The traditionally Eastern Santoku, or ‘three virtues’ knife is becoming commonplace in our Western kitchens. Designed to slice, dice and mince faster than a typical chef’s knife; it’s no wonder that many of us are now switching to using a Santoku as our everyday, all-purpose kitchen knife. As it is made lighter weight and shorter than other kitchen knives we may also find it easier to use and its thin blade is perfectly designed for wafer thin slicing.
Although traditionally made in Japan, the Santoku knife is now made globally and from different types of steel. To help you in your quest of finding the right knife, we have not only compiled a list of bestsellers to see what they have on offer, but we also consider some of the terminology, such as tang, Damascus, sheep’s foot and Granton edge, that you may come across when selecting the best Santoku knife for your kitchen.
1. Zelite Infinity 7″ Santoku Knife
Double bevel full tang blade made from Japanese AUS10 stainless steel
Damascus and hollow ground blade to minimize friction
Heat, moisture and impact resistant G10 handle
Lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects
Made from premium Japanese AUS10 stainless steel, the Zelite Infinity 7″ Santoku Knife is designed for long lasting performance. With clad layers, it is a Damascus type hollow ground blade that helps minimize the amount of food that sticks to the blade during use. The Infinity is a heavier weight double beveled full tang blade and comes with a lifetime warranty.
As it is a high carbon stainless steel blade, it may be more liable to corrosion or rusting, so you do need to take some extra care when cleaning and drying. Its ergonomic triple riveted handle is military grade G10 – resistant to impact, heat and moisture.
High carbon stainless steel
Full tang blade
Ergonomic G10 riveted handle
Complete with a lifetime warranty
Some users may find it too heavy for constant use
It may need more regular sharpening to keep its edge
Liable to some rusting if not washed and dried straight after use
2. Mercer Culinary Genesis Santoku Knife
Full tang no-stain high carbon German steel Santoku knife
Has a Granton edge to prevent food from sticking
A santoprene handle provides a non-slip grip with wet hands and tolerates hot or cold temperatures
NSF certified for commercial kitchen use
The high carbon no-stain German steel Mercer Culinary Genesis Santoku knife resists rusting and discoloration. This is a full tang knife with a santoprene handle designed to provide an ergonomic and non-slip grip even with wet hands. The 7″ blade is taper-ground and hand polished and it has a Granton edge to minimize friction.
Like any Santoku knife, you need to take some extra care when handling and storing to avoid chips to the thin blade and thorough drying is necessary to minimize risk of rusting on the high carbon blade. Complete with a one year warranty, this knife has also been NSF certified for safety, performance and quality, making it suitable for commercial kitchen use.
Made from no-stain high carbon German steel
Granton edge blade to minimize friction
Santoprene non-slip handle
Users need to take extra care when handling to reduce the risk of chips to the blade edge
Needs washing and drying straight after use to minimize risk of rusting
As a high carbon blade, it may need regular oiling
3. Victorinox Swiss Classic Santoku Knife
Made from lightweight European steel with a Granton blade
Fibrox Pro handle offers a secure grip and minimizes wrist tension
Comes with a lifetime warranty
With a Granton edge blade to minimize the risk of food sticking, the 7″ Victorinox Swiss Classic Santoku knife blade is high quality lightweight European steel. Its durable and lightweight Fibrox Pro handle offers a secure grip yet minimizes wrist tension when using, although some users may find this handle a little too small.
Although this knife is dishwasher safe, the manufacturer recommends hand wash only. Some users may find that as this is a lighter weight knife when compared to comparable products, it may take a little time to refine food prep techniques when using it. Being of a lighter construction is intentional – and can be helpful if you need to spend a long time chopping food.
Granton edge 7″ blade to minimize food sticking
Fibrox Pro ergonomic handle
It may take some time to become comfortable with this lighter weight knife
Handle may be a little small for some individuals
Manufacturer recommends handwashing although dishwasher safe
4. Dalstrong Santoku Knife
Damascus clad full tang 7″ Santoku knife
Double beveled and made from Japanese AUS-10V steel
Heat and moisture resistant G10 handle
Comes with string and pin locking sheath
Made from Japanese AUS-10V steel, the Dalstrong Santoku knife has a double beveled 7″ blade that is sharpened to 8° to 12° per side. A full tang knife, it uses Damascus layering and its tapered bolster offers balance, finger protection and a comfortable grip.
