.
Don't Cut The Cord
Once you think you found the perfect knives for you, don't be afraid to branch out. If you've compared a santoku vs. chef's knife and decided you prefer one over the other, it's never too late to change your mind.
Cooking can be an exciting hobby. Not only that, but it'll save you money in the long run. What you're going to put in your body is something you have control over, and when you're cooking, you make every call.
You don't have to be Gordon Ramsay to love cooking, and you don't have to be Gordon Ramsay to want to know about your utensils. The utensils are going to guide you and provide you with the support you need to continue cooking. Knowing what you're cooking and the difference between a santoku vs. chef's knife is just the first step, but it's necessary.
Okay, at this point, I've concluded that my dad was mostly right about the difference between a santoku vs. chef's knife. It was a lesson I've held onto, and now, a lesson chefs in training like you can confirm.
What kind of knife is your favorite? What do you use your knives for? Let us know in the comments!