When it comes to general cooking knives the santoku and french chef's are generally the ones most often mentioned. Is the style of use very different? The only real difference I'm aware of is that you can use a "rocking" motion with the french chef's but not with the santoku. What is the difference between them and when would you use a santoku over a french chef's assuming quality between both was on par?
Both the Santoku and French knives will work for the same types of things, so a lot of it comes down to preference. Santoku knives are lighter, so this can lead to less hand strain and quicker cutting. One thing that the Santoku are very good at is very thin slicing of vegetables, for two reasons: first, as you point out, you do not use a rocking motion, but rather chop down in one motion, which with practice can be quicker and more efficient. Second, Santoku knives usually have a much thinner blade angle (around 15 degrees vs 30-40 degrees on a French knife). This is because one side of a Santoku is flat, and the other side is beveled (like a chisel), so you only sharpen one side. To accommodate this thin blade the Santoku knives will be made with a harder steel, which helps maintain blade sharpness, but may increase the propensity for chipping if misused, and also makes them harder to sharpen.
Still, personal preference dictates which knife to use. Many people prefer the Gyuto style of knife, which (roughly speaking) combines features of both Santoku knifes and French knives. They are made of a hardened steel, are sharpened on both sides, but maintain edges around 22-26 degrees. The Gyutos, like the Santokus are fairly light. Gyutos also have a rounded belly but it is less pronounced than on a French knife.
There is much more to be said, but basically the thing to do is get your hands on some knives and start experimenting--see what you like!
Good answer kevins. I completely agree.
Gyuto and French chef's knives are basically interchangeable (for use). Eastern vs Western styled blades. The main difference is in feel and small construction details, which aren't that relevant for use but very relevant for sharpening.
In general, western-styled chef's knives are a little easier to rock with. You can get a nice circular motion going; you just have to adjust your technique a little. It's a comfort thing.
One thing to note about santoku knives though: they are also used interchangeably with chef's knives, except when cutting hard things like squash or potato. It's the fact that the blade is flat on one side and beveled (angled) on the other. One side will push on the product while the other doesn't. this means that the cut will turn towards one side, usually to the left. this is important since you can easily cut yourself (left fingertips) because the knife has a tendency to cut to the left - which is VERY pronounced with hard products. Be careful!
I found this review on amazon, which does a good job of answering this question:
This seems to be in agreement with other opinions I have read as well. Although I cannot speak to this directly, as I'm still shopping, and have never used anything but a European-style chef's knife.
Santoku knifes are thinner. One advantage of this is that it will do a little more cutting and a little less crushing as it goes through a food. As an example, a Santoku knife should cause less tears cutting an onion because it won't be breaking as many cells as it goes through.
From a not too great home cook:-
Repeatedly, I found the Santoku to be easier to use.
The wider blade was better for scooping up the chopped onion, ginger, garlic.
I never tested them deliberately, but, now that I see this question, it just crops up in my mind.
I am just reminiscing.
The longer Chef was the obvious choice, initially.
There were times that it was not at hand and I had to switch to the Santoku and almost always it was a better experience.
I am going to buy a Wusthof Santoku, today and shall let you know.
Specific advantage could be of the lack of a point. I don't remember using the point on that knife for anything at all! Lack of it makes the Santoku much easier to handle.
Rest, methinks, is snobbery.