It is a 62+ Rockwell hardness although the blade edge is susceptible to chipping so does need storing carefully when not in use. Made from military grade G10, its non-slip handle is resistant to moisture and heat. The handle is also triple riveted and the knife comes with a sheath that has a pin and string locking mechanism.
Full tang knife
Non-slip G10 handle
Comes with locking sheath
Needs regular sharpening to keep its edge
Blade edge may be more at risk of chipping
5. Kai Wasabi Santoku Knife
6½” knife made from Daido 1K6 high carbon stainless steel
Bead-blasted and embellished blade
Polypropylene and bamboo powder antibacterial composite handle
Comes with a limited lifetime warranty
The black Kai Wasabi Santoku knife is a lighter weight Daido 1K6 high carbon stainless steel. It is a single bevel 6½” blade with a bead-blasted finish and embellished with the Japanese character for Wasabi. The handle is a polypropylene and bamboo powder blend with an added antibacterial agent. Like similar knives with a fine sharp edge, the blade edge on this knife can be prone to chipping.
Suitable for handwashing only and made in Japan, this knife comes with a limited lifetime warranty. Users may prefer to wash and dry this knife straight after use to minimize the risk of any rusting on the blade.
Lightweight Santoku knife
Made in Japan
High carbon stainless steel
Single beveled 6½” blade
Limited lifetime warranty
May be too lightweight for some users
May be prone to rusting on the blade
Needs careful handling and storage to reduce risk of chips to blade edge
6. Shun Premier Santoku Knife
Japanese made Damascus clad steel with a Tsuchime finish
Suitable for use in commercial kitchens as NSF certified
Walnut finish pakkawood handle
Comes with a limited lifetime warranty
Made from VG10 steel that is then layered with SUS410 and SUS431 for a Damascus finish, the Shun Premier Santoku knife also has a hand hammered finish (Tsuchime) on its 7″ blade to minimize friction and prevent food from sticking. Like similar blades with a very fine and brittle edge there is a greater risk of chipping, so careful handling is necessary.
It has a pakkawood handle with a walnut finish and the logo is embossed onto the knife’s end cap. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty and although suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher, hand washing is recommended. Produced in Japan, this knife is NSF certified for commercial kitchen use.
Damascus clad Japanese VG10 steel
Made in Japan
Hand hammered finish to minimize friction
NSF certified for commercial kitchen use
Pakkawood walnut handle
Although dishwasher safe, manufacturer recommends hand washing
Blade edge is susceptible to chipping
7. OXO Good Grips Pro Santoku Knife
Extra sharp 6.5″ Santoku knife fully forged from German stainless steel
Full tang blade and curved bolster
Ergonomic handle to promote comfortable holding and efficient use
Comes with a satisfaction guarantee
The OXO Good Grips Pro Santoku knife is an extra sharp knife made from German stainless steel with a high carbon content. The 6.5″ blade, bolster and tang are fully forged to offer strength, durability and balance.
It is designed to allow you to hold the knife in an efficient and comfortable way, with a curved bolster to support the thumb and forefinger and an ergonomic contoured handle; although some users may find that the handle feels a little too ‘smooth’ when using and although a full tang blade, the handle is not riveted. The manufacturer offers a satisfaction guarantee.
Extra sharp 6.5″ blade
Made from German stainless steel
Full tang blade
Non riveted handle
Its exceptionally smooth handle may not suit all users
8. Wusthof Classic 7″ Ikon Santoku Knife
A 7″ lightweight Santoku knife made from German chromium-molybdenum-vanadium steel
Granton edge to minimize friction when slicing
Rear and partial forward bolsters to aid knife balance and sharpening
Durable polyoxymethylene (POM) handle with rear bolster
The Wusthof Classic 7″ Ikon Santoku knife is lightweight and forged from chromium-molybdenum-vanadium steel and has a hollow edge to minimize friction and prevent soft or very thin slices of food from sticking to the blade. This knife may not be quite as effective when cutting hard produce and it needs regular honing and sharpening.
