A Santoku knife is an incredibly versatile, general-purpose kitchen knife, comparable in functionality to a chef’s knife. As a general-purpose tool, these beautiful knives of Japanese origin are perfect for a variety of tasks, like chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing, and the shape of the blade allows for meticulous knife work.
While I would strongly recommend investing in one of the professional grade knives below, I’ve also included a few moderately priced Santoku knives that are of surprisingly high quality. Whether you are looking to round out your professional kitchen or just want to experiment with a new style of knife, this list of the 9 best Santoku knives will have something for you.
The Ferrari of Santoku knives, the Shun Classic Santoku delivers on aesthetics, functionality and quality with beautiful Damascus steel and a pakkawood handle, and is made from the best possible materials to ensure that the blade is tough and holds a razor sharp edge forever.
Shun is a trusted name in knifeware, and one synonymous with quality. I love everything about this knife. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful. The pakkawood handle feels great and the Damascus-clad blade looks really cool.
Of course, Shun isn’t just about looks. That really cool looking Damascus-clad blade is made with VG-MAX steel, making it ridiculously sharp and quite strong. One thing to understand, however, is that this knife – like most of the knives on this list – is made from Japanese steel, which is stronger, but also more brittle than Western knives.
Incredible strength and hardness allows for Japanese blades to be sharpened at a steeper angle – anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees, rather than the 20 degree facets typical of Western knives. Again, this makes Japanese blades incredibly sharp, but you’ll probably also need a professional to sharpen them for you. I don’t actually hone my Shun – I’ve never had the need – but I do take it to a professional trained in Japanese blades to be sharpened about once every nine months.
And so while Shuns will hold a very sharp edge for a very long time, improper use or storage could lead to chips. I avoid this by using a knife holster, and more generally by treating my Shun like a newborn baby. They’re worth it.
Wusthof is another very popular brand that makes high quality kitchen knives. Forged from a single piece of high-carbon stainless steel, and triple riveted, this Santoku knife is incredibly durable. This is what you might expect from the name, and the fact that it’s made in Germany. The hollow-ground indentations – also called a scalloped blade, or known as a Granton edge – help to reduce friction between the blade surface and your food, allowing for smoother, cleaner cuts.
Sharpened to a 10 degree blade angle, this tool is super sharp right out of the box. That said, because it’s made from a relatively “soft” steel, it will have a harder time maintaining that incredibly sharp edge, meaning you’ll need to hone and sharpen more often. The 10 degree angle makes this difficult to do – definitely a no go on pre-set knife sharpeners that are usually set to a 15 – 20 degree blade angle – but not impossible.
If you feel confident in your honing and sharpening skills, this knife is great. The “softness” of the steel makes it more resistant to chipping, and a little maintenance goes a long way.
Global knives’ all stainless steel, unique design makes them instantly recognizable. And the prominent Global handle is in particular hard to miss. Made from a single piece of stainless steel, the Global G-80 Santoku is very sharp and very durable. The sizing is pretty standard at 7” and the blade features hollow-ground indentations for smooth, frictionless cuts.
The feel of this knife is great – it’s definitely weighted and well balanced – but the stainless steel handle can get a little slippery when wet, at least more than a normal wooden handle would be under similar conditions. Global knives are made in Japan, and the G-80 is stamped, rather than forged.
Although this knife is technically dishwasher safe, I’d advise against that – and against putting any Santoku knife in the dishwasher for that matter – as anything but hand washing can prematurely dull or damage the blade. Given the slightly lower price point and superior quality, the Global G-80 is a great alternative to leading brands.
The Dalstrong Shogun Series Santoku checks all of my boxes, and actually comes in a few bucks cheaper than the other top priced knives on this list. It’s precision forged from a single piece of AUS-10V Japanese steel, and repeatedly heated and nitrogen cooled to increase strength and durability.
