Considering their versatility, it makes perfect sense when cooks want nothing but the best santoku knives at their disposal. But for many people, finding the right santoku knife is no easy task. After all, there are lots of different factors to take in, and the price can jump all over the place.
Follow us as we establish the buying guidelines and examine some of the top-performing santoku knives available on the market. By the end of this article, you’ll be in the best position to make the call for yourself.
What Is a Santoku Knife?
A santoku knife, also known as santoku bocho or bunka bocho, originates from Japan. The name translates to “three virtues” or “tri-purposes” as in slicing, mincing, and dicing. And to an extent, you can think of it as the smaller and lighter version of the Western-made chef’s knife.
You can tell a santoku knife from others because of their distinct tell-tale signs. The most obvious is the signature sheepsfoot blade curving downward along the spine without forming a tip at the end. Furthermore, its flat and smooth edge means each cut has limited to no rocking motion on the chopping block.
Similar to the versatile chef’s knife, the multi-functional santoku knife can handle various ingredients from red meat to green veggies. However, hard items like bones and the use of brute force don’t bode well for the blade and can even leave serious damage.
While the general-purpose chef’s knife should suffice nine times out of ten, a santoku knife is better for detailed tasks. For example, it excels at making high-precision and extra-thin cuts, where other knives would struggle with the same tasks.
What Makes a Good Santoku Knife?
There are factors worth bearing in mind when buying a new santoku knife. After all, the difference between these otherwise identical knives is their prices, which go from tens to hundreds of dollars. We’ll break things down for your convenience.
1. Size, Weight, and Balance
As a general rule of thumbs, a santoku knife blade ranges from five to seven inches long. While it’s noticeably shorter than the standard 8-inch chef’s knife you’re familiar with, that doesn’t make it any less functional.
With a short blade and no pointy tip, a santoku feels easier to use and may be less intimidating for new cooks. When they build up enough confidence and cooking experience, they can go for knives with longer blades. But let’s not cross that bridge until we get to it.
As for weight distribution and balance, personal preference varies from cook to cook with no clear-cut answer. While a lightweight knife puts less strain on your wrist, a full-tang knife equipped with a bolster and rivets feels more reassuring. Regardless of your stance, it all comes down to comfort in the end.
2. Edge Angle
Like other Asian knives, a santoku knife packs an extra bite with each cut thanks to its razor-sharp edge. Measuring 10 to 15 degrees, it has little to no trouble carving and slicing thin items with high accuracy. You’ll find it particularly useful when cutting and scooping delicate pieces of fish like salami or sashimi.
But to maintain the edge in its pristine condition, it involves a lot of hard work. Other than specialized whetstones, a santoku knife won’t hold up well against commercial-grade knife sharpeners, let alone electric ones. And as part of the meticulous upkeep, you can’t clean it with a dishwasher but should always wash it by hand.
Unlike chef’s knives, a curve-free santoku knife doesn’t rock back and forth on the cutting board. Rather, the blade makes clean and straightforward cuts by gliding through and separating the items with little wrist movement.
Admittedly, it can take new cooks a while to familiarize themselves with the new cutting techniques. But once they get the hang of it, the santoku knife will soon be their go-to option for many tasks.
As knife quality and craftsmanship improve over time, manufacturers get to explore more options to forge or stamp the blade. In no particular order, the most popular material choices are carbon steel, stainless steel, Damascus steel, and ceramic. While we’d love to go into details, it’s better to keep things concise for everyone’s convenience.
|Carbon steel||Iron alloy with carbon content (from 0.05% to 2.1% by weight)||+ Tough and sharp |
+ Cheaper than other materials
|+ Oxidation > rust
+ Discoloration > staining
|Stainless steel||Iron alloy with carbon and chromium||+ Durable > rust-resistant|
|Ceramic||Zirconium dioxide||+ Lightweight||+ Prone to chipping and cracking
+ Doesn’t bend or flex
|Damascus steel||Iron alloy with carbon and other materials (similar to the crucible Wootz steel)||+ Strong > sharp as stainless steel|
+ Aesthetic blade with patterns formed from folding the steel
+ High maintenance
In a nutshell, the table should provide a brief and clear summary of the materials’ properties. For a more specific approach, the Rockwell hardness scale is a reliable way to measure a material’s durability.