Made in Germany from German steel, its contoured polyoxymethylene or POM handle has a rear bolster to help counterbalance the weight of the blade. There is also a partial forward bolster to aid in sharpening the full length of the 7″ blade.
Made in Germany from German steel
Granton edge blade
Lightweight 7″ knife
Rear bolster for counterbalance
May be less effective when cutting hard produce
Needs regular honing and sharpening
As a lighter weight knife it may take a little practice to get used to
9. Shun DM0718 FBA_DM-0718 Ground Knife
Made in Japan from precision forged high carbon VG-10 stainless steel
Double bevel blade sharpened to 16° angle
D-shaped pakkawood sanitary handle
Suitable for using in a commercial kitchen and is NSF certified
This Japanese made Shun Classic 7″ Santoku knife has a precision forged high carbon VG-10 stainless steel blade clad in 16 layers to produce a Damascus steel. This means minimal friction during use. The double bevel blade is sharpened to a 16° angle although it’s worth noting there may be a slightly higher risk of chips to the blade than other similar knifes
With a D-shaped pakkawood handle, it also has an offset steel bolster and Shun knives are NSF certified for using in commercial kitchens. There is a limited lifetime warranty on this knife and although dishwasher safe, the manufacturer recommends washing by hand.
High carbon VG-10 stainless steel
Damascus clad double beveled blade
Sanitary pakkawood handle
Made in Japan
Certified for use in commercial kitchens
Limited lifetime warranty
May be more prone to chips than other comparable knives
Dishwasher safe but manufacturer recommends washing by hand
10. Kershaw Pure Komachi 2 Hollow Ground Santoku Knife
High carbon stainless steel 6½” Santoku knife
Hollow ground blade helps reduce food from sticking
Non-stick black colored coating is FDA-approved
Comes with a sheath for safer storage
This 6½” black Kershaw Pure Komachi 2 Santoku knife is hollow ground to minimize friction. Made from high carbon stainless steel, it may not hold its sharp edge for as long as expected, so regular sharpening may be necessary. Colored to aid safe food preparation, its non-stick black colored coating is FDA-approved for food safety.
Although it comes with a black sheath; as more of a budget purchase, this lightweight knife may not have the lifespan expected from comparable products.
High carbon stainless steel
Colored to aid safe food preparation
FDA-approved non-stick knife coating
Hollow ground blade
Ergonomic and lightweight handle
Comes with safety sheath
Its light weight limits its usefulness with harder foods
More of a limited lifetime than other types of Santoku knife
Needs regular sharpening as it will not hold its edge for long
Things to Consider Before Buying the Santoku Knife
About the Santoku Knife
The Santoku, Santoku-Bocho or Bunka-bocho means ‘knife of the three virtues’ or ‘knife of the three uses’ and in the kitchen, this translates to chopping, dicing and mincing of meat, fish and vegetables.
It is well-designed for cutting or mincing meat; although you should always try to avoid cutting any large bones as this may damage the knife. It is also helpful for slicing cheeses, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Because it suits wafer thin cutting, many people prefer to use it for preparing seafood or vegetables.
How the Santoku knife evolved is vague, although it is known that up until 1870 in Japan, eating meat was rare; vegetables were prepared with a traditional vegetable cleaver called a Nakiri. At this time, pork and beef entered cities along with Western-style knives called Gyuto (meaning ‘beef sword’). Gyuto were not the most popular knives as they were long and thin; people were used to the lightweight and rectangular Nakiri knives.
Some blacksmiths began to produce knives in between the styles of Nakiri and Gyuto and the name Santoku was given to this hybrid western-style knife. Becoming popular in the 1940s, the Santoku was lightweight and suitable for smaller hands; ideal for the modern post-war Japanese homemaker who was not only looking for more efficient ways of traditional food preparation but was also beginning to experiment with popular Western cooking.
The Difference Between a Chef’s Knife and Santoku Knife
Both types of knife have a similar construction, such as from stainless steel; although Santoku blades are often thinner and harder than other types of blade as made from distinctive types of steel.