And the steel needs to be super hard in order to maintain the 8 – 12 degree blade angle, which is absurdly sharp. Such a steep angle makes it a bit tough for home cooks to sharpen themselves, so I’d recommend taking this to a professional every 9 months or so, depending on use.
The hollow-ground indentations are pretty standard, as is the size, but the rest of this knife is anything but normal. The 67 layers of Damascus steel are simply breathtaking, as is the triple riveted handle.
It’s a small detail, but I actually really like the sheath that comes with this knife. It locks around the blade, holding it firm, and I know the knife is well protected by the soft suede interior. And if that isn’t reassurance enough, Dalstrong also offers a 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantee.
Cuisinart might be best known for their appliances, but they also make great, affordable knives. This Santoku knife is forged from high-carbon stainless steel and features hollow-ground indentations to reduce drag while cutting.
It’s surprisingly heavy and well balanced, and Cuisinart even throws in a lifetime warranty. Of course, I’m a sucker for blade covers. They make all the difference when it comes to protecting a valuable tool in your kitchen.
Now a few negatives – the blade will definitely dull more quickly than some other knives on this list, but on the upside, I wouldn’t hesitate to hone and/or sharpen it myself. Another strike against the Cuisinart Santoku is the blade heel where it makes contact with the bolster. Although this is really just a question of aesthetics, I find the zig-zagging transition to be a little unnecessary, and a bit clumsy. But, for the price, you can probably overlook such minor details.
Yoshimune Knives are based in Kyoto, Japan, where they have a small brick and mortar storefront; they also (thankfully) sell online and internationally. Their knives are sourced directly from artisan knife makers in Tosa.
Although Yoshimune sells a number of Santoku knives (some extremely high end and rare), this Aogami Super Black is an excellent middle range choice for someone looking for a special addition to their kitchen toolkit. It’s 6.5 inches long, and constructed from Aogami Super (Blue Carbon Steel) with stainless steel cladding.
The blade is hardened to a 64 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, making it incredibly hard and able to retain an absurdly sharp edge. The double-bevel makes it easy for a Western knife wielder, and the octagonal handle is surprisingly comfortable.
This knife is super versatile, emblematic of the Santoku knife’s eponymous “three virtues,” that is, its famed performance chopping, slicing, and dicing, and the range of three ingredients it can be used for: fish, meat, and vegetables.
I absolutely love this knife, but to be completely transparent, it might not be available when you go to buy. That’s because each knife sold by Yoshimune is unique. Luckily, they have plenty of other comparable Santokus to choose from. Go explore!
The Vestaware 7 Inch Santoku is a great option if you’re curious about using a Santoku but have commitment issues, or if you’re after a good deal. The blade is stamped from German stainless steel, and then triple riveted within an elegant rosewood handle.
I really like the look of this handle, but would prefer it to be slightly thicker, though it is probably perfect for small hands. The blade is of moderate hardness – about 55 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. This is slightly softer than some of the other knives on this list, but still stiff enough to keep a good edge, and easy enough to hone and sharpen at home.
The price on the Vestaware Santoku is great if you’re on a budget, but as you might expect, it’s made in China. That said, Vestaware has a 30-day refund and exchange policy, along with a lifetime warranty.
When the people at Cangshan designed the N1 Series Santoku, they set out to build a statement piece. Winner of a 2018 German Design and 2016 Red Dot Award, this knife will get your attention.
It’s fully forged, and like the Global G-80 it’s made from a single piece of steel. The difference is in the handle, which Cangshan has hollowed and polished, creating a unique, futuristic grip. But the Cangshan Santoku doesn’t just trade in performance in favor of aesthetics – the German steel is heated and ice-cooled for strength, and hardened to a 58 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.
Although the knife is well balanced, it can get a little slippery when wet, given the all metal handle. It also unfortunately won’t work with magnetic knife mounts, which is too bad, because this is really a knife you’ll want to display.
