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The santoku is known as a multipurpose blade in the field of Japanese knives. The word “santoku” translates to three virtues or to solve three problems, and aptly can be utilized for multiple purposes like slicing cucumbers, dicing onions, and mincing shallots. They are typically more compact than chef knives, and great for people with small hands.
Rachael Ray inspired a frenzy for santoku knives back in the 2000s when she declared devotion to her Wüsthof model on her Food Network show, "30 Minute Meals." But the knife's history reaches back to post-World War II when Japanese home cooks adopted it as an alternative to the nakiri, a traditional vegetable cleaver. Santokus today are more lightweight than traditional chef knives, feature razor-sharp edges, and many come with "dimples" along the blade surface that keep food from sticking.
Buying a new knife requires a little forethought. A good knife to have is one that is a decent weight in your hand but not too heavy, feels balanced, and can handle all your kitchen tasks. You can also buy a whetstone for sharpening, but many might prefer to leave their knife-sharpening to the professionals.
"A knife is an extension of a chef's arm," as Anthony Bourdain rightfully said. He was also a big fan of Global, the brand of our top choice, the 7-Inch Santoku Hollow Ground Knife. When looking for a new Japanese chef knife, start with your most-used knife which is usually a santoku or a 210mm Gyuto (Japanese name for a chef's knife)," says Kevin Kent, founder of Knifewear and author of "The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives." "A santoku is especially good for people with smaller hands, as the shorter length of the blade (usually 165mm) is easier to handle. For people who are less confident with knives, santokus are great for building knife confidence."
Whether you want a luxe-looking, Damascus-patterned model finished using traditional Japanese honbazuke honing, or a durable, nonslip handle type that comes in at a more affordable price, these are my picks for the best santoku knives on the market.
Best Overall: Global G-48 7-Inch Santoku Hollow Ground Knife
What We Love: Good for small hands, well-balanced, comfortable grip, reasonable price, lightweight
What We Don’t Love: No blade cover
The late great Anthony Bourdain praised Global knives as reliable and attractive. Global produces reasonably priced, lightweight knives that offer sharp, well-balanced performance, and Bourdain remained a loyal fan of the brand throughout his cooking career. I added the Global Santoku to my kitchen collection a couple of years ago, and really can’t believe I waited so long. The grip is comfortable in my petite hands, and it slices through squash like a beast.
The Global’s stamped blade is crafted from Cromova 18 (chromium, molybdenum and vanadium), a stainless steel proprietary to Global, which makes it hard enough to retain sharpness after repeated use, but soft enough to sharpen at home with a whetstone. It is also ice-hardened to increase corrosion resistance. And, the hollow handles are filled with sand for perfect balance and appropriate weight.
Global departs from fully Japanese craftsmanship by grinding the edges straight on both sides of the blade for sharpness, but then it is ground to a single point instead of a bevel, departing from Western-style blades, and creating a sharper knife that will maintain edge longer. In other words, this is made utilizing the best of both styles of knife craftsmanship.
Blade Length: 7 inches | Blade Type: Stamped | Material: Cromova 18 stainless steel
Best Budget: Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Santoku Knife, 7-Inch (M20707)
What We Love: Affordable, razor-sharp, comfortable grip
What We Don’t Love: Heavy
The Mercer Culinary Genesis Santoku offers a high-carbon forged German steel blade that makes an impressive choice for novice and seasoned cooks alike. The textured Santoprene handle ensures a comfortable, nonslip grip, and the Granton edge—those little dimples on the surface—keeps food from sticking while in use.
"Santoku knives are unique because they have a row of small ridges or 'dimples.' This feature provides a small pocket of air that helps prevent food from sticking to the sides of the knife while cutting," says Mackenize Burgess, RDN and Recipe Developer at Cheerful Choices. "This is especially helpful when cutting starchy vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and squash which tend to stick to the edge as the knife is being used."
Designed for multipurpose use, the taper-ground edge brings stability and efficiency to tasks like cutting and chopping. With the full tang and bolster in the Western style, the Mercer boasts added durability and balance when handling food prep. And, all that comes at an affordable price.
Blade Length: 7 inches | Blade Type: Forged | Material: High Carbon German Steel
Best Set: Wüsthof Classic 2-Piece Santoku Knife Set
What We Love: Versatile, comfortable handle, well-balanced, durable edge retention
What We Don’t Love: Pricey
Long known for quality knives, Wüsthof’s Classic line is crafted with high-carbon steel blades for sharp edges and rust-resistance. Each full tang—steel runs all the way through the handle—forged blade is triple-riveted to the handle to increase balance and control, and it is one of the only brands that holds the “Made in Solingen seal,” rather than the more generic “Made in Germany” designation. In 1938, Solingen became one of the only trademarked cities in the world, and they are known for high-quality steel that adheres to extremely strict industry standards.