Both types are suitable for general purpose cutting; the main difference arises through the blade shape. The shape of the blade of a chef’s knife means that when you use it, you ‘rock’ the blade forward to cut, while the lack of blade tip on the Santoku knife means that you just slice straight downwards without any rocking. For chefs, the lack of a blade tip means faster cutting.
The chef’s knife has a broad blade that contours upwards forming a spine and it may have a serrated edge. It is heavier to hold, has a piece of metal between the handle and the blade – known as a bolster and usually a double bevel. The bevel is the surface ground down on to produce the knife’s edge. The chef’s knife originated in France and Germany and its size can vary from between 6″ to 12″.
The Santoku knife has a wide blade known as a sheep’s foot blade and no tip. It is thinner than a chef’s knife and may have a double or a single bevel. It is a lighter weight balanced knife that does not usually have a bolster, although it may have a Granton edge – small divots to stop food from sticking to the blade.
A Santoku knife is usually smaller than a chef’s knife – between 5″ and 7″ and if it has a single bevel; it can make a sharper cut for slicing food wafer thin, but also may be more awkward to use by those who are left handed or ambidextrous.
Some current Santoku knives do have more of a curved or contoured blade and may also have a bolster – helping create a fusion between a typical chef’s knife and a Santoku knife. These may also be like a Gyuto knife, the Eastern equivalent of the chef’s knife!
Damascus Steel in Santoku Knife Manufacturing
Damascus steel is not actually Damascus steel. Originally used in the Middle East in sword making, the original technique for producing Damascus disappeared in the 1500s.
In 1973, knives called Damascus entered into the market and from this point, anything with a pattern welded blade became known as Damascus or similar names such as Damascus steel or Damascus look.
A Damascus steel, look or pattern is usually made by layering metals over a steel core and hammering them at high temperature to produce a welded bond. This produces a wave-like pattern of dark and light on the surface of the steel – creating a patterned blade that can be more pleasing to the eye than a traditional stainless steel knife.
Damascus is also known as ink pattern or suminigashi in Japan, because of its appearance of ink added to water.
In terms of performance, there is probably little difference between a Damascus blade and a traditional stainless steel blade, although some manufacturers may choose to disagree!
Some products may just have been surface treated to produce the pattern, so if you are looking to buy Damascus, you may want to take time to check that it is pattern welded Damascus steel i.e. it has been produced through the use of layering rather than having just had a pattern added to the surface of the steel.
VG-10 Steel and Forged Blades
VG-10 is a high carbon stainless steel popular in the production of Japanese knives. VG-10 offers durability, strength, edge sharpness and retention of sharpness. This is lighter weight type of steel than other types such as European steel.
A forged blade is made when the bar of heated steel is roughly shaped through compression under a drop hammer. Once the basic shape of the knife forms, the blade then undergoes grinding and honing to create its final shape and edge. This stage of production may be carried out by hand rather than machine and if so the knife may be labelled as ‘hand finished, ‘hand ground’ or ‘hand sharpened’.
The Granton Edge and The Hollow Ground Edge
The Granton edge or kullenschliff has two main functions. The first is to reduce friction when slicing and the second is to minimize the risk of food sticking to the blade, especially when slicing thinly.
Knives with a Granton edge usually have semi-circular scallops, channels or divots ground into the edge of the blade which extend towards the middle of the blade. The blade needs to be of a minimum thickness for a Granton edge to be added.
In comparison, a hollow ground edge is where the blade is ground from just under its midpoint to its cutting edge. This leaves a concave side midpoint downwards and produces a very thin cutting edge. As a hollow ground edge can sometimes be very brittle, this type of knife is really only suitable for thin slicing rather than general cutting of harder produce.
The Tsuchime Finish
A Tsuchime finish is simply a hammered finish that not only has similarities to ancient Japanese handcrafting techniques, but it also supplies air pockets to the blade to minimize friction and stop food from sticking.
Full Tang or Half Tang?
A full tang blade is one which runs the full length of the knife – from the tip to the end of the grip. It may extend the full width of the handle or may just be partial thickness. The two parts of the handle then attach to the tang, often by riveting. The tang is usually visible along the full edge and the complete length of the handle.
A half tang blade is only half inserted into the handle, or the stub or three quarter tang are inserted into the handle to their respective lengths.
