If you’re shopping for a new kitchen knife, you might be wondering:
What’s the difference between a santoku and a nakiri?
The santoku is an all-purpose knife with a straight edge, sheepsfoot-shaped blade, and pointy tip. Similar to the chef’s knife, it can handle any ingredient and perform all cutting techniques. The nakiri knife is designed specifically for chopping vegetables. It has a straight edge, a rectangular blade, and a rounded tip.
That’s the short answer, but there’s much more to know about these two knives.
In this comparison of santoku vs. nakiri knives, you’ll learn how they compare in terms of design, uses, price, and much more.
Let’s get started!
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What Is a Nakiri Knife?
In Japan, during the Edo era, it was illegal to eat four-legged animals. Therefore, the Japanese diet centered around fish, rice, and vegetables. During this time, in the 17th century, the nakiri knife was born.
A nakiri knife is a Japanese style knife specifically designed for cutting vegetables. The design hasn’t changed much in the last 400 years. The rectangular blade has a straight edge with squared tips.
Nakiri knife (Pictured: Oishya Nakiri)
Unlike chef’s knives, where you cut with a rocking motion, a nakiri knife is designed for straight up and down chopping. With this knife, you can slice through ingredients in one smooth vertical cut, rather than pushing and pulling the knife.
The nakiri knife is also lightweight and thin, making it easy to work quickly and efficiently.
The primary advantages of a nakiri knife are:
- Even slices: This style of knife allows for thin, uniform cuts. If you need to ribbon or julienne vegetables, a nakiri is the best tool.
- Fast: Nakiri knives are designed for speed. Compared to a rocking motion, the clean chopping motion of a nakiri knife delivers quicker results.
- Clean cuts: The flat edge makes complete contact with the cutting board, resulting in cleaner cuts—you won’t have to deal with pieces of bell pepper or onion sticking together.
The Chinese cleaver is most similar to the nakiri, although it’s also built for handling thick cuts of meat. It has a wider blade, so it isn’t as precise when dealing with smaller, delicate ingredients. Chinese cleavers are quite a bit heavier than nakiri knives, so they’re not as easy to maneuver.
Another knife that people often confuse with the nakiri is the usuba. The main differences are in the blade design and edge grind. Usuba knives have a flat edge like nakiri knives and a curved spine like santoku knives. They also have a single-bevel — meaning they’re only sharpened on one side — so they’re more suitable for experienced or professional cooks.
The nakiri knife has been a staple in Japanese kitchens for many years, but it’s only recently gained popularity in the American market.
What Is a Santoku Knife?
Santoku knives are newer, having debuted in Japan in the 1940s. During this time, Japanese home cooks used a variety of knives for every dish since each task required a different blade.
During the World War II era, Japanese chefs examined Western cooking styles in the hopes they could create an all-purpose knife that suited the needs of Japanese cuisine. Thus — the santoku knife.
This knife became popular in the United States in the early 2000s when Rachael Ray, celebrity chef, showcased her admiration for a Wusthof Santoku knife on her popular cooking show.
Santoku knife (Pictured: Wusthof Classic Santoku)
Santoku knives usually have a straight edge, but some have a subtle curve enabling the rocking technique, also known as the “rock chop.” They also have a pronounced downward spine and hollow edges, which help to release food.
Santoku knives are more versatile than nakiri knives—they can handle any ingredient and cutting technique.
However, they are best for slicing and peeling delicate foods such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, and cheeses because they have a sharp, straight edge.
Comparison Chart: Nakiri vs. Santoku
Here’s a quick look at the main differences and similarities between nakiri and santoku knives in chart form.
CharacteristicNakiriSantokuBest UseVegetables and fruitFish, fruit, vegetables, cheese, and meatCutting ActionStraight up and downStraight up and down, slicing or rockingBlade DesignStraight, long, thin, squared edgesStraight edge with rounded tip, long, thinBlade Length5-7 inches5-7 inchesSharpness28-34 degrees total20-30 degrees totalEdge grindDouble-bevelMost are double-bevel, some are singleWeight (7-inch)7.5 to 9.4 ounces6.5 to 8.5 ouncesPrice (skip to price comparison chart)Slightly less expensiveSlightly more expensive
What Are the Differences Between Nakiri and Santoku Knives?
In the following sections, I dive deeper into the differences between nakiri and santoku knives.
The nakiri knife is designed specifically for chopping vegetables—and it accomplishes this task exceptionally well. Due to the flat, straight-edge blade, the whole blade cuts through and makes contact with the chopping board in one single cut. You don’t need to push, pull, or rock the knife.
