Let’s face it, knives are cool. The way that light gleams off the razor sharp steel of a knife blade is exhilarating; sparking something primal in our psyche that no amount of sensible grown up thoughts can dispel. No other kitchen item can rival it in terms of pure excitement and visual appeal; although a lovely gleaming set of French copper pans comes fairly close. A chef’s choice of knife is often an extension of their personality and cooking style. For the home cook owning one quality knife is often enough for most jobs, but which do you choose?
For anyone that cooks, be that professionally or just at home, choosing a new knife can be one of the most exciting and personal purchases that can be made. Cooking knives are the most important tool in the kitchen, after the chef, and have a massive impact on both the cooking experience and the end product. With so many different brands, styles and sizes of knife to choose from it can also be one of the most daunting.
I was approached by the Steamer Trading Cookshop to take part in their #thesteamerchallenge looking at this very issue. More specifically I was asked to look into the differences between a European chef’s knife and the Asian style Santoku knife. This is one of the most hotly searched topics in the knife debate, trust me I asked on social media, given that these are arguably the two most commonly used knives in the kitchen.
In order to assist in my research, they sent me a couple of knives to review and compare – which was nice.
The knives that I will be reviewing are from German company Wüsthof who are one of the major players in the knife world. This family business was started back in 1814 in Solingen, Germany and is still owned and operated by the Wüsthof family. With their striking trident symbol and efficient and unassuming design these are serious knives for professionals and home cooks alike.
The two knives that I will be reviewing come from their Classic range which is one of their core forged knife collections. Forged knives are much stronger and will stay sharper long then a stamped knife, and so you should always go for these. The Classic range is their entry level, however, the blades used in all Wüsthof knives are the same and it is only the design and balance that is different between the ranges. They are also forged from one solid piece of steel that runs the full length of the knife which creates a stronger and more durable end product.
Being the main entry level range there are a huge number of knives to choose from, about 70 in total. This means that if you are a bit of a collector and want everything to match these are perfect, it does also mean that you have got a serious amount of options to try and whittle down; and so without further ado, the knives…
Anyone who has even set foot in a domestic or commercial kitchen knows the classic chef or cooks knife. This is the do it all, jack of all trades knife for any kitchen and can handle nearly any task you throw at it. These come in a range of sizes and, because I am a man, I’ve always tended to go for the largest I could find; perhaps I’m compensating for something. This 18cm version is shorter than the 20.5cm knife I already own and I actually found it to be quite a useful size, it’s what you do with it that counts after all.
Out of the box and the first thing I notice is how nice this knife feels in the hand. It is beautifully balanced and is surprisingly light. The ergonomic polypropylene handle feels very natural in the hand with a surprisingly wood like feel. This immediately gives the user confidence and a sense of control.
I have used this knife for a number of different tasks over the last few weeks and it has passed all with ease. Chopping and dicing vegetables is a pleasure and it can handle dense root vegetables, such as suede or squash, without any problem. Thanks to the shorter more dexterous blade I also found it to be an excellent knife for tasks such as boning chicken thighs or jointing a whole bird.
I have reached for this knife on a daily basis since taking delivery of it and you cannot get a much better endorsement than that.
The Santoku knife may not be as widely known as its European cousin, but they have become much more common in Western kitchens. The Santoku knife is an all-purpose knife that originates in Japan. The name is taken from its three main uses; slicing, dicing and mincing. You will immediately notice the difference in blades shape compared to a chef’s knife. The deeper blade has a totally straight cutting edge which requires a different cutting style and has its benefits beyond looking damn cool.
As with the chef’s knife I was amazed at how light and natural this felt in my hand. Given that Santoku knives tend to be thinner with no bolster, the thick part of the blade near the handle, this makes it even lighter than the chef’s knife. The thinner blade is extremely precise making it ideal for jobs such as finely slicing things like garlic, onions or ginger with the scalloped blade preventing items from sticking to it. It is also adept at slicing through larger veg where the scalloped blade reduces the friction between the blade and foodstuff.
I’ve been using this knife for a few weeks now and I have to say I am impressed with it. My previous Santoku knife was a bit of a disappointment and I wondered what the fuss was about; but this Wüsthof has shown me the light. The additional thickness along the length of the blade means that you can better shield your non cutting hand and chop things very quickly and confidently. The razor sharp blade makes short work of most chopping tasks meaning less force is required from the user. This means that it is much safer to use as less force equals more control and less slippage.
Chef Vs Santoku
As you can tell I am pretty pleased with both knives, annoyingly I like them more than the ones I already own, and can see myself reaching for these whenever I am cooking. This was my first experience in using Wüsthof knives and I think I am a convert. I love their no nonsense styling and focus on quality and user experience. If you are looking for a first quality knife or upgrading from another set I would definitely recommend giving them a try.
My challenge, however, was to try and identify the main differences between them and what I like about each of the different styles; so here goes.
Both knives are extremely versatile and can turn their hand to most jobs. When it comes to dealing with things that grow from the ground each can handle any job equally well. Chopping herbs, veg and roots is a doddle and I really think this would come down to personal preference. The Santoku has a thinner and slightly sharper blade plus the added advantage of doubling up as a larger scoop, but other than that there is very little between them as far as I am concerned.
When we move on to proteins this is where I felt there was a noticeable difference. I found the chef’s knife to be much more useful and easy to use for the more fiddly or tougher jobs. The more defined point was much more precise and dexterous, with the added strength of the blade giving more confidence when chopping through the hard stuff. The Santoku slices through meat and fish without issues, however, I found it more difficult to do those other tasks.
As I alluded to in my separate reviews both of these knives are extremely user friendly and feel fantastic in the hand. This gave me added confidence, control and best of all made me feel like a pro.
As someone who has grown up in the west I felt immediately at home with the chef’s knife. The classic rocking motion from the curved blade makes for a very natural cutting style. The length of the blade made it ideal as an everyday knife and it would also be a little less daunting to the less confident chef.
The Santoku knife was not as natural for me to use and took a little bit of getting used to, however once I did it was fantastic. When it comes to chopping, slicing and dicing the Santoku is just that bit more fun to use, not to mention more precise and quicker. I felt that I had a bit more control for these jobs and the lighter feel in my hand made it a joy to use.
As both knives have been produced by Wüsthof they are unsurpassed in terms of manufacturing quality. Both come with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects and so you can be certain that you’ve got the best product for your money.
The added thickness and strength of the chef’s knife does make for a more durable and toughened blade that is easier to keep sharp and maintain. Santoku knives require a little more care and attention but for that added bit of effort you do get a much keener edge. If you are a new chef and have not got much experience in knife care the chef’s knife is a safer bet.
Knives are not only cool they are also extremely useful and a good quality knife is an essential kitchen item. I have been guilty of skimping on knives in the past and gone for cheaper options which is an absolute false economy.
Both of these Wüsthof knives would improve the cooking experience of most chefs and I have absolutely no doubts in recommending either. If I were forced to buy just one knife I have to say that the chef’s knife would edge it for me. The main reason for this is down to the fact I am a meat eater and find it that much more useful in this area of cookery. I would add that if you are a vegetarian go for the Santoku instead as it edges the chef’s knife in this area.
If I were you I would get both, and a few others as well. If you head into your local Steamer Trading Cookshop you can also try before you buy which is fantastic.