April 19, 2024

Santoku vs Nakiri: Differences and Which is Better?

Santoku vs Nakiri: Differences and Which is Better?

 

It is common among chefs and cooks to agree that  Japanese knives are unique masterpieces for handling various cutting tasks in the kitchen. With the santoku and nakiri being some of the most common types, it sometimes becomes an argument about what their differences are, and which of them you should buy.

The reality is that the original Japanese knife makers created them for different purposes. So the question of which of them is better boils down to factors like cutting needs, preference, and others that we will find out later in this post.

Meanwhile, santoku and nakiri do not differ only in their applications. They also differ along the lines of blade design, length, weight, cutting technique, and price.

With this comparison of santoku vs nakiri, we shall delve deep and unravel their differences, properties, uses, and which of them is best for you.

 

Santoku vs Nakiri: Differences and Which is Better?

Overview: Differences Between Santoku and Nakiri

If you must spot the differences between a santoku and a nakiri, you need to watch out for these:

Nakiri vs Santoku

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Criteria Santoku Knife Nakiri Knife
Primary Uses Versatile; slicing, dicing, mincing, portioning, cutting fruits Specialized; chopping vegetables, herbs, fruits
Blade Design Medium-sized, slightly curved, pointed tip Rectangular, flat, squared-off tip
Blade Length Typically 5 to 7 inches Usually 6.5 to 8 inches
Edge Grind Double-beveled, thin blade Double-beveled, seldom thick blade
Weight and Balance Slightly heavier; balanced blade-handle weight Lighter; well-balanced, weight centered closer to blade
Cutting Technique Suitable for rocking and up-and-down motion Excelling in push-cutting technique
Price Generally priced lower, varying with material and brand May be more expensive due to traditional materials

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What is a Santoku

Santoku knife
Japanese Santoku Knife

A Santoku is a versatile, medium-sized kitchen knife, characterized by a short blade usually between 5 – 7 inches. In Japanese, “santoku” means “three virtues,” which represents the knife’s ability to handle three key tasks: slicing, dicing, and mincing.

The santoku knife adopts a design that falls between a gyuto (chef’s knife) and nakiri. It’s no surprise looking back at when and why the Japanese knife makers decided to introduce it.

After WW2 in the mid-twentieth century, there was an increased popularity of the Western culinary style among the Japanese.

They weren’t used to the Western chef’s knife. On the other hand, the nakiri (which they were more used to at that time) did not offer the versatility needed to handle the tasks of slicing, dicing, and chopping vegetables and meats.

The santoku, therefore, came as a response to create a knife that’d perform several tasks with ease, while also maintaining the signature lightness and precision of Japanese knives.

Uses

From the description above, it is easy to decipher that the santoku is a multipurpose knife. As such, it is used for:

  • Precise slicing and chopping of delicate ingredients.
  • Mincing herbs and smaller ingredients with minimal effort.
  • Perfectly portioning meat and fish into suitable sizes.
  • Cutting fruits and tough ingredients like squash as hard cheese.

You can learn more about the uses of santoku from this post we dedicated to answering all you need to know about the knife.

Advantages of a santoku over a nakiri

Whether santoku or nakiri, each has its advantages. Here are some reasons why you might consider a santoku over a nakiri:

1. Versatile. Santoku excels at various tasks, from handling vegetables and herbs to cutting boneless meats.

2. Permits more cutting techniques. A santoku has a slightly curved blade which allows for a smooth rocking motion while cutting. It’s also suitable for regular up and down cutting.

3. Easier to learn. Especially if you are used to a chef’s knife, handling a santoku should come easily. Santoku’s curved blade and relatively pointed tip make it more familiar to the chef’s knife. 

Drawbacks

While there are reasons to choose a santoku over a nakiri, it is also important to pay attention to some of its drawbacks:

1. Less rocking motion. Santoku’s blade is not perfectly curved. So you don’t have the luxury of a full rocking motion when cutting.

2. Limited blade length. While its blade length is perfect for achieving precise cuts, it’s obviously unsuitable for handling large ingredients, or tasks that require longer strokes. Nakiri knives have longer blades.

What is a Nakiri

Nakiri vs Santoku
Japanese Nakiri Knife

Nakiri is a Japanese kitchen knife with a rectangular blade usually between 6.5 to 8 inches long. It features a flat blade profile with a squared-off tip. With this design, the entire length of the blade comes in contact with the cutting board.

As such, it is most suitable for push-cutting and regular up-and-down cutting techniques. Typically, the nakiri features a double-beveled edge which makes it suitable for both left and right-handed users.

The nakiri is deeply rooted in Japanese culinary traditions, where vegetables are an integral part of the cuisine. Little wonder why the name nakiri translates to “vegetable cutter” in English. This invariably reflects the primary purpose of nakiri which is chopping vegetables.

Uses

It is obvious from the name and the descriptions above that nakiri is primarily designed for handling vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Hence it is usually used for tasks like:

  • Dicing onions.
  • Slicing cabbage.
  • Mincing garlic.
  • Julienning.
  • Peeling, trimming, and shaping vegetables.

