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The Best Santoku Knives

With its petite build and curved tip, this friendly-looking Japanese blade is giving Western-style chef’s knives a run for their money. But does it offer something unique?


Published Sept. 25, 2017. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 18: Japanese Suppers

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What You Need To Know

Santoku knives became an overnight sensation in the United States in the early 2000s, when Rachael Ray declared on TV that she loved her Wüsthof model. Sales shot up, and several knife manufacturers, both Asian and Western, scrambled to create their own versions or promote their models to Americans. The appeal was the friendly shape of the blade: 5 to 7 inches long, with a rounded front edge and a boxier build than the typical chef’s knife, which usually stretches between 8 and 10 inches long and has a sleeker profile and a sword-like point. The style was developed for postwar Japanese home cooks as a more versatile alternative to vegetable cleavers— santoku reportedly means “three virtues,” which are described variously as “meat, fish, and vegetables,” or “chopping, slicing, and dicing”—and quickly became the country’s most popular kitchen knife.

We, too, were fans of the santoku style when we first tested them; many of us still swear by our 2004 winner, the MAC Superior Santoku 6 1/2" ($74.95). But now that santoku sales in the United States are rivaling those of chef’s knives and all major knifemakers are peddling versions, we wanted to recheck the competition. We bought 10 models, priced from $24.99 to $199.95, focusing on blades that were at least 6 inches long, the size we previously found most useful. Some knife experts claim that santokus are suited only for cutting softer vegetables and boneless meat, not for thornier kitchen tasks such as breaking down bone-in chicken and hard vegetables. So our question was: Are santoku knives a viable alternative to chef’s knives, or are they in fact more specialized?

To answer this question, we put every model through our usual battery of chef’s knife tests: mincing fresh herbs, dicing onions, butchering whole raw chickens, and quartering unpeeled butternut squashes. We also threw a ringer into the testing—our favorite chef’s knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef’s Knife ($39.95)—for comparison. Then, to see if santokus add unique value to a knife collection, we tacked on precision work: cutting carrot matchsticks and slicing semifrozen strip steaks across the grain into slivers. Finally six testers, including three self-described knife novices, chopped onions and rated the knives, including how well each model performed and if it was comfortable and easy to use.

How They Handled

A great kitchen knife almost leaps into your hand, feeling natural, ready to work, and effortless as it moves through food. Some of this is individual preference, but the knife’s handle, weight, balance, and blade geometry all contribute to the user experience.

For example, we generally pre...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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Reviews you can trust

Reviews you can trust

The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Lisa McManus

Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.