The Japanese translation of Santoku means “three virtues”. The name refers to the idea that the santoku is meant for cutting meat, fish, and vegetables. While true that the santoku is the Japanese equivalent of a utility infielder, it’s not as well suited to any of these purposes as a larger chef’s knife or gyuto or a particularly good choice to be a primary knife.
Long a staple of the Japanese home, it was only after a certain perky TV cook captured the thirty minute imaginations of Food Network viewers, that this second tier knife adopted by German makers became the hottest thing in the knife industry since they started making knives from stainless steel in lieu of carbon steel (still a decision of questionable wisdom, IMHO, but I digress.) Although the steel used by Wusthof isn’t as hard or capable of taking as refined an edge as the entry level knives from Japanese makers, it does share the basic virtues which make Japanese blades generally superior to western blades. The santoku is significantly thinner than an equivalent German chef’s knife and quite a bit lighter. This makes for a more comfortable feel and better performance, even when the blade may be in need of sharpening. A thinner dull blade will always offer better performance than an equally dull, thicker bladed knife. However, it will not be as tough as a thicker chef’s knife and is ill suited for some of the tasks which a thicker chef’s knife will perform with ease. When it’s time to cut up a whole chicken, the santoku isn’t the blade of choice.
Typical of the top tier knives offered by Wusthof and Henckels, it exhibits excellent fit and finish. The “hollow ground” blade is a misnomer, however. The hollows in the blade should be properly referred to as “kullens”. Regardless of what Wusthof calls them, although they make for an impressive sight, they offer little advantage as they fail in their intended purpose, which is to minimize food sticking to the blade. If I still primarily used German knives, I’d opt for a good German chef’s knife over a German made santoku, as it will perform a wider range of tasks. That said, even though a santoku from a Japanese maker will easily outperform the Wusthof santoku, a home cook looking to stick his or her toe into the Japanese end of the knife pool will find a lot to like, particularly if purchased as a second “main” knife reserved for more precise work.
Check out the Shun Classic Santoku for a Japanese knife in the same price range as the Wusthof. It’s a good example of one of those lighter, sharper knives.
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