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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?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

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!

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I own a santoku that is sharpened on both sides. I'd bet that most widely available santoku knives (Wustof / Henkels / Shun / Mac) available in big retail outlets in the US anyway would be santoku shaped but have a double beveled edge. You might be able to find imported single bevel santoku at specialty cutlery stores, but those would be rare and I don't know what the benefit of seeking one out would be unless someone was doing extremely detailed prep work (like making sushi). Also, the other answer about the handedness of single bevel knives is a good thing to watch out for. –  Cold Oatmeal Jan 10 '11 at 17:56
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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.

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I found this review on amazon, which does a good job of answering this question:

If you only own 1 knife, it should be a 10” chef. The 8” chef’s knife is the most common size, but the 10” is usually preferred by professionals and experienced home cooks. Most block sets include the cheapest knives that can still function for most jobs, which is why sets usually include 8” chef’s knifes, 8” bread knives, and 8” slicers, even though 10” knives usually do a better job. For chef’s knives, the extra two inches make tip-work a little less precise, but have many advantages. The longer blade means easier cutting since it gives more leverage and weight. More importantly, the two inches are essentially added between the end of the blade and the bolster. This means that the front 8” of the 10” perform all the functions of an 8” knife, plus the extra two inches create a much longer straight area near the handle, which gives a 10” knife the same slicing length as a santoku. This means the 10” chef does everything both these knives do, and usually does it better. The reason santokus are popular among housewives and not professional chefs is that housewives compare the santoku to the curved 8” blade. Professionals are usually trained with 10” knives, so they see the santoku as a crippled 10” knife which is of value only to people who don’t have the knife skills to use the more versatile and capable 10”. These days, you can acquire knife skills by going online, reading through a free tutorial, and practicing for a few hours, so a 10” is a good choice for anyone who likes to cook. (emphasis mine)

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.

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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 chefs 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 though - about santoku knives. they are also used interchangeably with chefs 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!

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