Gyuto and Santoku. Two of the most popular Japanese kitchen knives. What is the difference? I often have the question. Here are my answers.
1. Gyuto vs Santoku, general rule:
When discussing the difference, always do within the same maker and the same series. Otherwise, you end up with the discussion about other factors. Like steel quality, sharpening quality, handle quality, etc. They vary maker to maker, and series to series even within the same maker. The difference can be much bigger than the difference between the Gyuto and Santoku.
2. Gyuto vs Santoku, similarities:
Before discussing the differences, let’s start with the similarities.
(1) Versatility: They are both versatile. There are knives specialized in some specific tasks. For example, Nakiri knives are specialized in cutting vegetables. Deba knives are designed for filleting fish. Yanagiba knives are used only for slicing fish flesh and sushi rolls. Bread knives are for cutting bread, and so on.
These knives are super excellent for the tasks they are designed for. You can have the most beautiful cut with the highest efficiency. But they are very inconvenient for other purposes. That means you almost always have to have another knife for other general tasks.
In case of the Gyuto and Santoku, you can do almost any tasks with one knife. You can call both knives a Multi-Purpose knife.
(2) Shape: They are both wider at the heel side, getting narrower towards the tip. The heel side of the blade is reasonably flat. So you can chop down with a minimal rocking motion. The tip side has some curve to make rock cutting easier. The very tip is sharp enough to cut into your foodstuff, and for precision works.
(3) Materials: The variety of the materials used for both knives is very similar. For the blade, you can have carbon steels, stainless steels, and ceramics. For the handle, you can have the western style pakkawood, stainless steels, plastics. You can also have the Japanese style natural woods, and many more.
(4) Others: Sometimes, you might hear the following discussions. But all are NOT the inherent differences between the Gyuto and Santoku. They are just the matter of how knife manufacturers design the knife.
With or without a bolster. Serrated edge or not. Granton blade or not. Single bevel, or double bevel. There are few single bevel Gyuto or Santoku. Because the single bevel is not convenient for multi-purpose knives.
For detailed discussion about the bevels, click the photo below.
3. Gyuto vs Santoku, differences:
Now, it sounds like they are very similar, doesn’t it? Then, what’s the difference?
(1) Origin: Gyuto originated in either Germany or France. At the beginning of the Meiji era (2nd half of the 19th century), German and French Chef’s knives were imported to Japan. And Japanese knife manufacturers started to copy those knives, and called them Gyuto. The Gyuto and chef’s knives are almost identical. So, you can say the origin of Gyuto is either Germany or France.
The Chef’s knives are convenient for a lot of big chunks of meat. In other words, it started from meat handling.
You can read more about the origin of the Gyuto by clicking the photo below.
On the other hand, Santoku originated in Japan. It was invented based on the Nakiri knife. The Nakiri is specialized in cutting vegetables. Before the Santoku, the Nakiri was the most popular kitchen knife.
After the WWⅡ, people started to cook many other foods besides vegetables. They needed more versatile knives.
Many people felt Gyuto was too different from the Nakiri, and not easy to use. So, knife makers came up with the idea of Santoku. They settled somewhere in between.
That's why Santoku has some remnants of the Nakiri when compared to Gyuto. It started from vegetable handling.
You can read more about the origin of Santoku by clicking the photo below.
(2) Shape: As I told you, the shapes of both knives are similar. If you’re not familiar with them, it might be difficult to distinguish one from the other. But there are some slight differences.
Gyuto has a more curved edge profile and a less turned down spine than Santoku. As a result, Gyuto has a slightly sharper tip. These make cutting into a meat and rock cutting motions a little easier.
Santoku’s turned down spine is known as a sheep's foot blade, or sheep’s foot tip. It has a slightly less sharp tip, and relatively flatter part of the edge. These make vertical straight chopping of vegetables a bit easier.
You know what I mean by【Fig.1】below. These differences are more distinct for some makers, and less for others.
【Fig.1】Shape of Gyuto and Santoku
(3) Blade length: Theoretically, you can make a Gyuto or Santoku with any blade length. But as far as I know, it’s very rare to see a Santoku knife with the blade length more than 7 inches (180mm). In case of Gyuto, the range can extend to more than 11.8 inches (300mm).
The size of the Japanese kitchen is the main reason for the shorter blade range of Santoku. Few Japanese houses had a kitchen spacious enough to handle long kitchen knives. About the knife length, they say a little shorter than the width of your cutting board is easy to handle. The size of the hands of average Japanese home cooks can be another reason.
(4) Weight: If the blade length is same, the knife weight should be comparable. But due to the longer blade length range of Gyuto, people have an impression that Gyuto is heavier.
(5) Cutting technique: Some say Gyuto is more suitable for a back-and-forth rocking motion. And Santoku is more suitable for chopping down. This comes from the differences discussed above. But the difference can be so small that other people wouldn’t notice.
4. Gyuto vs Santoku, which one you should buy?
It’s largely a matter of personal preferences. Because the difference is not so distinctive. If you need some guidance, try to answer the following questions. More YES indicates that you might want Santoku.
- Do you cook vegetables more often than meats?
- Do you use more vertical chopping down techniques than rocking motions?
- Do you have a limitation in the kitchen space?
- Is your hand small?
- Do you have a plan to buy (or already have) a longer knife?
- Are you interested in kitchen knives with some more Japanese vibes?
5. Gyuto vs Santoku, conclusions:
Both Gyuto and Santoku are versatile Japanese kitchen knives. Gyuto is a Japanese copy of western style Chef’s knives, originated in Germany or France. It started from meat handling.
Santoku was invented in Japan, based on another Japanese kitchen knife Nakiri. It started from vegetable handling.
There are some differences coming from the origin. But apart from the blade length range, some people might not notice them. If you need some guidance to decide which one to choose, answer the questions above.
6. Syosaku Gyuto and Santoku knives:
Syosaku Japanese kitchen knives are handcrafted in Sakai Japan, where more than 90% of Japanese professional chef knives are produced. They are produced one at a time manually by highly skilled master artisans. We have a range of both knives.
You can pick your favorite Gyuto from the link below.
You can pick your favorite Santoku from the link below.
If you’d like to know more about the three knife types appeared in this article, click the following links.
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Japanese kitchen knife series 005