The advantage of a full tang is it usually allows the use of greater force and leverage and it can also be helpful to counterbalance the weight of the blade. One disadvantage of the full tang is that it may be more prone to corrosion as the full tang handle is constantly exposed to water and oils from the skin.
Advantages of Plastic Handled Knives
Wood was always the traditional handle of choice, but unfortunately its ability to trap bacteria, warp and split means that wooden handles are now firmly out of favor in many of our homes and in all commercial kitchens.
Although stainless steel handles are easy to clean and durable, they can be slippery when wet and if used on a knife, the weight of the steel handle needs counterbalancing with the weight of the blade. As this means a heavier handle to counterbalance a larger or heavier blade it can increase the risk of fatigue in the hand if using the knife for any length of time.
There are many types of plastic handles, just some of the main ones are Fibrox, nylon, polypropylene, polyoxymethylene (POM), santoprene, or styrene. Plastic handles are usually durable, easy to clean, non-slip and many are also NSF certified, which means that as food service equipment, they promote food safety. Although durable, plastic handles can be more sensitive when exposed to extreme temperature changes and they may also be more likely to crack over time.
How to Care for Your Santoku Knife
A wash in warm soapy water and drying with a soft towel straight after use is the easiest way to clean a Santoku knife. You should avoid using any harsh pads and rather than keeping the knife in a drawer, a knife block, wooden box or guard can help protect the thin blade from any damage or nicks when not in use.
How to Sharpen a Santoku Knife with a Whetstone
Having a sharp blade is important not just because bluntness can increase the risk of accidental injury as we need greater force to cut, but also because a blunt blade can damage the structure of the food being prepared. This may mean that the taste as well as the look of the food alters.
The easiest way to tell whether a knife needs sharpening is by laying the blade of our knife against the top edge of a held sheet of folded newspaper and slicing downwards. A sharp blade should slice through the newspaper cleanly.
A whetstone is a stone for sharpening blades and is suitable for using with the thinner blade of a Santoku knife. The stone can be any type of sharpening stone, such as a ceramic, water or diamond stone and the word ‘whet’ is the old word that means to sharpen.
The whetstone allows you to hold the blade at different angles (depending on the type of knife being sharpened) and because it usually has a coarse side and a fine side, you can control the sharpening on each pass. Whetstones aren’t particularly costly but do need handling with care as they can break if dropped or banged. Using one well may take a little practice and it can also take time for a whetstone to sharpen a very dull blade.
Although manufacturers may supply added instructions, here is a general approach to using a whetstone to sharpen a blade:
Dampen the whetstone before use and then place it coarse side up on a damp paper towel to keep it in place.
Place the knife at the angle required (10° and 15° for Santoku knives, up to 20° for typical Western or chef’s knives) away from you and place your spare hand in the middle of the blade, away from the knife edge.
Smoothly draw the blade down the stone in a circular motion until the tip of the knife runs off the other edge of the whetstone. As most Santoku knives are single beveled, it is easier to create a sharp edge than on a double beveled chef’s knife.
Repeat several times.
Check the sharpness by running your thumb perpendicular (not parallel) to the blade edge. When you can feel a burr from handle to tip – it is sharp enough.
If you are sharpening a double beveled knife, then you would turn the blade over and repeat steps 2 to 5.
Turn the whetstone over and repeat steps 2 to 6 with the fine side of the whetstone.
Give the knife a good wash and dry off.
A knife grinder or electric sharpener may also be suitable for sharpening your Santoku knives, but please follow the manufacturer’s instructions; especially if you have single beveled blades.
Honing with a steel in between sharpening may not always be recommended as the thin steel of a Santoku blade may be damaged by use of a honing steel.
In this article we have looked at some of the characteristics of Santoku knives which make them different to the typical chef’s knives; not least the thinness of the blades, the inclusion of a Grafton edge and the type of stainless steel they are made from.
It is only in the last decade or so that Santoku knives really began appearing in kitchens across the US and whether your cooking is Eastern, Western or a fusion of both, then having the best Santoku knife to hand may just help you to chop your vegetables that little bit faster or slice the meat even thinner.