The Santoku Knife

All about the Santoku Knife

What is a Santoku Knife? Do I really need a Santoku Knife? What are the different types of Santoku Knives? We answer these questions and every other you might have about Santoku Knives.

Santoku: The all-purpose weapon of Japanese cuisine

Because of their exceptional quality, traditional Japanese chef’s knives have long enjoyed a prestigious reputation among professional chefs. However, discerning amateur chefs are increasingly beginning to recognize and appreciate the uncompromising quality that can be found in the Land of the Rising Sun as well. When it comes to Japanese knives, the Santoku knife is the most well-known model. It is a huge yet practical chef’s knife that can be used in any kitchen.

What is a Santoku Knife?

Santoku is a Japanese word that translates as “three virtues” (San = three, Toku = virtues). It refers to the traditional Japanese values of knowledge, compassion, and courage; yet, when used with a knife, it may also refer to the fact that it is equally well suited for cutting meat, fish, and vegetables of different textures.

A Santoku knife is distinguished by its distinctive form, which includes a high blade with a generally straight spine. For most of its length, the blade is about the same width as the spine, with the spine only converging with the cut a few inches before the tip. The handle is nearly the same height as the back of the blade, and the two are joined together to produce a continuous line.

Miyabi Santoku Knife
Miyabi Santoku Knife

The cutting edge is just somewhat rounded. As a result, the Santoku has a stocky appearance. Because a Santoku Knife lacks a bolster, which is a thickening at the handle end of the blade, the blade cuts over the full length of the blade. The normal blade length is 6.7 inches (ca. 17 cm) to 7 inches (ca. 18 cm), however, there are other Santokus available with blade lengths of 5.5 inches (ca. 14 cm) and 7.5 inches (ca. 19 cm). As a result, it is a little shorter than the typical chef’s knives used in the Western world, which typically have lengths of roughly 7.8 inches (ca. 20 cm).

Occasionally, the term Santoku is also used in a generalizing way for all Japanese kitchen knives, but this is wrong: Japanese cuisine knows a whole range of different knife shapes, and the Santoku is only one of them – albeit the one that is most common because the Santoku can be used very versatile. Other typical representatives of knives from Japanese cuisine are the Gyuto and the Deba.

Advantages & Differences Compared to Western Chef’s Knives

The Santoku differs from the classic European Chef’s knife primarily in its shape: The blade is much straighter and less curved than the western Chef’s knife.

Robert Herder Windmühlenmesser 1922
Typical European Chef’s knife

Because of the variable blade form, the handling is a little different, and hence, it takes a little effort to become proficient:

Santoku knives are less curved than European chef’s knives, and as a result, they cannot be moved in continual contact with the cutting board as a cradle knife. This type of cut only allows for movement from top to bottom, preferably with a cut that moves a bit more from back to front.

It is possible to use the whole length of the blade in this situation because of the wide blade, which offers plenty of room for the fingers on your handling hand.

When handled properly, a high-quality Santoku knife is distinguished by its extreme sharpness, which allows it to cut extremely delicately and without bruising. This is particularly advantageous when it comes to veggies since it eliminates the need to squeeze off the liquid. However, contrary to its name, which alludes to its flexibility, it also slices meat and fish extremely effectively, and as a result, it may be used as a universal kitchen tool in a variety of situations. Because of the high blade, the Santoku is capable of handling large amounts of cuttings and may even be used as a practical pallet, scooping the cuttings directly into a pot or bowl as necessary.

The Blade Material: from Damask to Ceramic

The quality of a knife is determined by the quality of the steel used to make it. Knife steel is always a compromise between hardness and elasticity: If the steel is “too” hard, it breaks more easily; if it is too soft, it cannot be ground to optimum sharpness. However, not only the material but also the manufacturer of the knife has a significant impact on the overall quality of the knife. Even the best beginning material will be rendered ineffective if the steel is not thoroughly hardened and treated to the desired finish.

Santokus are made of non-stainless Japanese steel (carbon steel)

Non-stainless steels are particularly popular for the creation of Japanese blades, as they are resistant to corrosion (mostly Yasuki steel). Higher degrees of hardness can be created by the use of these (this is related to the hardening structure “martensite” and the fine-graininess due to “carbide”).

Shirogami (white paper steel) and Aogami (blue paper steel) are two of the traditional steels. These are so named because of the bright colors on their package. Shirogami can achieve harnesses ranging from 63 to 65 HRC, and Aogami can achieve harnesses ranging from 65 to 66 HRC. However, there are a plethora of other excellent carbon steels available.

