Of all the tools in a chef’s armoury, the knife wields perhaps the most power. Even the humble home cook knows this vital piece of equipment can make or break the experience when preparing a dish.
A sharp, easy to handle, good quality knife will make chopping an effortless delight. A clumsy, poorly designed, dull blade, on the other hand, can make the job time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes downright dangerous.
The conventional chef’s knife was typically king in most western kitchens, but – much like our palates’ desire for Asian food – cooks are increasingly looking east.
Growing numbers are discovering the joys of the Japanese santoku knife, and it is not hard to see why.
These powerful, all-purpose tools get their name from their versatility – santoku means “three virtues” and relates to the tasks the knives can perform: slicing, dicing and mincing.
They can also handle almost all ingredients, including meat, fish and vegetables. Once the cook has got the cutting technique down, the santoku knife should almost dance its way through any task – it is an art when performed with flair.
We put some of the best tools on the market to the test, with everyone from amateur home cooks to seasoned chefs trying them out with a range of ingredients, including delicate fish, great chunks of meat and some notoriously tough root vegetables.
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Wusaki Damas VG10 santoku knife
On opening the box of this knife, you know you are dealing with an exceptional bit of kit. It is an elegant blade, with the unique olive-wood handle, 67 layers of Damascus steel covering the Japanese VG10 steel core and hammered surface testifying to the quality.
The blade is rated at 60 HRC in the Rockwell hardness scale, and it made light work of watermelons and butternut squash. It has become our tester’s favourite knife for almost all cutting tasks and remains razor sharp even with prolonged heavy use.
Global G-80 fluted santoku knife
We were already a fan and long-time user of Global knives, but this was the first santoku we tried – it did not disappoint. The quality and reliability one expects from a brand used by the likes of Michel Roux Jr and the late, great Anthony Bourdain comes over in this knife, which fits perfectly in the hand and is lightweight yet durable enough to make it a joy to use.
The 56-58 HRC rating means the blade stays sharp for a long time, but it is also easy to work with when the time comes to whet the 15-degree cutting edge. This is a worthy investment if cooking is your bag.
MasterClass tipless santoku knife
This is one of two knives in our roundup that are designed to safely reduce the risk of accidents and does not feature a piercing sharp tip. But pointless (excuse the pun) this knife is not, and the precision-ground, high-quality steel blade ensures excellent cutting performance. This is also one of the few santoku knives that are dishwasher safe, and it comes with a 25-year guarantee.
Aiko (あいこ, アイコ) damascus steel santoku knife
The immediate visual appeal of this knife is undeniable. The combination of a blue resin and wooden handle and a feather-patterned blade ensure it is a tool you will want to keep out on show in the kitchen.
Beyond being striking aesthetically, the Aiko comprises a Japanese VG10 cutting core, a 60 HRC rating and a staggeringly sharp edge that is hand finished using the traditional three-step honbazuke honing method. It also has a full tang, where the blade extends from the tip of the knife through the length of the handle, for extreme robustness and greater balance. This knife is far more than just a pretty face.
Rockingham forge equilibrium RF-1503 santoku knife
As the name might suggest, this knife has been designed so that the blade and handle are perfectly balanced – a feature that, as all chefs will tell you, is crucial to high-performance cutting.
We loved the feel and grip of the smooth polyoxymethylene handle and found the chromium-molybdenum-vanadium steel blade to be super sharp and durable. This is a superior quality knife at a reasonable price.
Wusthof classic ikon santoku
There are times when a full-size santoku knife can feel a bit much in the hands when working on more intricate jobs, and this is where this shorter 14cm version comes into its own.
It feels lightweight, yet possesses the outstanding quality one would expect of a Wusthof knife – which are favoured by leading chefs, including Gordon Ramsay. This was fantastic for dicing small but tough root vegetables and is sure to be an important addition to any cook’s knife block.
Rig-Tig sharp santoku knife
We love how this knife is a fusion of simple, Scandi style and Japanese cutting power. Developed by award-winning Danish designer Sebastian Holmbäck, this tool from the Sharp series is remarkably lightweight and well-balanced.
It makes cutting effortless for amateur cooks and experienced chefs alike and would be an ideal introduction into the world of santoku knives for those looking to buy their first one.
Zwilling pro santoku knife with hollow edge
The unique design of this knife is a hybrid between the classic santoku shape and a western chef’s knife, offering the best of both worlds. The slightly curved blade makes it easy to rock the knife on a chopping board and the full-tang design with ergonomic handle ensures great balance.
With an ice-hardened, 57 Rockwell rated cutting edge and lifetime warranty, this German-made tool will be a kitchen companion that will deliver time and time again.
Tog santoku multipurpose knife
If respecting tradition and attention to detail are important to you, this knife is sure to pique your interest. Tog knives are made in Seki, where samurai swords have been made for eight centuries, and each knife is passed between eight specialised companies in the city, mirroring the philosophy of samurai manufacture that sees eight craftsmen making each sword. The result is a unique knife every time, and this is highlighted with the number marking on each one.
Tog’s santoku full-tang knife features a tremendously sharp Japanese steel cutting edge and 10 antimicrobial copper layers give the blade its characteristic orange stripes. A Kebony maple wood handle, which is attractively laser-etched with a Japanese pattern, provides excellent grip and balance. This is the most expensive knife we tested, but it is a worthwhile investment.
ProCook gourmet X30 knife set
This product is not one, but two santoku knives – and it is a bargain. The set includes a 14cm and an 18cm-knife, and both have a full-tang design, a Rockwell hardness rating of 52±2 and a super sharp stone-ground cutting edge.
Our tester enjoyed the balance of these knives and particularly loved the shorter of the two. They, as a home cook, said using the knives made them feel like a professional. And, as if that was not enough, the set also comes with a 10-year guarantee.
Rockingham forge ashwood RF-1745 santoku knife
This is another of those knives that draws the eye with a distinctive design and hammered effect. Our tester found the robust and attractive ashwood handle to be especially ergonomic and grippier than plastic alternatives for a safer cut.
We also liked the depth of the blade when slicing sizable chunks of meat and appreciated that we could dice and chop quickly without food sticking to the German steel blade.
Viners assure santoku knife
Although it is the second of the two safety knives we tested, this knife looks like no other in our roundup. A square, smooth tip makes it especially unique in terms of design but it easily matches the cutting performance of the other blades we tried.
We liked the soft-touch handle and found it glides beautifully when slicing thanks to a black non-stick coating on the blade that reduces friction. It is also a steal at just over a fiver.
Kai Shun classic scalloped santoku knife
This is a beautifully traditional Japanese knife that offers outstanding performance in modern kitchens. It is phenomenally sharp, owing to 32 layers of Damascus steel encasing a tough VG10 steel core, and easily cuts through typically challenging ingredients – such as watermelons – with ease.
The resin-enhanced pakkawood handle and full-tang blade also make it feel comfortable and balanced in the hand.
Robert Welch signature santoku knife
This is another example of a santoku knife that features a shorter 14cm design for precision tasks, but with the power of a longer blade. The knife is fully forged from a single piece of German steel for excellent strength and the wide scalloped blade nimbly handles even the toughest root vegetables.
We liked how lightweight this knife was and also that we could pop it into the dishwasher after use.
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