What’s the Difference Between a Chef’s Knife and a Santoku?

These knives can tackle many of the same kitchen tasks, but they have some key differences.

Published Mar. 14, 2023.

When I first started working at America’s Test Kitchen, I owned a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. That’s it.

After spending time in the test kitchen and reading my colleague’s incredible knife reviews (everything from boning knives to utility knives to bird’s beak paring knives), I’ve filled out my collection with a few more.

Namely, a santoku.

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A santoku is similar to a chef’s knife—both are supersharp with thin spines and are comfortable to hold and use. Plus, they tackle almost all of the same tasks in my kitchen. They’re both great for slicing mountains of onions for French Onion Soup, mincing up to 30 cloves of garlic for aglio e olio, dicing and chopping vegetables for Old-Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup, and beyond.

But there are a few key differences between santoku knives and chef’s knives, and what you choose to use in your kitchen comes down to personal preference.

A Santoku Has a Shorter Blade

The blade of a chef’s knife is typically between 8 and 10 inches long, while the blade of a santoku is usually between 5 and 7 inches long. The shorter blade on a santoku knife can make users feel like they have more control. 

Also, while santoku knives typically have a straighter bottom edge compared to the curved blade of a chef’s knife, some newer models have more rounded bottom edges, which allows for a full rocking motion.

The Blade Tip of a Santoku Is More Rounded

A chef’s knife often has a more pointed, tapered tip while a santoku typically has a shorter, more rounded tip. This design is simply meant to make the knife look less intimidating and minimize the risk of piercing something unintentionally. In our sanotku knife testing, we didn’t love the rounded tip, and preferred santoku knives that had tips that allowed them to function more like a chef’s knife. 

A Santoku Is (Usually) Lighter than a Chef’s Knife

Typically, but not always, a santoku knife is a bit lighter than a chef’s knife. A santoku’s lighter weight can help it feel more agile. In part, this has to do with the thinner blade spines—the top of the blade opposite the cutting edge. The thinner the blade spine the better, because it makes the blade feel more like a razor gliding through food than like a wedge pushing it apart.

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One of our highly recommended santokus, the Zwilling 7" Hollow Edge Rocking Santoku, has an interesting design, falling somewhere between a chef’s knife and a santoku, though it’s sold as a santoku. 

This knife is the best of both worlds. It has the shorter blade length of a santoku (7 inches), but it also has a deeply curved cutting edge which allows you to “rock” like you’re using a chef’s knife. It also has a more pointed (not rounded) tip than most other santoku knives, which helps it get through food with less resistance. 

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