If you are hunting a santoku to fit all your kitchen needs, this set from Wusthof is the answer. It comes with a 5-inch and 7-inch model equipped with polypropylene handles for a sturdy, comfortable grip. The Granton edge keeps food from sticking to your blade while slicing, dicing, and chopping even the starchiest vegetables. And, the full bolster will keep your digits safe.
"I bought my 7-inch Wusthof Santoku knife during culinary school (over a decade ago!) and it's been my favorite knife ever since. I'm short and have small hands and this knife is the perfect fit for me. It feels like an extension of my hand." — Emma Christensen, Editor in Chief
Blade Length: 5 inches, 7 inches | Blade Type: Forged | Material: High-carbon stainless steel
Related: The Best Japanese Knives
Best Splurge: Miyabi 7-Inch Birchwood Santoku
What We Love: Razor-sharp, durable edge retention, attractive handle
What We Don’t Love: Pricey
Miyabi is not only stunning with its Karelian birch handle intricately stamped with mosaic pin and engraved endcap, but it also is scalpel-sharp. Miyabi blades are finished using traditional Japanese honbazuke honing, blades are sharpened and polished by hand in three stages to ensure maximum sharpness.
The blade is crafted with 101 layers of steel layered on top of a MicroCarbide steel core yielding a hard surface that will retain an edge for a long time. In addition to edge retention, the Cryodur process ensures durability and corrosion resistance while maintaining a lightweight feel and flexible blade. And, the blade is pretty—the hammered Damascus pattern lends a delicate elegance to the ergonomically designed kitchen workhorse. This knife works equally well with a straight-down chop or forward and backward stroke. Finally, it is double-beveled or sharpened on both sides, to a precise 9.5 to 12-degree angle. It is dangerously efficient.
Blade Length: 7 inches | Blade Type: Forged | Material: Stainless steel
Related: The Best Sharpening Stones
Best Ambidextrous: Shun Premier 7-Inch Santoku Knife
What We Love: Razor-sharp, durable edge retention, attractive design
What We Don’t Love: Pricey
The issue with many Japanese knives is they are crafted for right- or left-handed people, not both. Shun solves that with their Premier Santoku which affords all the luxuries of Japanese bladesmithing while efficiently handling myriad cutting tasks ambidextrously.
The Shun Premier Santoku is handmade in Seki, Japan, with 34 layers of VG-Max stainless Damascus cladding. The blades include more carbon for strength, chromium for corrosion resistance, and tungsten to keep the blade edge fine, but sharp. The handles are crafted from pakkawood that is contoured for a comfortable grip.
Known for its effortless, razor-sharp, down-and-forward cutting motion, this model is also drop-dead elegant with the hammered tsuchime finish and mirror blade polish. The word shun delineates the moment ingredients are at their flavor peak. This Japanese tradition of eating food at its freshest is the inspiration for Shun Cutlery—the artisans behind the brand produce tools that honor the concept of seasonality and thoughtful eating.
Blade Length: 7 inches | Blade Type: Forged | Material: VG-MAX stainless steel
Related: The Best Knife Sharpeners
Best Self-Sharpening: Sabatier Forged Stainless Steel Santoku Knife
What We Love: Durable edge retention, no sharpening required, ergonomic handle
What We Don’t Love: Brittle
One of the considerations when purchasing Japanese knives is maintenance. Yes, they are known for being super-sharp, but often sharpening and honing are best left to experts because of the learning curve with blade angles and single-bevel construction. Sabatier Santoku takes care of that with their EdgeKeeper protective sheath—it has a built-in system that hones blades before and after use. And, that sheath keeps your blade protected while being stored.
The ergonomically designed, triple-riveted handle is comfortable to hold, and the high-carbon steel blade is forged for strength and durability. The 5-inch knife is on the smaller side for santoku knives, but the dimples on the blade surface reduce friction, prevent food from sticking, and the shorter length aids in precision cuts.
Blade Length: 5 inches | Blade Type: Forged | Material: High-carbon steel
Related: The Best Knife Sets
If you are looking to equip your kitchen with a reliable, lightweight, stamped blade that offers sharp edges and comfortable handles, I recommend theGlobal G-48 7-Inch Santoku Hollow Ground Knife (view at Amazon) because it is crafted from proprietary Cromova 18 stainless steel, and ground on both sides of the blade for precision and durability. If you want to try a blade crafted in the Japanese samurai tradition that offers elegance and dangerously sharp edges in tandem, choose the Miyabi 7-Inch Birchwood Santoku (view at Sur la Table).
