Santokus are a type of general purpose knife from Japan. The word ‘Santoku’ is a reference to slicing, dicing, and mincing. These are the three main tasks the Santoku performs particularly well.
The sheep’s foot design draws the spine of the knife down to the tip of the blade with minimal clearance above the cutting plane when the blade is sitting from the heel to the front of the blade. This all provides a more linear cutting edge and minimal rocking travel. The difference is especially noticeable when Santokus are compared to other cutting knives.
The flat edge sheep’s foot blade is usually around 13–20 centimeters in length and curves in a 60° angle at the point. The handle and blade are measured and weighed harmoniously to maximize efficiency and technique in order to enhance the knife’s usage. By balancing the weight and width of the handle with the weight of the blade tang, the knife sits comfortably in the hand, enhancing its performance.
The shape of the knife ensures that, while it can be used with a rocking motion, there is minimal contact with surfaces. This prevents the knife from blunting. The extreme radius of the knife’s tip and the minimal tip travel ensures that surface contact is kept to a minimum.
The Santoku is a shorter, thinner and lighter knife than Western style knives. It is also more hardened than Western knives. This compensates for the thinness, meaning that it is also a very durable knife. Most classic Western kitchen knives will have a blade angle of 40° to 45°.
Japanese knives often have a chisel tip, which is sharpened on one side, and have a more extreme angle of around 10°–15° degrees. See this post for more information about knife angles.
Santoku knives incorporate elements of the Western design in that they feature a bilateral cutting edge. However, they incorporate an extreme shoulder angle of 12° to 15°, similar to traditional Japanese knives.
The extra hardness of the Santoku knife is essential. It retains the edges of the knife and lessens a rolling motion on the cutting edge. But the harder and thinner steel of the Santoku knife is more likely to chip against hard or abrasive surfaces, such as bones. Western style knives use a softer kind of steel and have more material behind them, which makes them less likely to chip.
An average user of, say, a German style cutting knife will find it easier to sharpen the knife. However, if used correctly, a Santoku knife will retain its shape naturally for much longer than a German-style knife. Typically, Santoku knives have no bolster and sometimes have “scalloped” sides. These are “kullens,” which maintain a uniform thickness from the spine down the blade.
Some Santoku knives incorporate laminated steels, known as “San Mai.,” It has a suminagashi pattern, which refers to a similarity with the blade’s multi-layered, damascened steel alloy and the Japanese art of marbled paper. Laminated stainless steel cladding is used on the best Santoku knives as it improves strength and deters rust development. It also maintains the strength of the cutting edge. These are more expensive, higher quality Santoku knives.
Why the money is worth it
While these knives are generally expensive, due to their quality and design, they are certainly worth the money. The serious chef may be wondering, “what are the best Santoku knives you can buy for the money?”
The best Santoku knife for the money
The Aikar Multi-Purpose Santoku Knife is one of the best on the market in terms of quality and price. It is made with high quality Japanese stainless steel and a 71-layered Damascus blade. It’s an extremely durable knife, with a hand-hammered finish to reduce drag when cutting.
The Aikar’s ergonomic handle sits very comfortably in the hand, matching the natural curves of the palm. This means that it will suit a wide range of different grips for different users, and for the different foods being cut.
The sharpness and finish of the knife prevents food from sticking to the blade when in use. This all translates to finely sliced, diced or minced items, all with minimal effort.
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The best Santoku knife for the money
If you’re looking for a quality Santoku knife but are wary of the high prices, look no further than the Aikar Multi-Purpose Santoku. It’s a high-quality Santoku knife at nearly half the price of other similar models.
For more recommendations on great knives, see my post on the best knife set for under $200. You can learn about how to keep your knife razor sharp with this discussion of the best electric knife sharpeners of 2016.
Do you own a lot of knives? Keep your most important kitchen tools undamaged and out of the way with the best knife block. Check out my review of the Ary Kapoosh Batonnet Knife Block for more information.