Most santoku knives fall somewhere between 53 to 64 HRC (Hardness Rockwell Type C). The lower the indicator, the softer the material and the faster the blade dulls, and vice versa. However, high-HCR metals aren’t necessarily invincible because they’re prone to chipping and harder to sharpen once they’re blunt.
Furthermore, some santoku knives also have Granton indentations, which are hollow points alternating between the two facets of the blade. Intended as a countermeasure against food sticking, these dimple-like dents create air pockets and reduce friction. That way, each cut will be consistent and uniform, making things neat and effortless for cooks.
You can tell whether the handle is full tang or partial tang by the weight and feel. While the majority of cooks prefer full-tang handles for their steadiness and balance, others beg to differ. On the other hand, partial-tang handles are lighter for the wrist and easier to maneuver.
Some santoku knives include a bolster as a smooth junction point between the handle and the blade. While it adds balance and a resting point for your finger, not everyone feels comfortable with it, especially during sharpening.
Reviews of the Best Santoku Knives in 2021
Here are our picks for the best santoku knives to purchase this year.
- Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S – Best To Buy in 2021
- Cubikook Santoku – Best Budget Santoku Knife
- Shun Classic Santoku – Best Japanese Santoku Knife
- Wusthof Classic Santoku 4182 – Best 5 Inch Santoku Knife
- Mercer Genesis Santoku – Best 7 Inch Santoku Knife
Read on for our in-depth reviews.
1. Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S – Best To Buy in 2021
You can already tell that the premium Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S means serious business from the get-go. It has the characteristics and qualities you’d expect from a luxurious santoku knife: razor-like sharpness, immense durability, and all-round versatility.
German stainless steel blade
Full tang with seamless bolster
Let’s talk numbers. Per the official listing, the 0.33-pound knife measures 11.8 inches long, including the 7-inch blade. While it may look no different from other santoku knives, its quality is nothing short of impressive.
When it comes to the blade, the manufacturer spares no expense. For starters, the bladesmiths hand-craft and hone the high-carbon German stainless steel blade first before recalibrating it with a high-precision laser. And for good measure, Zwilling applies its patented Friodur ice-hardening technique to increase the blade’s longevity and toughness.
With all sorts of reinforcement applied, it makes sense when the blade boasts an impressive 55-58 HRC hardness rating. It’s an indication that the blade manages to retain its edge against daily wear-and-tear and intense use before dulling. That way, you won’t have to sharpen it very often.
And speaking of the edge, it’s just as sharp as other Asian knives. Measuring at 10°, the cutting edge has little to no trouble cutting through things. Whether you’re right- or left-handed, you can wield this santoku knife just fine and make smooth cuts with minimal effort.
In addition, you’ll notice a series of Granton indentations running along the blade lengthwise and alternating between the two facets. When the blade makes its way through soft and wet items, this hollow ground edge prevents food sticking onto the surface.
But a good santoku knife is more than just the blade and edge. The bolster joins the handle and the blade into one seamless piece from top to bottom. Furthermore, the 5-inch polymer handle conceals the full tang and secures everything into place with a triplet of rivets. That way, the santoku feels right and comfortable in your hand.
If you’re looking for something easier on the wallet, consider the Zwilling J.A. Henckels International Classic as a substitute. Other than a few minor tweaks here and there, they both share the same features. Don’t think of it as a downgrade, but rather a budget-friendlier option that saves you as much as $50.
The Zwilling J.A. Henckels Professional S makes our first pick of the bunch for all the right reasons. It’s an investment that could well last for years and even decades down the road. Cooks who prefer knives with buy-once-for-life value should strongly consider this santoku knife.
2. Cubikook Santoku – Best Budget Santoku Knife
There’s hardly any point in owning the most expensive santoku knife if you can’t use it to the fullest. For casual cooks who want to practice their knife skills, you can settle for the affordable Cubikook Santoku.