Tojiro Santoku Yasuki Shirogami Zunder
Tojiro Santoku Yasuki Shirogami Zunder

Advantages: All of these steels are exceptionally hard, can be ground exceedingly sharp and readily, and retain their sharpness for an unusually long period (high edge retention). For a sensible sum of money, you may frequently obtain cutting exceptional properties. These characteristics can only be obtained with stainless steel, and if they can, it will cost a fortune to do so (e.g. PM steel).

Disadvantages: As a result, knives manufactured of these steels corrode very fast, necessitating regular maintenance and making them more susceptible to application mistakes (cutting edge breaks out).

If you are searching for a high-quality Santoku Knife that is both traditional and cutting, this is the knife for you. To get the best results from your knife, you should be prepared to put in some effort and time (not in the sink, dry it promptly, and ideally oil it).

For aspirational home cooks and aspiring professional chefs.

Santoku Knives with Stainless Steel Blades

A genuinely traditional Santoku knife has one little flaw that needs a little more care and attention: it is not made of stainless steel. Japanese producers typically employ carbon steels that are not stainless, such as Aogami or Shirogami.

Tojiro DP Santoku
Tojiro DP Santoku with Stainless Steel Blade

Nevertheless, current stainless steel grades such as X50 CrMoV15 (the most affordable option that nevertheless provides a certain level of quality), VG5, VG10, VG12, VG MAX, and others are now available for Santokus. These can also be of high quality (depending on the manufacturer) and are frequently less expensive, as well as being rust-free and corrosion-resistant.

Advantages: They are stainless, as opposed to traditional Japanese knife steels, and hence do not require nearly as much care. They can also attain excellent cutting qualities and varying degrees of hardness depending on the steel used in the process. In terms of pricing, they are very different from one another. Putting aside “bells and whistles” like Damascus optics, you may receive a tremendous amount of value for your money.

Disadvantages: They are rarely able to attain the same high levels of hardness as traditional Japanese knife steels, for example. So they are not as sharp and can not keep their sharpness levels for as long as they would otherwise have been.

If you are searching for a Santoku that is relatively easy to maintain, produces high-quality results, and has a decent price-to-performance ratio, this is the Santoku for you.

From the home cook to the professional chef, this is an excellent pick.

Powder Metallurgy Steel Santokus

When compared to other knife materials, so-called powder metallurgical steel (also known as PM steel) is a relatively new invention. Iron is squeezed (sintered) with a variety of powdered source ingredients (alloys) under high pressure and at a temperature just below the melting point of iron to produce this steel. As a result, the alloys are extremely equally dispersed throughout the product. As a result, the hardness and edge retention are increased.

Ran Gou 101 Santoku Knife
Ran Gou 101 Santoku Knife with PM-Steel Blade

PM steels are available in a wide variety of compositions. The following are the most frequently encountered: SG2, D2 / SKD11, MC63, and MC66 / ZDP-189. The following are a few general advantages and downsides of PM steels that might be mentioned:

Advantages: The steels may be assembled in a highly personalized and precise manner. As a result, in addition to a high degree of hardness and sharpness, it is possible to obtain a certain degree of toughness. The result is that the blade is not as susceptible to chipping as typical hard knife steels, although having a similar hardness to such steels.

Disadvantages: Because of the high level of complexity involved in the manufacturing process, these knives are often highly costly. Sharpening these knives is not a task for the inexperienced. The composition is also difficult to grasp, therefore you must frequently rely on the manufacturer’s information to make your decisions.

Tip: Whenever possible, ask for the precise designation of the powder steel before purchasing a knife, and research its qualities (as well as, if available, experience reports) to compare them to your expectations. Consider the fact that not all PM steels are stainless.

When it comes to a knife, you should search for something of really excellent quality that is also firm, sharp, and cutting when it comes to repeated usage. You must be prepared to invest a bit more money, but in exchange, you will receive a knife for life.

This is an excellent choice for both aspiring amateur chefs and professional chefs.

Santokus with 3-ply Steel Blade

An extremely hard (typically non-stainless) steel is used as the core layer of a knife, with two softer protective layers of steel sandwiched between it and the handle. Only the core steel (which is generally quite hard) is cut. Sharpness and edge retention are both excellent as a result of this. The toughness (lateral load) of the hard core is provided by the outside layers, which are somewhat softer and more flexible than the core itself. The outer layers also protect against corrosion.

