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Thread: The Santoku phenomenon

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    Senior Member Brad Gibson's Avatar
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    The Santoku phenomenon

    Hey guys,

    As I know many of you will agree with me, I don't like the looks of the santoku. I know there is obviously a ton of people who disagree with me and love santokus. The reason for this thread is to try and shed some light as to why santokus are good and what purpose they serve in a kitchen. I know they could be used as a chef knife on vegetables and herbs and things but why not use a Nikiri. Next I assume they could be mediocre for cutting meats and fish but why not use a gyuto or a suji. Then I think about small tasks and small areas, I know that a fellow KKF member has told me he uses a santoku in his kitchen 99% of the time because he has a small space to work with, but why not a short gyuto or a small petty?

    I want to reiterate that these questions are not personal attacks and I do not want to make anyone feel like I am belittling their knife choices. If you have seen me talk bad about a santoku in the past it is because I hate the look and think that the shape is pointless.

    Please tell me why you like santokus over other shapes and what the original purpose for them was and why they began.

    Thanks guys,

    Brad
    "A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe." -Thomas Keller

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    Senior Member Birnando's Avatar
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    I am not a big fan of them anymore, but must confess to finding it a versatile and quite nimble allround knife for a home cook like myself some years ago.
    At the time I thought they looked ok, and many of the pros on tv had them for a while.
    I guess that influenced me.

    Nowadays, even my wife have abandoned her Santoku for a Petty of Japanese origin.
    She seems to love the new one much better.

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    They're popular, and most people don't know what a nakiri is. When I took the catcheside nakiri to work, almost everyone commented on how nice looking that Santoku was.. It was easier not to correct them. I think it has to do with the widespread availability, the lack of intimidation due to size and the lack of a point, and the fact that many celeb chefs use them. I've seen everyone from jacques pepin to Gordon Ramsay using one.

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    Senior Member NO ChoP!'s Avatar
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    I find most santokus to be thick at the tip with little to no distal taper. I much prefer a 180mm gyuto or petty....

    That being said, I use a mac pro santoku at home quite a bit, and rather enjoy it.
    The difference between try and triumph is a little "umph"! NO EXCUSES!!!!!!!
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Brad Gibson's Avatar
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    If Jon wants to chime in, I'd like to hear the traditional reasoning behind why the shape came about.
    "A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe." -Thomas Keller

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    Honestly, I don't find that santoku or nakiri are very useful at all if you have space. If you don't have space, I can see why the more curved, pointed part of a gyuto would just get in the way when doing certain push-cutting jobs. As you mentioned, a petty could be used instead for that sort of thing, in general. In some of those cases, I do find myself wishing for a bit more heft and if I use a grip where my finger is on the spine, larger objects tend to bump into my finger. Mostly I just use a large gyuto with a flatish profile.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Chuckles's Avatar
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    I prefer smaller boards that are quick to clean at home for the every day stuff. On these it is hard to stop using a santoku. They are great for smaller cutting boards. When I break out the big board for a real meal I never reach for a santoku.

    I do like the looks of the watanabe and heiji 180 gyutos but can't justify the $$ to cut cinnamon toast and peanut butter sammies.

    Santokus are as phenomenal as Honda civics. They get you where you're going and fit in a tight spot and that's it.
    'The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.' -Henry Ford

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    I've read a few different stories (legends?) on the origin of the Santoku. No telling which is correct, if any, but most seem to start with name translation which is something like "three purposes" or "three virtues." The implication is that it was intended as a single all-purpose tool for home cooks....not the best tool for any one task, but capable of several including protein and vegetable uses, largely where space is limited. If you didn't have the space, money, or skills for knives dedicated to specific tasks - the santoku geometry/form was to be your "swiss army knife".

    A book I have on Japanese kitchen knives written by Hiromitsu Nozaki suggests it evolved from a kansai-style (curved tip) usuba. Interestingly, same book says the nakiri evolved from the usuba origin too. Difference being the nakiri was intended as a double bevel (though some make them single, I know) vegetable knife for home use and the santoku was meant as a do-all for light slicing, mincing, etc. for home use.

    knife choices are so personal - so can't speak to why some love em, some hate em or anything in between. Comfort, convenience and effectiveness would seem to be the three criteria...just a factor of how you rank them. Personally, I do like Santoku but my habits and style lean toward a gyuto and other task specific tools if needed.

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    Senior Member eshua's Avatar
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    The japanese kids on line told me they are marketed to home cooks in japan as: "three purpose knife... meat, vegi, fish" I don't enjoy them, but I can see it being a bigger draw than deba in a tiny tokyo apt.

    Edit... lol post above snuck in while I was spaced out on the phone.

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    I'm thinking its more of a fashion trend to like (and not like) santoku's.

    Case in point, the movement to "lower tipped" gyuto such as a funyaki, wa kurtsuke's follow the lower tipped advantages of a santoku. In my option (and only mine), they are just a longer and sometimes skinnier santoku, are they the same? no. But they are more sankotu-ish then the run of the mill gyuto. I'm not sure why santoku's have such a negative connotation's here, perhaps someone can explain this to me?

    Its all about personal preference, if they are comfortable with what they have, then who am I to question their choice of cutlery. Cause at the end of the day knives are just tools that enable us to make/cook great food.


    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Gibson View Post

    I know that a fellow KKF member has told me he uses a santoku in his kitchen 99% of the time because he has a small space to work with, but why not a short gyuto or a small petty?
    I would say a chinese cleaver is a far better choice

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