We have a more in depth article that discusses the entire uses of nakiri knife. You might want to check it out.

Advantages of a nakiri over a santoku

1. Vegetable handling. For tasks related to vegetables, santoku doesn’t come close to nakiri. If we are to rate based on this, we will give nakiri 10/10 and santoku probably 8.5/10.

2. Superior precision. It is generally believed that  Japanese knives produce precise cuts but the nakiri’s flat blade and squared-off tip provide a superior precision compared to the santoku.

3. Better cultural connection. Looking at the design of a nakiri, you will realize that it establishes a stronger connection with traditional Japanese culinary practices.

Drawbacks

To properly answer the question of which is better between a santoku and a nakiri, we also need to look at some drawbacks that come with the nakiri knife:

1. Limited versatility. Nakiri is a specialized knife. Consequently, it might not perform well as a santoku in tasks such as slicing meat and filleting fish.

2. No rocking motion. If you prefer the rocking motion cutting technique, nakiri’s flat blade profile won’t make it possible.

3. Learning curve. If you’re just transitioning from Western-style knives to the Japanese, there might be a learning curve to adapt to nakiri’s specific cutting technique.

Santoku vs. Nakiri: Juxtaposing Their Features and Properties

Blade Design

A santoku knife typically comes with a blade that is usually between 5 to 7 inches long. This blade has a slightly curved belly which allows for a gentle rocking motion while cutting. The tip of a santoku is pointed, but it is less pronounced when compared to a chef’s knife or gyuto.

The nakiri, on the other hand, features a wider and rectangular blade with lengths ranging between 6 to 7 inches. Unlike the santoku, the blade of the nakiri is flat and straight, extending from the heel to the tip. The knife also has a squared-off tip, providing a stable platform for precise downward cuts.

Nakiri vs Santoku

Edge Grind

A nakiri retains the traditional Japanese thin blade with a double-beveled edge grind. This means that both sides of the blade are angled to form a v-shape. As a result of its thin blade profile, the nakiri has a high cutting precision.

Yes, santoku also features a double-beveled edge grind. However, some recent models are beginning to have thicker spines in an attempt to adapt to Western users.

Weight and Balance

The weight of santoku or nakiri can vary depending on the make and model. But generally, santoku knives tend to be slightly heavier than nakiri.

This makes sense because they need some added heft to handle a wider range of cutting tasks. Specifically, santoku knives weigh between 0.34lb to 0.5lb while nakiri knives weigh about 0.31lb to 0.4lb.

In terms of balance, the nakiri is well-balanced, with the weight centered closer to the blade. With the santoku, the balance was quite okay with an even weight distribution between the blade and the handle.

Cutting Technique

The blade design of these knives influences the cutting technique you apply. Firstly, the santoku, although not pronounced as in a chef’s knife, has a curved blade that allows for a slight rocking motion during use. With this, it’s quite easy to achieve decent slicing, chopping, and dicing easily.

With a flat straight blade, the nakiri excels at a push cutting technique, producing neat, straight, and precise cuts. Invariably, nakiri is less-suited for a rocking motion chopping. For chefs and cooks that handle an extensive amount of vegetables, a nakiri is a must-have knife.

Materials

There are no major distinctions when it comes to the materials from which these knives are made. The blade of a santoku is typically made from high-quality stainless steel or carbon steel.

A nakiri is made from similar types of steel but commonly also features Damascus or layered steel blades.

Their handles are either made from wood or from composite materials. At this point where there are no major differences, you will need to settle with what you find most comfortable.

By the way, you can learn more about Japanese kitchen knife materials and how to choose the best options.

Price

Santoku and nakiri are priced almost similarly based on factors like craftsmanship, brand, material, and aesthetics (design).

Since most nakiri retain the traditional Japanese culture of being made from carbon steel, they tend to be more expensive than their stainless santoku counterparts. But on a level ground, it’s hard to say which is more expensive.

 

Santoku vs Nakiri: Differences and Which is Better?

Choosing Between Nakiri and Santoku

Now the question is, do you need a santoku or a nakiri? Well, the short answer is: it depends.

Having reached this point, you possibly are aware of all the differences and you have a clear understanding of what you want. Right?

Okay. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right one:

Choose Nakiri if you…

  • Are a vegan or veggie lover.
  • Prefer specialized tools for tasks.
  • Desire utmost precision and perfect cuts.
  • Use the push-cutting technique more than any other style.
  • Desire both speed and accuracy.

Then,

Choose Santoku if you…

  • Prefer an all-rounder knife that accomplishes any cutting task.
  • Are skilled in different cutting techniques, both push cutting and rocking motion.
  • Work with varied ingredients and not predominantly vegetables.
  • Are a beginner with Japanese knives.

Santoku vs Nakiri: Differences and Which is Better?

Nevertheless, it’s harmless to have both of them, particularly if you’re having a hard time discerning which of them is best for you now. You can try each and find out which fits well in your cooking styles and needs.

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