What's a Santoku, and Why do I Need One?

November 11, 2020 4 min read 0 Comments

What's a Santoku, and Why do I Need One?


Are you new to the world of Japanese knives? Do you need one knife to do it all? Baby, you need a santoku.

If you’ve heard anything at all about Japanese kitchen knives, odds are that you’ve heard the term "santoku". The santoku is easily the most popular Japanese knife shape. It's so popular that even European knife makers have made their own version of them. Can you really blame them? This knife rocks! It truly is the jack-of-all-trades in the kitchen. 

What’s in a Name?

The word Santoku translates literally to "three virtues" or "to solve three problems". Interpretations vary, but folks say it covers fish, meat and vegetables, or rocking, chopping and slicing. Either way, it covers all of your bases. I see this knife as being the perfect gift, or a great first-knife in a household. 

Santokus have a unique shape, with a profile that makes it good at just about everything. I’ve often said that the santoku is the lovechild between a gyuto and a nakiri because it excels equally well at cutting both protein and vegetables. 

About the Shape

Most santokus are around 165-180mm in length. This is the perfect size for most tasks. While you can certainly find ones that are shorter and longer, they are much less common. The relatively short blade, compared to a chef's knife, feels more comfortable in the hands of a beginner. It is easier to control and less intimidating than a full-size chef's knife. This also makes them popular for folks with smaller hands, however their blades are a bit taller than that of a gyuto so they're still perfectly comfortable and easy to use for anyone with larger hands. There’s tons of room between the handle and cutting board for beefy knuckles!

As I mentioned earlier, the profile of the knife is what makes it so versatile. It shares the flat heel that you would find on a nakiri, so you can slide the knife gently through your veggies for a clean cut, without them still being tied together like a paper doll. About halfway down the blade the edge starts to gently curve up towards the tip, lifting it up off the cutting board. This means you can also rock with your santoku when mincing garlic or chopping herbs. You could even carve a small roast or a steak with one.

I use my santoku any time I just want to cook a small meal, and I don't need to do a ton of chopping. It’s the perfect weekday cooking knife, and I keep my larger 240mm gyuto as my weekend/big meal prepping knife. 

If it's time for you to grab a santoku, I've picked out our top 5 santokus so you can find the right one!

Haruyuki Kokuto 165mm Santoku

This is just about the right first-knife for anyone. The steel cuts like crazy, but doesn't rust and chip easily. It has a classic Japanese aesthetic without being fussy, and it feels fantastic in the hand. It's also super affordable, making it accessible to almost anyone.

Haruyuki Shiso 165mm Santoku

So you're ready for the big leagues? High-carbon steel is a serious treat if you're ready to handle a knife that's a bit fussy. While the carbon-steel in this knife can rust and chip more easily, it also stays sharp longer than most other knives and gets absurdly sharp. The geniuses over at Haruyuki have clad the core of this knife in stainless steel, so you just need to worry about keeping the edge dry to avoid rust!

Takamura Kurogouhan Tsuchime 165mm Santoku

If you prefer a classic western handle but you still want the lightness of a Japanese blade, Takamura is the way to go. Takamura-san's knives look machine perfect despite being handmade, and they're so thin that you barely feel them passing through food. The first time you cut with this knife, it'll ruin you for any other blade.

Tadafusa Hocho Kobo 170mm Santoku

Need a gift for a wedding, birthday or Christmas? This guy is the way to go. It's got a clean, modern look, it cuts like crazy, and it's super ergonomic. Need I say more?

Sugimori 170mm Santoku

Many of us just find the weight of a European knife comforting, and that's where Sugimori knives come in. They're a hybrid between western heft and Japanese performance. They'll cut circles around a softer blade and feel absolutely fantastic in the hand. What's more, the apprentice of the maker is Sayaka-san, the first female blacksmith apprentice that we've ever met in Japan!

Bonus Round - Fujiwara Denka 165mm Santoku

Did you serious think we'd list our top 5 of anything without mentioning Teruyasu Fujiwara-san? Of course we had to sneak him in here. Fujiwara-san is legendary, and his Denka knives are proof of his skill. He starts with the same steel as the Shiso - except 3 times as much. He forge-welds it together himself, and condenses it so much that it gets harder than we thought possible. The result? Some of the sharpest, longest-lasting knives in the world. Absolutely bananas.

There you have it. If you have any questions about santokus, or knives in general, get in touch! We're always around to help. If it's time to grab yourself a santoku, click the link below and treat yourself!

Browse all santokus

Alex Dufort
Alex Dufort