From Season 5: Bistro Classics
What is a santoku knife? Compared with a classic chef’s knife (see our related testing, link), the santoku is typically shorter and has a thinner blade, a stubbier tip, and a straighter edge. It is thought to have evolved from the narrow, rectangular Japanese vegetable knife and may be called an Asian or Oriental chef’s knife. But can it replace a chef’s knife?
To find out whether the santoku is in fact multipurpose, we bought 10 models and ran them through a series of tests, using our favorite chef’s knife for comparison. Prices ranged from as low as $27 to as high as $140. The blades were made from a variety of materials, from the conventional high-carbon stainless steel to the exotic, including ceramic and a titanium silver alloy. But the most evident difference between the knives was the range in blade size, from 6 to 7 inches. That single inch proved significant in test performances. In the onion test, the smaller knives verged on the ridiculous. The 6-inch blades were so short that the hands holding those knives ended up knuckle-deep in chopped onion.
The santokus really shined in tasks requiring more delicate or precise knife work, such as thinly slicing carrots. Compared with the chef’s knife, the thinner blade of the santoku was able to cut through the dense carrot more smoothly. The narrower the blade, the less food material has to be moved out of the way as the blade slices. A thicker blade requires more force, as it acts more like a wedge. The shorter santoku blade proved advantageous here as well. The tip of a chef’s knife often feels remote and somewhat out of control, especially for beginning cooks. In contrast, the closer proximity of the santoku’s tip (as well as its straighter design) gave our testers a greater sense of control.
The santokus were also well liked for butterflying boneless chicken breasts. Testers indicated that the smaller—but not too small—size of the santoku and the less tapered tip made the knife easier to manage. The narrowness of the blade also seemed to help reduce friction.
For mincing, the curve of the blade was the main factor mentioned by testers. Those santokus with straighter edges tended to feel more jarring, meeting the cutting board abruptly and interrupting the flow of motion instead of smoothly rocking back and forth. These knives were deemed more single purpose, best at slicing. Santokus with more curve could rock with more fluidity. A few testers preferred the curved santokus to the chef’s knife, but most testers gave the chef high marks for its fluid rocking motion, which is the essence of mincing and chopping.
The sliced tomato test revealed a lot about the sharpness of each knife. Testers found that the knives made of high-carbon stainless steel were sharpest. There was little trend in terms of the best handles. Unobtrusive designs that allotted a clean, comfortable grip were preferred. For most of the testers, the slick look of stainless handles translated to a slick grip as well.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.