Quality kitchen cutlery will cost you. While the well-rounded chef will have a handful of knives at his or her disposal, sometimes your options are limited, and you must make due with a solid jack-of-all-trades knife. None exists that will completely do it all, but you have a few options. Which one works best for you comes down to a couple minor preferences.
We’ve historically had two choices, a chef’s knife or santoku. Chef’s knives typically range in size from 6” to 10”, while the average Santoku falls between 5” and 8”. Either knife can be made of various materials including stainless steel, carbon and more recently, ceramic. The hilt can be even more varied, and it’s really up to you to test the weight and feel to find out which fits you best.
Since we want one knife for multiple duties, it’s worth spending a little extra if possible. While knives are available for cheap, dependable brands like Wϋsthof or Global will run you slightly under $100. Not a bad price for peace of mind, though if you can afford to go big, Shun is also a fantastic choice.
Originally from Japan, the name Santoku means “three virtues,” and refers to the attributes of slicing, dicing, and mincing (not to be confused with the law firm of the same name). With a more extreme angle on the shoulder than a chef’s knife, the santoku is typically lighter, thinner, made of stronger steel, and perfect for thin cuts.
French and German in origin, what a chef’s or Western-style knife lacks in deeper meaning, it makes up for in utility. While both knives are great for slicing through meat, the chef’s knife is better for precision cutting, and its rounded nose makes chopping vegetables a breeze.
Of course, if you’re one who throws the wind to either tradition, you can go with a gyutou, which is a newer Japanese hybrid that combines the rocking ability of a chef’s knife with the sharper cutting angle, and lightness of a santoku.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is knife proficiency. If you’re quick of the wrist and an expert at rocking a knife, the curved blade of a chef’s knife may be your best option. If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, or watch master chefs in awe, the santoku works best for smooth, deliberate cuts.
Any of these choices, coupled with a substantial paring knife, should satisfy 95% of your cutting needs.