Full tang with bolster
Balance and well-distributed weight
Rosewood handle with triple rivets
Unfit for large hands
The 7-inch blade is ice-forged from high-carbon German 1.4116 stainless steel, followed by heat treatment for additional toughness. While rust-resistance is already an obvious given, chromium adds its stain-resistant property for a healthy and sleek-looking sheen. Registering 56 ± 2 HRC, the blade achieves a harmonious balance between resilience and sharpness.
Upon examining the edge, its 15° cutting angle is distinctive to Asian knives, with a margin of error about ±1°. And for good measure, the Granton indentations further make each cut smoother and just the way it is intended. That way, the blade can make its way through food in one swift and decisive downward motion.
As for the bottom half of the santoku knife, you’ll notice the ergonomic rosewood handle. The full tang is friction-fitted and secured into place with a trio of rivets. On the whole, the handle doesn’t impose itself on the wrist or slip off your palm. That said, cooks with large hands may not enjoy it as much as cooks with smaller hands would.
To further prevent the parts from coming loose, the bolster joins the blade and handle into one coherent piece. Furthermore, it’s the balance point where you can either rest your index finger or exert extra force on the cut.
As low as the price may be, the Cubikook Santoku doesn’t compromise its quality or integrity in any way whatsoever. If anything, it’s a well-made santoku knife whose quality is even on par with high-end ones. Cooks would be hard-pressed to find such an appealing bargain on the market.
3. Shun Classic Santoku – Best Japanese Santoku Knife
The award-winning Shun Classic Santoku is another top-of-the-line santoku knife with an immense workload cut out for it. With proper care, it should last for decades to come and make a great addition to your cooking arsenal.
Blend of sharpness and durability
VG-Max steel blade
Balance weight distribution
In case you didn’t know, Shun doesn’t make any half-hearted attempt when it comes to craftsmanship. Right off the bat, the 7-inch VG-Max steel blade is forged with Damascus technique: up to 68 cladding layers in total. It's also the same method used to make samurai swords back in the day. That way, the core is well protected and supported with several protective cladding.
Given the cumulative effort, no wonder the blade scores up to 61 HRC with a margin of error about ±1. While the blade is resilient and tough, its hardness otherwise proves difficult to sharpen or hone once the edge dulls. By using anything other than whetstones, you may deform the blade beyond repair, ultimately rendering the whole knife useless.
In addition, you’ll also notice the fine-grained edge meticulously honed to the desirable 16° cutting angle. It manages to stay sharp even with little sharpening. In addition, the Granton indentations lower friction between the blade and the items you’re chopping. That way, each cut is swift and decisive just as you intended without food getting stuck to either blade surface.
When examining the handle, you’ll spot the laminated Pakkawood handle that encases the tang snuggly. Even without the bolster and rivets, the whole knife nonetheless feels firm and steady in the palm of your hand. Thankfully, you won’t have to overexert yourself with each cut when the knife’s overall weight compensates for it.
Whether you’re a new cook or veteran chef with years of expertise, you can never go wrong with the Shun Classic Santoku. This well-rounded knife makes a long-lasting purchase that could span your whole life, as claimed by its warranty.
4. Wusthof Classic 4182 – Best 5 Inch Santoku Knife
New cooks often feel uncomfortable with chef’s knives, whose pointy tips and imposing blades usually give off a threatening vibe. The less intimidating Wusthof Classic 4182 may be a more appropriate choice to develop fundamental knife-wielding skills and overall confidence.
Easy to maneuver
Full tang with bolster
Prone to nicks and chips
The 5-inch high-carbon stainless steel blade is on the short end of the spectrum, barely longer than a steak knife. While this brittle blade manages to yield a respectable hardness rating of 58HRC, it can still crack or fracture nonetheless. Under no circumstance can you use this santoku knife on hard items, or risk damaging the blade with nicks and chips.
At the expense of length, you’ll find the blade more maneuverable and easier to assert your control. That way, cooks can familiarize themselves with how most santoku knives slice and dice things from start to finish.
Meanwhile, the edge is honed to an exact 10° cutting angle with a set of Granton indentations to boot. Instead of making tiny cuts inch by inch, the blade can ease its way through food just fine without sticking.