The Yoshihiro Santoku is a work of art. It’s hand made in Japan – not mass produced – and each knife is slightly different. The blade is made from a solid, three layer Japanese stainless steel core, wrapped in 16 layers of hammered Damascus steel. The hammering creates a beautiful, bright effect that I think is balanced perfectly by the darker, muted tone of the mahogany handle.
The handle is also designed in a Western style, rather than the cylindrical or D-shaped handles of more traditional Japanese knives. I don’t consider this to be a plus or minus, but rather a matter of user preference. The Yoshihiro VG-10 Santoku is also solid – it’s got a full tang and it’s triple riveted, making it very durable.
The relatively high rating of 60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale means it can be honed to scalpel-like sharpness, but also that the blade is prone to chipping if handled improperly. Treat this knife with love and it will be with you forever.
I like to use a Santoku knife for dishes that feature vegetables – since they work so well with them – and when I want to show off my knife skills. Whereas the cutting edge of a chef’s knife is curved – making it easy to rock on its tip – Santoku knives have a relatively flat cutting edge and are curved along the spine.
Instead of rocking, Santoku knives slice directly downward, and you keep the edge parallel to the cutting board to make single, precise cuts. This may take some getting used to, but it’s a great knife skill to develop.
It’s important to remember that these knives are usually made from very hard steels, making them rigid and relatively delicate. As long as you use your Santoku properly – that means no wild chopping through bone – and cut on an appropriate surface, these knives will last a very long time. And never put your knives in the dishwasher!
In terms of cost, Santoku knives can range in price from the relatively inexpensive to the outlandish. As always, I do think that a good general purpose knife – like a chef’s knife – is worth the extra investment, since it’s a tool that you’ll use on a daily basis.
Terminology and Jargon
Bolster – The bolster is what connects the blade to the handle of the knife. Usually made from material that transitions seamlessly into the blade, it also often extends down to the heel. The bolster is also used to adjust weight for appropriate knife balance.
Tang – The tang is like the “root” of the knife blade, and extends into the handle. Depending on handle design, you may see a strip of the tang on either the top or bottom of the handle, or it may be hidden entirely.
Heel – The heel is the section of the blade edge that comes closest to bolster and handle.
Handle – The handle is what wraps around the knife tang, and is used for grip.
Rivet – Rivets are often used to secure the handle on either side to the internal knife tang.
Butt – The butt of the knife is located at the extreme end of the handle, and may or may not be slightly larger than the rest of the grip.
(Cutting) edge – The edge is the sharpened part of the blade that does the actual cutting. Depending on your knife, the edge may be beveled on one or both sides, and at varying angles.
Tip – Despite being called the “tip,” the tip is not actually the end of the knife. Rather, the tip refers to the end portion of the cutting edge.
Point – The point is the true end of the knife.
Spine – The spine is the wider, back side of the blade, opposite the cutting edge.
HRC – HRC is shorthand for the Rockwell Hardness Scale C, and refers to the hardness of steel or alloyed materials. It is measured by pressing a specially shaped indenter against a surface with a specific force.
It is important to note that a high HRC value does not always translate to actual strength, since harder steels can also be stiffer and thus more brittle. This accounts for the relative ease with which harder steel blades often chip.
Edge degree – Edge degree refers to the angle at which the blade is sharpened. Measured against the blade itself, the lower the degree often translates to sharpness. That said, lower degree blades may have difficulty holding an edge, so you’ll want to ensure that lower degree blades are composed of a very hard steel.
Full tang – “Full tang” means that the knife tang extends all the way into the handle, essentially that your knife has been made from a single piece of steel. Full tang knives are far more durable than knives composed of multiple pieces.
Stamped vs. forged – This refers to the method of manufacture. Forged knives are made from a single piece of steel which is typically heated and then pounded into shape. Heating and cooling during the forging process also enhance blade strength.
Stamped knives, on the other hand, are usually cut out – think of a cookie cutter – from a larger sheet of style, before being sharpened and honed. You can usually tell a forged knife from the bolster, which will be wider and more substantial than is possible on stamped knives.