When it comes to cutlery pulled out for casual kitchen work, it is usually a mix between a Santoku knife and a chef’s knife. These two knives have differences that, for an inexperienced chef or kitchen amateur, might not be visible. However, the differences are telling and can be seen a mile away once you know what to look for.
In this article, we will get to know the history of these two very different yet similar knives. We will look at their construction, their purpose in the kitchen, and, ultimately, the key differences between them.
You might ask yourself why this matters. In the end, they are both knives, right? The cutting blade can make a big difference in regards to the outcome of your efforts, both in your time and the quality of your final product.
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A Short History of the Chef Knife and Santoku Knife
These knives come from very different places – two different halves of the globe actually. The origins of the chef’s knife can be traced to Germany. Therefore, it will often be referred to as a Western knife. In comparison, the Santoku knife has its origins in Japan, where it was first crafted.
The German city of Solingen has a long history of making strong and powerful swords thanks to its iron-rich environments and coal reserves. The city changed its manufacturing objectives to knives in the 17th and 18th centuries.
With brands that are still going strong since those days, such as Wusthof and Zwilling J.A. Henckels, the chef’s knife has a rich background.
With a rich history regarding ironsmith, the Japanese culture created this knife relatively recently. Its first appearance was seen during the end of World War II, in the mid-1940s. Their traditional knife, the Nakiri, started to incorporate more and more changes to its shape.
Ultimately, they ended up forging a smaller and lighter knife that is more friendly to a home cook. This finally became the well-known Santoku knife.
The Anatomy of a Knife
At first glance, the knives might look identical, but taking a closer look will result in seeing significant differences. These differences are evident from the tip of the blade all the way to its weight and length.
The first noticeable difference is that a standard Santoku knife is shorter. Its blade length can vary between 5 to 8 inches, adding 4 or 5 more inches with the handle. There is a thinner cut blade and sometimes a Granton edge or a series of scallops along the cutting side of the blade. A classic Santoku knife is also light, making it easy to maneuver by chefs with smaller hands.
Traditionally, Santoku knives are made from hard, Japanese stainless steel. In today’s modern world, though, they can be manufactured from all sorts of materials ranging from ceramic to carbon steel. The knives are sharpened at a precise angle of 12-15 degrees with a single bevel. They also do not feature a bolster, the thick band connecting the handle to the knife blade. This leaves more room for the blade to slide, aiding in a much smoother cut.
The chef’s knife is quite common in any kitchen. It features a blade with a length between 8 and 10 inches, some reaching even 14 inches, but that is only for high-level chefs working on a larger scale. The most distinctive feature for a chef’s knife is the curved edge that is used for cutting, as well as the knife’s tapered shape. The blade curves upward, giving it a small convex shape that ends with a strong tip.
Similar to a Santoku knife, the chef’s knife was also made from stainless steel at its origins. As days passed and new technologies became available, you can now get it in any material you want, whether carbon steel or ceramic.
The chef’s knife cut is also at a wider angle, ranging from 20 to 30 degrees with a double bevel (sharpened on both sides). This makes it ideal for daily use in cutting and general work in the kitchen. The bolster is also quite distinctive, counterbalancing the weight of the hard and long blade.
Both of these knives are good for general purposes in a variety of circumstances in the kitchen, from chopping and slicing to mincing and dicing. They are the most commonly used and omnipresent knives in kitchens, both professional and at home. Although most chefs prefer knives made from stainless steel, as mentioned, you can get them in different materials, such as ceramic.
Uses in the Kitchen
Both of these knives have a reputation because of their size. They are very convenient with functional all-around blades, but the subtle and small differences give them unique and specific roles in cutting.
The thin blade of a Santoku knife is ideal for clean and accurate slices. Without a tip that can poke nearby food, a Santoku knife is ideal for swift and quick chopping motions. Any cutting involving up and down execution, such as chopping onions or carrots and even meat mincing, can be achieved with ease using a Santoku knife. Its structure makes it lightweight, which helps prevent the risk of a strain or fatigue.
The main advantage of the Western knife comes from its curved blade. The edge can be rocked with the help of the other hand, creating a back and forth motion in such a way that the blade of the knife never leaves the cutting board. This makes it ideal for chopping ingredients at a fast pace, such as herbs or other small vegetables or fruits.
Now that you know the differences between these two knives, you are ready to take your cooking skills to a whole new level. You can purchase a chef’s knife or a Santoku knife from any store nowadays, each of them coming in different materials and lengths.
Upon looking closer, you will now know how to tell them apart and the next time you find yourself in front of a chopping task, it will be easier. We hope this article, Santoku Knife vs Chef knife: The Differences has helped.