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I'm just self-learning to cook and I'm looking for a chef's knife. I've read the many differences between a chef's knife and a santoku knife, but it's still not clear to me which one I should choose. The only difference I'm aware of between santoku and a chef's knife is that santoku has exactly the same functionality as a chef's knife if one does not carve meat.

I definitely want to obtain proper/efficient knife skills (referring to the rock and chop that's often discussed), but at the same time, I want something that will be easy for me to use (I tend to cut using an up and down motion). I'm pretty sure I know what length and weight I want the knife to be, but to keep the question from being too localized, I won't discuss those features.

I don't know if it's worth mentioning, but I almost never carve meat or cut bones.

So do I go with a gyuto, santoku, or chef's knife?

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Why not a chef's knife? –  Matt Ball Jul 21 '13 at 18:03
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The difference between a santuko and European chef's knife is mostly a matter of personal taste and style.

However, if you live in North America, Europe, or anywhere else with a European cooking tradition, most of the resources and videos that you see to help you develop knife skills will assume you have a chef's knife. For this reason, I suggest you start with a good basic chef's knife. Secondly, you will want a paring knife.

With these two knives, you can do 95% of kitchen tasks very well.

As you develop your skills, you can try santukos and other style blades and determine if the work for you.

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Does this mean santoku blades are for more advanced chefs? Most of my cooking is East Asian foods. –  MarkE Jul 21 '13 at 18:40
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No, what I am saying is use whatever your role models use. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 21 '13 at 18:58
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The ultimate answer here is to try them both (cook dinner for a friend who has them both?) and go with the one that is more comfortable for you. For example, my fiancee prefers a large chef knife, I prefer the santoku. Both of us can cut just as fast, it really just comes down to personal preference and that special "how it feels in your hand" feeling. Ultimately the more comfortable (both experience and physical comfort) you are with a tool, the better you will function with it.

To be honest, the "meat" thing with a chef's knife doesn't bother me that much. Usually when I am working with raw meat I prefer an incredibly sharp paring knife and a good filet knife. Cutting cooked meat, I use a slicing knife. Large meat with a bone? Either the butcher takes care of it or I use a cleaver.

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The problem is that until some skills are developed, its hard to decide which one is more to one's taste and style. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 22 '13 at 8:03
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The Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch Chef's knife has been getting good reviews for years. It is sturdy, holds an edge well, and is inexpensive. It's a hybrid of a thin Japanese blade with a 15-degree edge (western knives have a 20-degree edge), but with the longer, broader blade of European knives. And at $30 it's a great choice for a first knife to start honing your skills.

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So is this a gyuto knife? –  MarkE Jul 21 '13 at 18:29
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No, unlike a gyuto, which has a chisel ground edge, the Fibrox has a symmetrical grind typical of European style knives. It does have a less bellied profile similar to that of a gyuto. –  Didgeridrew Jul 22 '13 at 1:42
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For new chefs, Tim Ferriss suggests a 6" meat cleaver in the book: 4-hour chef.

It sounds odd at first. However, chopping, cutting, and developing knife skills with a sharp clever makes good sense. The blade is taller and slightly heavier to make it more forgiving to crude muscle movements. This would be different than a butcher's cleaver and you're not meant to hack at the food. Rather develop the same knife skills by cutting through the food and not at the food. E.g, this one made by Rada:

Obviously, the other bonus is that you'd chop food very efficiently. Not having a pointy tip also makes it safer. Particularly handy for asian foods.

As far as choosing specifically between chef and santoku, I find I reach for the chef knife more often than the santoku (except for cutting potatoes where santoku's divits prevent skicking). But you can't really go wrong eitherway.

The most important point here is to have and keep sharp knives. They require less force to work resulting in less chance of running away and doing business with live flesh.

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I cannot agree with Feriss' suggestion. Meat cleavers are not generally very sharp, and they are very, very heavy and thick-bladed, the better to cleave through bone. They will be very crude tools for chopping vegetables, crushing as much as cutting, and will develop bad habits. The idea is not just odd; it borders on absurd. Are you sure this was not recommending a Chinese cleaver, which is the equivalent of a chef's knife, very sharp, thin bladed, and generally useful for most tasks a chef's knife is useful for? –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 22 '13 at 8:00
    
Household cleavers are not the same ones used by old butchers. He's not refering to a 1/4" steel cleaver. I wouldn't call a chineses cleaver equivalent to a chef's knife as indicated in the anwser, the blade is taller allowing more clearance. –  MandoMando Jul 22 '13 at 12:09
    
I think that the rocking/sliding motion most often used to cut vegetables would be very difficult with a cleaver. –  sourd'oh Jul 22 '13 at 19:52
    
@sourd'oh Yeah, its a slightly different technique, not better or worse maybe, just different. Its more a lift and slide-push. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 23 '13 at 12:59
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