How to use a Santoku knife (with 4 examples and tips)


In case you never heard of the Santoku knife, or maybe you received one as a gift, or perhaps you bought one cause, they simply look so beautiful. But once you take your knife out of the box and try it out, you realize its shape and size are different than the usual chef knife you are so used to work with. So how are you supposed to use it?

What is a Santoku knife?

It is, unfortunately, a common belief to know the santoku as a “sushi knife.” But that is not the case. In fact, this knife is not made for sushi at all. Instead, you can see this as the Asian version of the versatile chef’s knife. The santoku knife has become popular due to its ultra-sharp blade and also suited for people with smaller hands, which allows you to slice raw fish very easily. However, the name santoku suggests something different. Santoku means “the three virtues,” it actually indicates its three primary purposes: slicing, cutting, and chopping, and as you probably have noticed, it’s not that far away from the chef knife we all know. But of course, this is not the only thing you can do with this super sharp knife. In fact, if you would need to choose between working with the chef knife or the santoku, there are some things you need to know before deciding to purchase. It might be possible that this knife is not really suited to your needs or maybe the good old chef knife is all you need? But let’s go into detail what this santoku knife is and how you can use it.

How do you use a Santoku?

Well, if you know the difference between a chef knife and a santoku knife, you would also understand that both of them are, in fact, in the same category type of knife. Both of them are all-purpose knives. So this means, santoku knife is intended to be used for a variety of things. As previously mentioned, the name suggests chopping, slicing, and cutting. But of course, first, we need to know precisely how we need to use this knife. Sure, you have cut before with knives, you would say. But santoku’s shape makes you cut differently. You see, the santoku knife has a very particular shape called the sheep’s foot, which has no tip going up but instead has an edge that goes down to the tip of the blade. This shape promotes a push cut instead of a rocking motion you would typically use with a chef knife. So now that we know, this let’s see at what this knife is supposed to cut.

First check this video where they go through the basics.

Slicing motion cuts

A Santoku knife is perfect for slicing raw meats, fresh vegetables, and any other ingredient that needs an even cut. If you sharpen your knife correctly, the blade will cut through the skin of any vegetables very fast, and do this without any tearing of the flesh of the meat or ripping the skin of vegetables. Of course, at the same time, making sure you are cutting away from your body. Its increased width compared to a standard chef’s knife, helps create delicate and even slices with ease. Also, with its Granton edge, it releases every slice as you cut through, allowing you to continue to cut effortlessly. The releasing effect has a significant advantage, with the Granton blade, it’s much easier to butterfly chicken breasts, and steaks without the proteins are sticking to the edge. The same story with fish, it will also not stick if you slice through it. Exactly as you would do with a chef’s knife, you’ll want to put your offhand in a claw formation to prevent cutting your finger, then begin slicing with a fast downward motion instead and pul the blade gently towards you with each cut. In the beginning, it will feel a little awkward to cut straight down without moving the blade towards you, but just so you know, it can bruise and smash the ingredient rather than a neat cut, so be sure to practice a lot!

Chopping motion cuts

If you want to make a chopping motion cut with a Santoku knife, the method varies from conventional techniques, so you’ll need to practice until you get the hang of it, but no worries, it doesn’t take that much time. Between each cut, you’ll require to lift the blade off of the cutting board, instead of using the rock chop method generally used with the Western-style chef’s knife where you’d let your tip on the cutting board between cuts. As always before starting, make sure your cutting board is stable on a flat surface, in case not just use a wet towel or piece of cloth put it under your cutting board, and that should stabilize it. Now, keep your offhand in a claw position and make sure you secure your ingredient. In case you have a round-shaped ingredient, it is best to cut it in half and thinly slice off the bottom, so this way it lies flat on the cutting board. Now that your ingredient is held in place make sure to align the flat side of the knife against your knuckles (and your fingers should be curled under). Start chopping slowly in a down and up smooth motion, while slightly moving the knife forward, don’t forget to lift the blade off the cutting board with each cut. When it come s to santoku (or any chef knife for that matter), it is essential to have the right cutting board. So based on the type of blade you buy, there is a cutting board made for it. All chef knife, including the santoku, will dull with regular use, and the surface you are cutting can make the difference in how the dulling process happens but also how long you will be keeping your edges sharp. Be sure to check what type of wood your cutting board is made out of, and if your knife can handle that kind of surface. So now that you are getting more used to the up and down cutting motion method you can if you feel comfortable to cut a little faster by using the push-cut technique, which simply means pushing the blade toward the ingredient as you cut. 

Mincing with a Santoku knife.

The Santoku knife is an ideal choice when preparing anything that needs garlic, minced herbs, or any other ingredients that call for very thin cuts. As previously mentioned, its Granton edge prevents the garlic from sticking to the blade and avoids ripping delicate herbs (which can impact flavor). In contrast, the length of the blade and weight of the knife allows better control between cuts.
Also, as a bonus, Santoku’s blade width is ideal for scooping up ingredients, but be sure not to use the edge, instead use the spine of the blade to avoid chipping or rolling the sharpened edge, which will leave you with a dull knife.

Back slice cut.

You probably saw this technique done by professionals cooks on tv, or maybe have tried it yourself. In most cases, this technique not used a lot by home cooks. The back slice cut is perfect for creating very thin slices of small, delicate ingredients such as herbs with minimal crushing, using a santoku, or even a Western-style chef’s knife. So, this is not something that a lot of home cooks would be doing. Therefore this technique is also not that commonly practiced and or known.
The back slice cut technique is straightforward to learn. Of course, just like any other cutting technique, practice is needed. But this cutting technique is something you probably will learn quite fast. As shown in the video below, slicing herbs is done by stacking the leaves and rolling them up into a compact bundle. As always, maintain the food steady with your non-knife hand, curling your fingers into a claw, and pushing the knife against your knuckles.

Sharpening a Santoku knife.

Properly sharpening your kitchen knives might take some to learn; this is especially the case when it comes to the Santoku knife. If it has a double bevel (and also has the Granton edge), the sharpening process can be a bit difficult for a novice. To correctly sharpen a Santoku knife, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the specifications of this knife, because the sharpened angles can vary. It’s also crucial to practice why? Because when using a whetstone, you’ll need to sharpen at the correct angles for each side of the blade. I know it sounds like a lot of work right now, but believe me, once you get used to it, you might even see this as a therapeutic and relaxing exercise. But, let’s say you don’t have any whetstone and you are thinking about buying an electric sharpener?
Well, with an electric sharpener, I would highly recommend avoiding it altogether as it can quickly and easily destroy the Granton edge. If you don’t feel confident using a whetstone, it’s maybe better to leave the sharpening up to the professionals.

Cleaning the Santoku knife.

Just like any other knife, the same rule applies to the santoku knife. So, cleaning and maintenance of your blade the right way is essential for edge retention and also longevity of your blade. So, in short, make sure to follow the main guidelines, such as never washing your knife in a dishwasher. Do it by hand and with soap that is not chemically to harsh. 

Storing your Santoku knife.

Although storing is a part of maintenance, which I have mentioned before. I believe that it still needs to be mentioned in this article since the importance is as significant as caring for your knife. There are several ways to store your santoku knives. A magnetic strip is my number one choice. Simply because it is the easiest and cheapest solution out there, it keeps your blades high and dry. It’s also easy to get to your knives whenever needed. The second option is an in-drawer knife holder, I am not talking about just any drawer but one that keeps your blades fixed so be sure to have understood this part. Lastly, this is more in case you wish to go on a picnic and need something easy and quick. The blade protectors /guards are a perfect choice. 

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