Have you ever cut through an onion or ginger to find pieces that are still stuck together? You won’t have that issue with the nakiri since it delivers full, clean cuts. It’s also great for tap chopping.
The santoku knife is more of an all-purpose option. Its versatility allows you to slice, dice, and mince with ease. Use this blade for vegetables, fish, cheese, and meat. It relies on a single downward cut from heel to tip, but you can also use a rocking and chopping motion.
The nakiri knife has a thin, flat blade with squared edges. There’s no point at the tip, and the blade isn’t as wide as santoku knives.
Many nakiri knives have a hollow edge or unique finish to prevent food from sticking to the blade. For example, the Wusthof Nakiri knife has hollow edges (vertical indentations near the cutting edge) to release food.
Others, like the Shun Premier Nakiri Knife and the Oishya Nakiri (use code “prudent20” to get $30 off), use multiple layers of steel forged in a Damascus style to reduce drag when cutting.
Nakiri (top), Santoku (bottom)
The santoku also has a flat edge but with a downward curved spine, and a shart tip where the edge and spine meet. Most are a little thicker than a nakiri knife, which is why these blades can better handle meat.
Like nakiri knives, many santoku knives have hollow edges (like the Mercer Genesis Santoku Knife) or are made with multiple layers of Damascus style steel (like the Nanfang Brothers Santoku Knife) to help food release.
Since nakiri blades are used primarily for chopping vegetables, they tend to be shorter than santokus. The most common blade length for nakiri knives is 5 inches, but they range from 5 to 7 inches.
Santoku knives can be as short as three inches, but the most common is seven inches to give home cooks an option like a chef’s knife.
Nakiri knives are typically sharpened to 30 degrees total, 15 degrees per side, a razor-sharp finish for precise cuts.
Santoku knives are even sharper. The average santoku knife is sharpened to a 20-degree angle (10 degrees per side), but they can range between 20 and 30 degrees, depending on the brand.
Santoku knives with a single-bevel edge often have a blade angle under 10 degrees on one side, making them ultra-sharp but brittle—suitable for skilled or experienced cooks.
Most nakiri knives have a double-bevel edge, otherwise known as ryoba, which means the blades are sharpened equally on both sides. Ryoba is the type of edge that most home cooks are used to handling.
Santoku knives are usually double-beveled as well, but many are single-beveled, otherwise known as kataba. With kataba grinds, the blade is only sharpened on one side.
If you’re buying a single-beveled knife, you need to consider who will be using the knife and what their dominant hand is. For right-handed people, you want to sharpen the edge on the right side (looking down at the blade). For left-handed people, it’s the opposite.
Some kataba santoku knives have a side with an edge angle of less than 10 degrees, which is harder to use and more likely to chip, so they require an experienced hand. However, this type of edge can produce extremely thin slices, which is often required in traditional Japanese cuisine.
Nakiri knives tend to be a bit heavier than santoku knives, which makes sense when you consider the uses of each.
Nakiri knives are primarily used for up and down chopping; the added weight makes this easier since you are leveraging a stronger gravitational pull on the way down.
Santokus are used for many different cuts and ingredients, so a lightweight and maneuverable knife is ideal.
Below are the weights of some popular nakiri and santoku knives so you can see the actual difference.
You can expect to pay a similar price for either style of knife, but each brand is different. With a few exceptions, the santoku style knives are slightly more expensive than the nakiri.
In this chart, I’ll compare prices of 7” nakiri and santoku knives from several of the top kitchen knife brands. Click the prices to view more details about each knife on Amazon.
Bottom Line: Do You Need Both a Nakiri Knife and a Santoku Knife?
Do you need both a nakiri and a santoku knife? The short answer is: not necessarily.
Santoku blades are all-purpose knives. A double-beveled santoku knife can do everything that a nakiri can, plus a lot more.
A nakiri knife is a specialized knife, and it’s the best tool for its job: chopping vegetables and fruit.
The main advantages of the nakiri are speed and uniformity. With its flat edge and square blade, you can chop vegetables quickly; you don’t need to rock the knife to complete each cut. Also, since the flat edge makes full contact with the cutting board, you get clean, uniform cuts every time.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a nakiri could be a handy addition to a more extensive set that includes a santoku or chef’s knife.
Bottom line — if you’re looking for an all-purpose knife with a bit more finesse than a chef’s knife, go with a santoku. If you’re looking to add a knife specifically designed to chop vegetables to your collection, buy a nakiri.
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