Santoku Knife

Damascus Steel Santoku Knife

What is a Santoku Knife?

The santoku knife is a legendary Japanese kitchen knife. It is often referred to as the Japanese version of a chef’s knife. A high-quality Damascus steel santoku knife has a sharp blade and an exclusive design.

The word Santoku in Japanese means “three virtues.”

According to some sources, the name refers to three cutting techniques that can be done well with the knife. Others say it’s because it is used to cut meat, fish, and vegetables. But what is certain: with this knife, you can work excellently in the kitchen!

What's so special about a santoku knife?

A classic santoku knife is usually a Damascus steel knife. A Damascene knife can be recognized by its typical pattern on the blade. High-quality damask knives are made according to the traditional technique of steel folding. They often have a handle made of different varieties of wood and feel very comfortable for holding in hand.

Santoku Knife 1

Anyone who possesses such a good damask knife also owns a piece of cultural property. Besides, a good santoku knife is an all-round kitchen tool that allows professional or home cooks to easily cut vegetables, fish, and meat into strips or other shapes. Also, for the preparation of sushi, the chefs like to grab a santoku.

Because this type of knife fits so well in hand, it is also suitable for beginners.

Types of Santoku Knives

Originating from Japan, a Santoku is considered to be an Eastern or Asian type of knife.

In addition to Far Eastern Santoku knives, brands from western manufacturers are also available on the market. Unlike the relatives from the Far East, some of which are still made by hand in master forges, these knives are also available at affordable prices.

  • Particularly noteworthy is that the Santoku kitchen tools from Far Asia, in the shape of their blade differ from the European models. A Japanese santoku is usually a Damascus steel knife with a V-shaped blade cut.
  • Western models are also made of good quality steel. Oftentimes, however, not the expensive Damascus steel is used. Moreover, European santoku knives usually have a U-shaped blade. This makes them a bit stronger and less sensitive than the blade of a classic Santoku from Japan.
Santoku Knife 2

Characteristics of a Santoku Knife

Regardless of the model, there are specific characteristics of Santoku knives which differentiate them from other types of kitchen knives.

  • A Santoku can be recognized by the wide blade which is beveled only shortly before the tip of the knife.
  • An advantage of a Santoku is that it is lighter than most European kitchen knives and therefore easier to handle.
  • Santokus have a blade length of about 18 cm. European chef’s knives often have a blade length of about 20 cm. Some Santokus have a Granton edge, so the food does not stick to the blade easily.
  • The grip of a santoku is often at the same height as the back of the blade. As a result, the hand with which you cut has plenty of room.

What is Santoku Knife Used For?

A santoku knife is a versatile all-purpose knife, which can be used to process different types of ingredients equally well. Santoku knife uses are not limited only for the preparation of Asian dishes. Due to their shape, Santoku knives are used for processing fish, meat, and vegetables.

When cutting food, the Santoku knife is tilted forward with the point slightly below the heel of the blade. This leverage makes it easier to cut through even firmer and more resilient foods. The specially shaped blade and the perfect weight distribution of the Santoku knife makes an ideal kitchen tool even for people with rather small hands.

Because Santoku is such an adaptable all-around knife, it is a trendy and sought-for item. This type of traditional Japanese knife is indispensable in many kitchens worldwide.

How to Use a Santoku Knife?

How you will use your Santoku depends on the type of ingredient you are processing and the technique you are using. It is easiest to explain the usage by looking at some properties of this type of knife.

Every single feature of a Santoku has a specific purpose in your kitchen:

  • If you use the knife for tuna, salmon, pufferfish, and other specialties, you can use it to cut precise, thin slices without damaging the delicate structure of the food being cut. Santoku is also a traditional knife for preparing sushi.
  • The length of the Santoku knife in conjunction with the stable forging style dictates the use as a meat knife. The long blade is also suitable for portioning larger roast pieces with clean cuts.
  • The handle of Santoku is in line with the top of the blade. This offers enough space for a pinch-grip and a secure hold to break even harder food with a little effort.
  • The blade shape with the tip bent down allows more than just cutting. Herbs, garlic, onions, etc. can be crushed and minced by weighing movements. The wide blade will enable you to guide the Santoku knife along the bent knuckles.
  • A traditional straight formed blade allows you to push the diced pieces into the pot.

Santoku vs Chef Knife

Many might wonder what the differences between a Santoku and a Chef’s Knife are? Both knives can be used for similar tasks. Knowing this, the choice of a Santoku over a Chef’s knife might be purely an aesthetic preference.
Nevertheless, here are the most prominent differences when comparing a Santoku vs. a Chef’s Knife:

Santoku knife properties

  • Blade length: 6-7 inch
  • Usage: meat, fish, vegetables
  • Blade tip: curved at the end
  • Weight: lighter

Chef knife properties

  • Blade length: 8-9 inch
  • Usage: meat, vegetables
  • Blade tip: tipped at the end
  • Weight: heavier
Santoku Knife 3

When to Use Santoku vs Chef Knife

The first factor that decides if you are going to use a Santoku or a Chef’s knife should be your personal preference. Do you feel more comfortable using a shorter and lighter knife or a bit longer and heavier one? In the first place, you should use the one which feels more enjoyable to work with.

The next thing that you should base your decision on is whether you are using the knife to process meat, fish, or vegetables. Because of the pointy tip, the chef’s knife might be a bit more useful for cutting meat around the bones, that is if you don’t have a boning knife at hand. On the other hand, a santoku is a bit more convenient for fish and vegetables.