Moritaka Santoku Knife with 3-ply with Aogami II steel blade core
Moritaka Santoku Knife with 3-ply with Aogami II steel blade core

Advantages: A certain toughness is present in the blade despite its high hardness and edge retention; as a result, it is more robust than similarly hard monostable blades of comparable hardness. In addition, you must consider the look as a distinct plus factor to be taken into consideration.

Disadvantages: There are no general downsides to using this method. The following is important to remember: just because very hard steel is surrounded by softer steel does not automatically change it into a robust all-rounder with a high level of durability. If the hard edge is handled inappropriately, it can potentially break out and cause harm to the surrounding area.

Note: Make certain that you purchase a nice core steel that is appropriate for your needs. If you want a blade that is more durable and will not rust, VG10 or VG Max steel may be the best choice for you. If you want a blade with a razor-sharp edge, an Aogami steel core is an excellent choice.

If you are seeking a traditional, high-quality, strong Santoku Knife with an intriguing appearance, this is the knife for you, according to my perspective. Depending on the material, less attention is required than is required with a pure carbon steel knife, for example.

This is an excellent alternative for both aspiring amateur chefs and professional chefs.

Damascus Santoku Knife with a Core Layer

In theory: A core of high-quality steel is enclosed/coated by a damask steel layer (multiple layers of steel folded over and welded together). This gives the knife its noble appearance (the core steel remains free at the cutting edge and is responsible for cutting). However, this is often not genuine Damascus steel, but so-called rolled laminate (intended to imitate the Damascus look).

KAI SHUN WHITE Santoku Knife
KAI SHUN WHITE Santoku Knife

Unlike traditional Damascus, which is called “wild Damascus” – Damascus steel does not influence the cutting properties of the knife. The core steel provides hardness and sharpness, the damask coating is responsible at most for the supporting elasticity – but rather for the appearance.

Advantages: The appearance is strikingly similar to that of a “genuine” damask knife, making it stand out among the crowd. Many manufacturers believe that the damask layers should also give greater elasticity. The majority of steels do not require this, since they are rarely subjected to such high levels of stress. Even if the core steel is made of non-stainless steel, the outer coating can offer corrosion protection. It is almost clear that the knife in question is not authentic Damascus, as the material can only be rendered “rust resistant” by the use of extremely costly techniques.

Disadvantages: Do you care more about appearances than reality? The increased value of the encased Damascus steel is manageable in comparison to other materials. If the hard core is mistreated, it can break out at the edge just as readily, and the Damascus steel does not increase the cutting qualities of the blade. The price is frequently raised as a result of the product’s look and the related increased production expenses.

Note: Damascus is not a protected word in any jurisdiction. Any knife with a Damascus appearance can claim to be a Damascus knife. This appearance may be created using a variety of procedures that do not detract from the overall quality of the knife. Damascus sheathing can improve the performance of high-quality blades (such knives often cost more than $200). However, for this to occur, the Damascus must be real and of a high enough grade to complement the core steel. More significantly, make certain that the core steel is in good condition. If you want to enjoy your Damascus knives for a longer period, avoid purchasing “amazing” Damascus knives for $20.

If you are already willing to spend much more money on a knife’s outstanding appearance, this is the knife for you. The costs are fairly excessive, especially if the core steel is of excellent quality (which it should always be).

For any (hobby) cook who places a high value on the aesthetics of his knife, this is the appropriate choice.

Ceramic Santoku Knife

Ceramic is a relatively new material for knife blades, but it has several benefits over other materials. Ceramic blades are particularly well suited for Santoku, where a hard and sharp blade is often needed, and can be an excellent choice. It is not for everyone in terms of appearance, but the fact that it is frequently less expensive might make up for this drawback.

Kyocera Ceramic Santoku Knife
Kyocera Ceramic Santoku Knife

Advantages: Ceramic is a very hard substance. The blade is very cut (and so requires less resharpening) and extremely sharp as a result of this. Furthermore, it is extremely simple to clean and can be found at reasonable prices.

Disadvantages: Because of their hardness, ceramics (particularly cheap ceramics) are exceedingly rigid and are extremely vulnerable to chipping when cut with a blade. Even minor falls or application problems may render the knife useless. The tip of the knife, in particular, is extremely brittle. The Santoku, on the other hand, has a more rounded knife tip, which reduces the likelihood of the knife tip breaking off as much as it would otherwise.

