Knives are the backbone of every cook’s and chef’s toolkit, and some knives see a lot more use than others. One type of blade that’s particularly versatile is the Santoku. The Santoku is relatively similar to the classic chef’s knife in size and purpose but has slightly different geometry. A good number of cooks prefer it to the traditional chef’s knife and slightly shorter gyuto.
There’s no shortage of great Santokus on the market, but the MAC MSK65 stands out as one of the best due to its relatively high hardness, stain-resistant alloy and essentially perfect balance.
Like most knives, you can spend hundreds on a fancy-looking, hand-hammered Santoku straight from Japan. Also like most knives, you don’t actually have to make a huge investment to get something that’s highly functional and will last for years with proper care. As long as you’re careful to stick with a reputable manufacturer, the right Santoku can easily last your entire cooking career.
There’s a reason why people say that the chef’s knife — and by extension, its relative the Santoku — is the most important knife in a chef’s bag. A sharp, dependable Santoku can tackle a huge variety of vegetables, carve nearly any cut of meat and help with intricate tasks like crushing garlic. For that reason, a good Santoku can be the perfect cornerstone for both home and professional cooks’ collection of equipment.
There’s an old saying that goes, “A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.” In reality, that’s somewhat overblown, as a dull knife can’t cause major ligament damage at a moment’s notice, but there is a nugget of truth in the concept. To a certain extent, if you have to apply an inordinate amount of pressure to chop vegetables, it is a bit more likely that you’ll cut yourself. More importantly, dull knives offer little in the way of control and precision and ultimately can’t make the clean cuts that sharp ones can. To that end, it’s incredibly important to maintain a good edge on all knives, Santokus included.
First off, there’s technically no such thing as a truly stainless-steel knife. A good knife is worth taking good care of, and even blades made from stain-resistant alloys can discolor and corrode if, for example, you leave them in the sink overnight.
With that out of the way, there’s a huge difference between stainless and carbon steel knives. Put simply, carbon steel requires more care and attention during use. Immediately after finishing each cutting task, you’ll need to wipe down a carbon steel blade with a dry towel. This sounds like a hassle, and when you first start out with carbon steel blades it might take some getting used to, but eventually it becomes automatic.
While carbon steel needs more attention, it also has a couple upsides. Overall, most carbon steel alloys used in premium knives can get sharper and hold an edge longer than most stain-resistant alloys — although that’s not a hard and fast rule. Another plus side of carbon steel is that over time, it develops a patina that many cooks find considerably more attractive than a bright and shiny stainless-steel knife. Aside from the increased upkeep required, though, the other downside to carbon steel is that it’s generally more difficult to sharpen due to its usually high hardness.
Western-style chef’s knives usually have a somewhat ergonomic handle that’s designed to provide a reliable grip over long periods of use. This handle type is also known as a yo handle. By contrast, Japanese blades frequently have an octagonal handle known as a wa handle. A considerable amount of traditional Asian knives also come with what’s sometimes known as a D handle. The D handle is almost always configured for right-handed users, although a good number of lefties use them without difficulty. There aren’t really any major functional differences between the three types of handle, so the right one for you really comes down to personal preference. A lot of chefs prefer the octagonal wa handle on ultra-lightweight carbon steel blades, but many people are very familiar with the Western-style you handle and prefer it to the other two options.
While Santokus are similar in size and function to a French chef’s knife or Japanese gyuto, the taller blade and altered geometry do offer significantly different balance. Santokus are typically much more forward-weighted than other chef’s knives. To offset this and provide a more neutral balance point, many Santokus have a heavy bolster. The bolster is the metal piece that covers the joint between blade and handle. Unlike the ones found on many Western-style chef’s knives, Santoku bolsters almost never extend down the entire heel of the blade.
You can get a great Santoku for as little as $30, but you can also spend a few hundred dollars on a carbon steel Santoku handmade by Japanese crafters.
A. No matter what kind of metal your knife is made of, the best way to sharpen it is with a traditional whetstone. This single stone is effective on any alloy and even many professional sushi chefs use it and only it for their finest knives. On the other hand, having a finer stone can help put a better edge on any knife. If you only sharpen occasionally, consider a combination stone.
Most professional chefs and experienced knife sharpeners recommend not using pull-through or mechanical sharpeners on kitchen knives because they don’t create a great edge and can actually damage good knives.
A. While sharpening stones actually remove metal to sharpen an edge, honing steels are used to maintain the edge between sharpening sessions. Western-style blades or any that use soft or medium-hardness alloys will see their edges curl on a microscopic level during regular use. This is mitigated using a smooth honing rod. Generally speaking, high-hardness Japanese-style blades don’t go out of true the same way and therefore don’t require the use of a honing rod.
What you need to know: This is the close cousin of one of the most popular knives among professional chefs across the country.
What you’ll love: It’s hard to overstate how great the MAC Pro line is, and this Santoku is one great example. It combines the classic tall Japanese profile with a Western-style handle (called a yo handle) and a modern, advanced stain-resistant alloy that holds an edge with the best of them. You can be certain that this one will last for many, many years with proper care.
What you should consider: It’s not exactly cheap, but it is worth the investment.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: Both seasoned and beginner line cooks swear by the Fibrox Pro lineup for everyday use in busy kitchens.
What you’ll love: Because you don’t always want a high-price knife in a busy work environment, this reasonably affordable option is a great choice for use in a home or restaurant kitchen. It’s particularly good for beginners because it allows for stress-free sharpening practice and experienced cooks love it because it performs surprisingly well for a “beater” chef’s knife.
What you should consider: It doesn’t hold an edge due to its relatively soft alloy, but that also means it’s easy to sharpen and highly resistant to chipping and cracking (with proper use, of course).
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: It’s the perfect budget-friendly choice for those just getting into carbon steel knives.
What you’ll love: This reasonably priced option comes from Tojiro, the manufacturer of one of the most highly recommended Japanese chef’s knives for beginner and intermediate line cooks. This particular model uses what’s called Shirogami white paper steel, which refers to a premium Japanese alloy that offers remarkable peak sharpness. At 165 millimeters long, it provides a good balance of versatility and agility.
What you should consider: While it’s not as tough to sharpen as Aogami steel blades are, it can still be a challenge for beginners to touch up. Also, as a carbon steel knife, you’ll need to take extra special care of it to prevent corrosion and rust. Alternatively, there’s a stainless-steel Tojiro Santoku that’s somewhat similar and much easier to care for.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.