Do you need to scoop-up the pieces you are cutting? When dicing onions or mincing garlic, it is convenient to use the blade of the knife to scoop-up and carry the processed food from the board to the pan or pot. In this case, you should use a Santoku.

These are just some basic guidelines. However, if you own both knives, you will learn to instinctively pick the one you feel it is more convenient just before you start cutting your cooking ingredients.

Which Steel is Used for Production of Santoku Knives?

The name Santoku describes the shape of a knife which can be made of different types of steels.

Simple santoku kitchen knives are manufactured from stainless steel. Different are the ones which are made of Damascus steel. Santoku knives are available with smoothly shaped blades or with small, elliptical dimples, called the Granton edge. These dips are not merely decorations. They expedite the cutting of sticky foods such as fruits, vegetables or raw meat and fish. The little indents ensure a smoother release of the adhesive ingredients.

Knife manufacturing companies generally use conventional stainless steel. It is quite easy to clean such steel, and it is stainless. However, blades made of stainless steel are not as sharp as the ones made of Damascus steel. The Damascus steel is fire-welded and forged from several sheets of steel of various hardnesses and alloys. The resulting combined composite steel is sturdy and flexible at the same time. However, a little extra attention is required so you can benefit from your Damascus steel Santoku knife in the long run.

A santoku knife made of Damascus steel is often not rustproof, which is why you should never wash in the dishwasher. The steel can sustain deterioration due to the temperature and washing chemicals. The cleaning and care of a Damascus Santoku knife should hence always be done by hand.

The History of Santoku Knives

The Santoku knife was invented in Japan about 100 to 150 years ago. The knife is strongly linked to the transformation of the society of the Japanese nation.

In Japan, the Santoku Knife is native to almost every kitchen. In the last decade, however, it has also begun a triumphal march in Europe. Many professional and hobby chefs are already in possession of a Santoku with a delicate, sharp blade.

The name originating from the words ‘San’ and ‘Toku’ can be roughly translated as the ‘Three Virtues.’ These stand for the fish, the meat and the vegetables. These and also other foods can be easily cut and processed with a Santoku.

The eating habits of the Japanese changed, especially after the Second World War. The economic boom in the country affected the population in a way that they could afford to buy and consume more meat. Before, they usually ate only fish.

The Santoku knives serve the cooks for different uses. With the growing economic power in many households, luxurious food became available, and the Santoku knife became very popular because it was created for multiple purposes.

Cutting Properties of a Santoku

A Santoku knife delights professional, and hobby cooks alike with its excellent sharpness.

When using a Santoku, you can get immaculate cuts so that the juice is preserved in the vegetables and the food has more flavor. Thanks to the high sharpness of this kitchen tool, it is possible to cut the meat, the fish for the sushi delicately, and to slice tomatoes into thin pieces.

Santoku Knife 4

Higher-end Santoku knives are usually made from Damascus steel. Several layers of metal are folded many times and then hammered and heat-treated through a unique process. This ensures the blade stays sharp for a long time.

A classic eastern Santoku usually has a higher degree of hardness (around HCR 60) than the ones from Europe. Santoku knives made of Damascus steel are always in high demand. The tough yet easily flexible metal is ideal for making the blades for the Santoku knife.

In the production of Damascus steel, the layers of softer and hard steel are welded and fused. A santoku knife of this kind needs a little more care as a stainless steel one. These kitchen tools from the east are very much appreciated by chefs all around the world.

How to Take Care of Santoku Knife?

Your Damascus knives should be taken care of after every use. Never leave a dirty knife laying on the counter after you’ve used it. Proper care will ensure that you will make the best use of your knives for years to come.

Santoku Knife 5
  • After use, the Santoku knife should be thoroughly rinsed. Since most chef’s knives are not suitable for the dishwasher, it is recommended to use lukewarm water and a mild detergent. Use a soft cloth for rinsing, and make sure never to use a rough sponge.
  • The knife blade of a Santoku can be rubbed with some camellia oil and wiped. And even a Santoku with a stainless steel blade should not be washed in a dishwasher – the beautiful wooden handle could suffer.
  • It is no secret that the sharper a knife is, the more sensitive is its edge. The Santoku knife should be stored in a box or a knife roll bag separate from the other blades.
  • In the case of high carbon steel blades, these products are not stainless and should always be cleaned and rinsed by hand. After that, they immediately need to be dried or wiped with a paper towel.
  • To protect the Santoku knife against rust during prolonged storage, you can wrap it in an oil-soaked cloth and store it.

How to Sharpen a Santoku Knife?

Naturally, you need to keep your knives sharp at all times. It is easy to sharpen a santoku by using an ordinary knife sharpening technique which includes grinding on a whetstone and honing on a leather strap. This produces much better results as sharpening the knives with a regular kitchen knife sharpener.

Santoku Knife 6

Santoku sharpening technique: 

  • First, soak the stone in water for about ten minutes or so.
  • When you are sharpening the knife, you should do it on a worktop, so the grinding angle (15-20 degrees) is the easiest to find and maintain. You can put a damp towel below the grindstone to keep it secure.
  • If a whetstone is used, and the blade is held at the correct angle, the knife blade of Santoku will not get damaged.
  • The next step you can make is honing. You can hone your knife on a simple leather strap. If you are proficient, you can use an old leather belt. There’s no need to buy knife honing tools unless you want to get fancy.
  • Note that if you hone your knife after each use, there’s almost no need to re-sharpen them with a whetstone.

If you follow these simple rules, you will keep your Damascus Santoku knife razor-sharp and shiny for a long time.