Suitable for you if you are seeking a Santoku that is affordable and easy to maintain, while yet being sharp and cutting.

A nice option for the occasional cook who enjoys experimenting with new recipes.

What is the benefit of the frequently seen fluted bevel?

Some Santokus have a series of dents carved into the blade, known as dimples, which add to the overall aesthetic appeal. The dimple grind can be seen mostly on Santoku blades, although it may also be found on European chef’s knives.

The dimples do not affect the cutting behavior, but they do have the effect of preventing the cut material from sticking to the blade as easily as it would otherwise due to the gap created between the steel and the cut material. For example, very thin slices of salmon or ham should not rip as easily as a result of this procedure.

However, the benefit has generated some debate; many users think that the fluted edge is only beneficial in a few circumstances and with very particular meals and that the effect is overstated. So the decision between a scalloped or un-scalloped edge on a Santoku comes down to personal preference, not just aesthetics. The Japanese method Tsuchime, in which the entire blade is covered with fine hammer dimples, produces a similar effect to the fluted edge – it is pricey, but it is an artistically pleasing result!

What to look for when buying a Santokus?

  • Consider if a Santoku knife or a traditional chef’s knife is more appropriate for your (desired) cutting technique (“chopping” vs. “cradling” motion). View the difference once more by visiting this page.
  • Exactly what type of blade material best meets your needs? Do you prepare meals daily and want a dependable, high-quality ingredient? Then carbon steel or PM steel may be the best option for you. Alternatively, do you cook on a more infrequent basis and are seeking something more affordable and reliable? Then possibly the low-maintenance VG5 or VG10 steel would be a good choice for you. You may have a look at the various resources in this section.
  • If you are still learning how to use chef’s knives, a somewhat shorter blade might make the job a little easier (6.8 inches (ca. 17 cm) to 7 inches (ca. 18 cm)).
  • Do not purchase unknown, low-cost “China” items. Always look into the company that made the product first. Avoid getting your hands on their blades if they are unknown to you or perhaps have a terrible reputation in the community. You may also make poor knives out of good steel and not have much pleasure with them for a long period. In addition, knife forums include a large number of testimonies.
  • Classic Santokus frequently feature hardwood handles, which should be oiled regularly (e.g., with linseed oil) and kept in good condition. If this is not your style, a plastic handle that is simple to clean may be a better option.
  • There is no universally applicable solution to the question of which handle form is the most effective. Some individuals like a straight handle, while others prefer a curved handle. To be safe, it is preferable to just try it out at the store.

How to take Care: Never in the dishwasher!

  • To begin with, it goes without saying that you should never cut anything extremely coarse with such a fine and high-quality knife: the cutting surface should always be made of soft plastic or, even better, wood; hard materials such as bones or bone fragments, hard cores, or even frozen food should never be cut with the Santoku. Check out our Wood Cutting Boards.
  • It is necessary to wash and dry a traditional Santoku promptly after each use because it is frequently made of non stainless steel; stainless steel is a little more forgiving in this respect. However, it should never be placed in the dishwasher because of the high temperatures and abrasive cleaning chemicals that can harm both the wooden handle and the steel blade.
  • Instead of using a sharpening steel or sharpening rod (if at all possible, one made of ceramic), a fine grindstone with medium (800-1000 grit) to fine grit should be used for resharpening (2000-4000). A coarse grit is only required if the knife is extremely dull or even chipped, which is unlikely to occur if the knife is handled with care. In the case of an extremely hard knife that is difficult to resharpen, it is recommended that you take it to a professional sharpening business once or twice every year. These may be found in practically every city in the United States.
  • When storing knives, a knife block or magnetic bar is preferable, since the blades of the knives can collide with one another if they are kept in a drawer.
  • Classic Santokus frequently feature hardwood handles, which should be oiled regularly (e.g., with linseed oil) and kept in good condition. Plastic handles are significantly simpler to clean than wood handles.


Santoku knives are a fantastic alternative to the traditional western Chef’s Knives. These knives are an excellent choice if you appreciate the aesthetic of the rounded tip and the somewhat different handling (there is no cradle cut) of these knives. Do not buy inexpensive knives from unknown makers, even if they appear to be amazing. Even if it were not necessary to be so pricey, other low-cost alternatives from well-known firms offer excellent value for money. Pay close attention to the proper blade material for you and avoid becoming overly concerned with the aesthetics of the blade.

If you are looking for a new knife, head over to our Top 10 Best Santoku Knives!

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