What to Look for When Buying a Santoku Knife
Above all, a knife should be the right size, weight, and maintenance that is comfortable for you, but there are a few factors you can look at before purchasing. The first is comfort.
A lightweight feel and comfortable grip are two of the biggest considerations when purchasing a knife. If it causes hand strain, you won’t use it. Santoku knives by design are more compact than their chef knife brethren. There are some models that are heavy like chef knives, but that defeats the purpose of a santoku. This is the danger with some Western-style models.
If you can visit a shop and hold the knife, you will know if it is comfortable in your hand. Barring that, look for ergonomically designed handles with contours that follow the shape of the hand. Bolsters, the little piece of metal between the blade and handle, identify whether a knife is forged or stamped. Forged knives tend to be more balanced, but it is still a matter of how it feels in your hand.
Forged vs Stamped
Generally, forged steel is more expensive and heavier because the blades are made from a single piece of heated metal, often by a trained artisan. They also feature full tangs, which add control and balance. An easy way to tell if a knife is forged or stamped is to look for the bolster, a band of metal that transitions the blade to the handle. Bolsters provide protection to your hand during use, and often aid in knife stability. Because of the process, forged knives are sturdier and usually stay sharp longer.
On the other side is a stamped blade. They are cut from large sheets of metal and then tempered and honed for shape. Stamped knives tend to be thinner, lightweight, and flexible. The weight can be a double-edged sword as you experience less wrist-fatigue with lighter blades, but it also makes more robust chopping arduous as the blade does not have the heft to propel down. Stamped knives have seen improvement lately with added partial or full tangs, but the balance in the blades still does not match forged, especially with the addition of a bolster. They are rarely found in stamped knives, unless they are more high-end blades.
In the end, it comes down to what is comfortable in your hand. If you have weak wrists or prolonged periods of chopping, a stamped blade may be for you. If you want something more durable and balanced and can handle the extra weight, forged is probably the choice.
It can be confusing when shopping for knives and you are confronted with carbon and stainless steel. First, all knives have carbon—it is part of the alloy in stainless, carbon, or otherwise steel blades. Usually it is designated with the word high, as in “high-carbon stainless steel.” Carbon knives are steel knives, but the addition of stainless to the mix aids in longevity. Carbon steel blades maintain sharp edges longer and are heavy duty, but they can corrode and rust. Adding stainless steel to the mix mitigates the issue of discoloration or rust by virtue of the chromium in the alloy. Chromium also gives blades their silver shine, and helps them stay beautiful longer with less upkeep.
They come in a wide variety of materials from plastic to wood. Synthetic materials, like Santoprene, tend to be more affordable, and easy to clean. The look of natural products, like birchwood, is aesthetically pleasing but tends to come with higher price tags. Metal handles tend to be slippier. Beyond what is made of, look for the size of the handle. Three inches around is the sweet spot. When it comes to the handle, look for something not too bulky, and comfortably shaped that offers a secure grip when you are chopping.
What is a santoku knife used for?
It is a multipurpose knife made originally as an alternative to traditional Japanese nakiri knives. Santoku knives combine the functions of a cleaver-style knife with the versatility of a chef knife. It is more lightweight than a chef knife and has a rounded edge for precise work, especially on vegetables. The Granton edge, or hollow dimples on the blade's surface, make it especially effective for smooth slicing that keeps food debris at bay. They do not have the heft of chef knives, which is a double-edged sword—this makes them much better for people with small hands or hand injuries, but they do not usually have the power to crack bones or perform heavy-duty tasks. Santoku knives excel at thin, precise cuts.
How do you sharpen a santoku knife?
This is a complicated topic. Japanese knives traditionally have been single-beveled, or sharpened on one side, with steep angles for ultra-sharp blades. You can sharpen these with whetstones at home, but there is a learning curve. Santoku knives made in the Western style with double-beveled edges are easier since the angle on each side is the same, but you still must understand how to get that angle. And, some companies like Shun offer free sharpening for life—definitely take advantage of having a professional do it for you.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who has a small obsession with knives. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she knows the importance of finding the right blade for your grip and needs. Her Global Santoku is prized in her collection for its comfortable handle and sharp edge , but she also loves her Wusthof Classic Santoku for its heft, and versatility. Her work has appeared in many publications including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.
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