As for the lower half of the santoku knife, it’s a complete package that offers a firm grip between the fingers. The synthetic polyoxymethylene handle conceals the full tang with a triplet of rivets to lock everything in place. Meanwhile, the bolster provides a smooth and seamless transition from the handle to the blade.
The all-rounder Wusthof Classic 4182 makes a great starting point for new cooks with limited knife-wielding skills. Eventually, you’ll grow out of it and move to something better down the road. But until then, you can hardly find a better entry-level santoku knife than this one.
5. Mercer Genesis Santoku – Best 7 Inch Santoku Knife
The jack-of-all-trade Mercer Genesis Santoku is an affordable santoku knife that works wonders with various ingredients. It’s a strong candidate that is well worth serious consideration for new cooks and pro chefs alike.
Full tang with bolster
Large Granton indentations
Per the official description, the 7-inch blade is precision forged from high-carbon German steel, listing 56 ± 1 HRC. Mercer also adds chromium into the mix, so the sleek-looking blade can resist stains and discoloration in the long run.
Meanwhile, the edge is honed to an optimal 15° cutting angle with numerous Granton indentations to simplify things for cooks. These hollow ground indents are longer and deeper than those of standard santoku knives, meaning they can generate less friction.
Similar to other santoku knives, the Santoprene handle sports a full set of features. You’ll spot the full tang is well-encased with a bolster joining the handle and blade into one solid piece. In addition, the bolster also acts as a pressure point where you can apply more cutting force with your finger.
While not all cooks love the single rivet, it isn’t that serious of an issue to be a deal-breaker. To its credit, it does manage to secure the whole assembly without adding too much weight.
The Mercer Genesis Santoku can handle various ingredients from fish to veggies to cheese without much hassle. The extra-large indentations make it easy to slice through things that other knives would otherwise struggle with.
Top-rated Santoku Knives Comparison Table
|Model||Blade Length||Blade Angle||Blade Material > Hardness||Warranty|
|Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro S||7 inches||10°||German stainless steel (55-58 HRC)||Lifetime limited|
|Cubikook Santoku||7 inches||15° ± 1°||German 1.4116 stainless steel (56 ± 2 HRC)||Lifetime limited|
|Shun Classic Santoku||7 inches||16°||VG Max steel (61 ± 1 HRC)||Lifetime limited|
|Wusthof Classic 4182||5 inches||10°||High-carbon stainless steel (58 HRC)||10 years|
|Mercer Genesis Santoku||7 inches||15°||High-carbon German steel (56 ± 1 HRC)||Lifetime limited|
Santoku Knife vs. Chef’s Knife
Both are versatile and multipurpose kitchen knives that work well in a busy kitchen. However, there are differences, both subtle and obvious, that distinguish a santoku knife from a chef’s knife. Since each has its own unique strengths and shortcomings, it’s better to put things in perspective.
|Features||Santoku knife||Chef’s knife|
|Blade shape||Sheep’s foot||Drop-point|
|Blade length||5-8 in.||7-10 in.|
|Edge grind angle||10-12°||15-20°|
How to Use a Santoku Knife
With its straight edge and flat belly, the santoku knife doesn’t rock forward and backward on the chopping block. To further complicate matters, you can’t stabilize the blade on its round tip and mince with the belly. The lack of a pointy tip is even more noticeable when you cut hard items like bones, stems, and roots.
Instead of rocking the blade like you would with a chef’s knife, a santoku knife makes a straightforward cut from top down. If need be, you can apply extra force via the bolster, but no more than that.
Admittedly, a santoku knife can give new cooks and those familiar with chef’s knives a hard time at first. It takes time and practice to go from a novice to a skillful knife wielder. But once you’ve mastered the proper cutting technique, you’ll find the results worthy of the effort.
As a personal favorite for many cooks and chefs, a santoku knife can make smooth and swift cuts with ease. To an extent, you can say it’s an indispensable part of any kitchen knife set or collection. We believe our buying guidelines and reviews of the best santoku knives can help you make the most informed purchases.
A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen.
Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it.
Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.