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What is the Difference Between a French Chef's Knife and a Santoku?

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

What is the difference between a Santoku and a French Chef’s Knife?

Many people ask us ‘what should be my ‘go-to’ knife in the kitchen?’ … and typically we reply, it depends. Beside the aesthetic differences between the two knives, both are workhorses in the kitchen, designed for a wide range of tasks.

What is a santoku?

Traditionally, a santoku knife is a Japanese utility knife which is used in the preparation of fish, thin cuts of boneless meat, vegetables and herbs. It has a sheepsfoot blade where the spine of the knife slopes gently down to meet a primarily straight edged apex or blade.

It is also often the thinner blade of the two knives, designed for straight chopping and more of an up and down motion when cutting.

What does the word santoku mean?

The word ‘santoku’ means three virtues (or three uses) – slicing, mincing and dicing – and it is particularly helpful when creating straight down wafer thin slices which are a feature of Japanese cuisine.

How is this Japanese knife different?

The santoku is a light and well-balanced knife which sports a wide blade so that scooping up the remains of what has been cut is also a beneficial feature.

Santoku knives also usually have a full flat grind blade which allows for deep straight cutting and they are often single bevelled which allows for a razor sharp and fine angled cutting edge on the blade – sharper than the traditional double Western bevel found on a traditional French Chef’s knife.

Are French Chef’s Knives and Santokus the same size?

The blades on a santoku are usually shorter overall as well, ranging from 13cm to 20cm in length. In comparison, a French Chef’s knife blade can range from 15cm to 30cm in length.

One major difference between the two though, is the shape of the tip of the blade. Due to the shape of the contoured spine on the santoku, the risk of accidentally piercing yourself on the tip of the blade is majorly reduced – which is great for the accident prone!

What about how it works?

As a general rule, the santoku blade, in comparison to a French Chef’s knife, has a more limited rocking motion due to the straightness of the apex of the blade, and this is another of its main points of difference.

The Kiwi Blade traditional santoku design is a little of the best of both worlds, however, as Willie prefers a gentle rocking motion to be incorporated into the blade’s ability and performance range. Adding a slight upwards curve of 15 degrees at the edge of the blade allows for a rocking motion for those cooks who want to have it both ways.

What is a French Chef’’s knife and what is it used for?

French Chef’s knives, by comparison to santoku knives, are a little rougher, heavier and tougher. They tend to have thicker spines and they are perfect for carving and digging in around bones - and the pointed tip of the blade lets you get into the nitty gritty of fine work such as when you are dicing onions and shallots – or stabbing the eyes out of potatoes.

Do you use a French Chef’s knife the same way?

It is designed for push cutting as well as carving and long slicing movements – and it has ‘that rock’, the rock that lets you finely slice by raising the handle up and down while the tip remains in contact with the cutting board.

Many cooks and professional chefs prefer to grip the blade itself in a pinch grip, with their thumb and index finger at the heel of the blade while the remainder of their fingers rest at the top of the handle but the knife can also be used by holding it fully by the handle itself too. Handy!

It is an infinitely versatile and durable kitchen utensil. A knife for all seasons and any number of reasons, in fact.

How is the blade different?

Structurally, it is stronger than the santoku but a santoku generally feels as if it is easier to cut with because the blade is usually so much thinner.

The thicker blade of the French Chef’s knife also institutes a wider range of choice for the shape and grind of the knife edge, dependent on the preference of the chef.

Typically, a French Chef’s knife can exhibit any number of different grind and bevel finishes – such as a V shaped single or double bevel; a convex edge; a hollow grind; or a single grind or chisel edge. Each has their own benefits and if you are curious to know more, get in touch and Willie will happily explain the key benefits of each to you.

Great, but which one should I choose?

So… if you are regularly tackling thicker cuts of meat or are partial to slicing into tough skinned melons or pumpkins, the French Chef’s knife is the way to go.

If you prefer to work with fish and lighter meats, less dense vegetables and herbs and you love the Japanese aesthetic, a santoku maybe the knife for you.

But why not have both? They are both amazing knives to own and use - and once you have one (or both) of these knives in your kitchen arsenal, you seldom find yourself reaching for another knife.

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