I have been looking at the differences between a chef’s knife and a Santoku knife. It used to be the case where I would just pull a knife from the block and use it for all my kitchen needs. Width, purpose, or design made no difference to me. If it cut, it worked. I know that there is a science to knife design and decided to buckle down and learn some differences and how to use them to their maximum capability. I feel that I am not the only person with this dilemma. So I found this list to help me:
1) The Size of Your Hand
As you can imagine the size of your hand is a very important factor. A cook with larger hands will find the santoku uncomfortably short and light if he is not used to using one and should consider switching if the need to replace his current knife ever arises. The reverse is also true – a chef’s knife will seem ungainly to a chef with slight hands.
2) Do You Rock? Or Do You Chop?
The curve of the blades found on traditional chef’s knives is prized because it enables the subtle rocking motion so often employed to mince ingredients. This smooth back and forth motion is quite difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with a santoku. If you like to rock the santoku might disappoint.
Conversely, the santoku excels at chopping which is the prepping technique of choice in Japanese kitchens. If you like to rock, in other words, the chef’s knife might be the one to disappoint. This is because the santoku is light, nimble and has a flat blade. While chopping vegetables, the beauty of the santoku in action makes a chef’s knife look like an elephant on ice.
3) Do You Finger Your Blade?
Many cooks (including your correspondent) like to hold their knife almost as if they are shaking a hand. They finger the top of the blade (which is thankfully also the non-lethal part). The santoku is perfect for this holding technique because its blade and handle meld into a seamless line. Fortunately, chef’s knives with a blade than is level with the handle can be found. If you, like me, like to finger the blade and decide on a chef’s knife, you simply need to search out those Western knives with the Eastern-styled handles.
4 ) Fries with That Burger? Or Salad with Those Fries?
Believe it or not, your diet lifestyle should play a significant factor in deciding between a santoku or a chef’s knife. It is probably more important than the size of your hands, your cooking history or even your cutting technique. This is because the Brinnel, Vickers, and Rocknell ratings (these are the various tests that determine the hardness of steel) are much higher the steel that santokus are constructed of. This harder blade leads to a sharper blade when compared to the softer chef’s knife. The sharper santoku is not always to the home cook’s advantage though. This is because it is more easily chipped and harder to maintain sharp than a chef’s knife (whose slightly softer blade is more forgiving when subjected to a sharpening stone). Therefore, a cook should avoid using santokus while cutting meat and should never use it to cut through bone.
The santoku was created in the culinary culture of Japan where the diet consists almost entirely of vegetables and fish. It is somewhat marginalized in the United States by the Western diet. Many people who purchase santokus (chef’s included) become disenchanted with them the moment their blade becomes chipped – which will happen if you use it cut through a lot of red meat and poultry. They were simply not designed for our caveman-like diet and our caveman treatment of food on the cutting board. American’s thrash through their ingredients while the Japanese tend to skate through it.
Yet, if you are vegetarian, there is simply no better cook’s knife option than the santoku. Its sharp blade will dance through your veggies for years and years. You will be amazed at its nimbleness – how the food you are chopping just dances off the blade, and the precision that its physical characteristics afford.
The traditional chef’s knife is probably your best option if you have big hands, like to rock your blade on the board, and eat (and thus prepare) a lot of meat. Most importantly, if you are only going to have one knife and your prepare meat than the chef’s knife is for you. However, if you are a vegetarian, than the santoku is probably the right knife. The santoku outshines the chef’s knife with vegetables but is just not hardy enough to be the sole knife in a meat-eating cook’s cutlery repertoire.
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