Nakiri vs. Santoku: Which One is The Best For You?

10 Best Utility Knives Video
10 Best Utility Knives Video

If you’re shopping around for a Japanese kitchen knife, your choice would likely boil down to one crucial decision.

Which blade design wins the Nakiri vs Santoku showdown?

They are arguably two of the most popular knives to come out of the realm of Japanese cuisine. 

So, if you want to cook the way professional chefs do, you should add them both to your knife collection.

That said, some have room for only one more Japanese knife in their arsenal. If you’re one of them, how do you make the right choice?

We’ve gathered the essentials you need to learn and got you covered on this front.

Direct Comparison of Santoku vs Nakiri

Nakiri knives look a lot like Chinese cleavers and may seem imposing as they sit on a home or professional kitchen counter.

However, they’re meant for delicate cutting chores, they’re not designed for cutting meat and frozen food products.

On the other hand, Santoku knives are more like multi-purpose knives. You can use them to cut meat, fish, vegetables, and other food items.

Before you head out to a store near you, there are many other things you need to consider. Here’s the lowdown on the Nakiri vs. Santoku knife.

 NakiriSantoku
Best ForVegetables and fruitsVegetables, fruits, fish, meat, cheese
Length of BladeFive to seven inchesSix to eight inches
Blade DesignStraight edge, rectangular blade, like a Chinese cleaverSlightly curved edge, rounded tip, narrow blade, like a chef’s knife
Cutting TechniqueUp and down motionRocking motion, up and down motion
Edge of BladeStraight edgeSlightly curved edge
Ease of SharpeningDouble bevel, 28 to 34 degreesSingle or double bevel, 20 to 30 degrees
WeightFive to 7.5 ounces5.5 to 7.5 ounces

Breaking It Down

The Nakiri knife is very different from the average Santoku knife, so you can’t confuse them with each other.

One is a specialist knife, while the other is a multipurpose knife. They also have different design features.

That said, there are a lot of nuances you should look into before you can settle the Santoku vs Nakiri knife debate.

To help make things easier for you, we will break down this in-depth kitchen knife comparison into seven different sections.

Each section will discuss one key feature. More importantly, we will declare which Japanese kitchen knife wins each round.

After reading, you should have a good idea of which Japanese knife type is best for you.

Best For

When shopping around for a high-quality knife to add to your kitchen set, you need to ask one question first. What do you plan to do with it?

Do you want a versatile tool that can take on a variety of chopping tasks or a fun knife for your greens? Your answer will have a lot of impact on your decision.

Nakiri

At the core of the Nakiri’s identity is its usage. It is basically a vegetable knife and not much else.

That said, it is very good at what it does. You can use it to chop, slice, or mince big and delicate vegetables.

If you want to cut fruits for your salad, the Nakiri is also a great choice.

It has the perfect blade profile to deliver clean, complete cuts each and every time you use it.

Santoku

If you wonder what is a Santoku knife used for, you should know that the Santoku style knife is a multifunctional knife, and that your kitchen will love it.

It is tough enough to slice meats and fish but also precise enough for fruits and vegetables. 

Granted, it does not perform as well as the Nakiri when it comes to chopping or slicing greens.

That said, this should not be a problem unless you are a vegetarian or you handle fruits and vegetables exclusively.

Winner: Santoku Knives

For this round of the in-depth kitchen knife comparison, your choice will ultimately depend on your unique situation.

If your kitchen is dominated by vegetables, you should get the Nakiri. 

However, at the end of the day, the Santoku is a safer choice. You can use it to prepare a salad one minute and then cut fish the next.

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Length of Blade

First things first: we need to clarify what the term blade length means. In a nutshell, it is the distance between the tip of the blade and the hilt of the handle.

Knowing this is helpful since other guides use the term knife length, which still means the same thing.

Whatever designation you prefer, blade length is an important characteristic of any type of knife.

It will determine to some extent what you can use it on or how effective you’ll be with it in the kitchen.

The longer the knife, the more single-stroke cuts you can make with it; however, this also means the harder it is to control.

So, you need to find the perfect balance that will suit your cooking style.

Nakiri

A typical Nakiri knife blade is five to seven inches long. That said, those in the lower end of the spectrum are more common.

It might be due to the knife’s cutting action.

With the Nakiri, you use an up-and-down movement, like a gentler version of a downward chopping motion.

Since you do not have to push or pull the knife horizontally, the blade length is not a big issue.

Santoku

Santoku knives are generally longer than Nakiri knives, but not by much. The usual range is between six and eight inches. 

With this length, the knife is easy to manipulate or handle.

At the same time, it is a good enough size if you want to get a lot of things done in the kitchen.

However, don’t be surprised to see Santokus that are shorter or longer. 

Winner: Tie

The Nakiri and the Santoku are pretty similar when it comes to blade length.

Both are usually around seven inches long, although it is not hard to find shorter or longer versions.

As a result, they perform quite evenly in this department. 

Blade Design

Another important factor to consider in the Nakiri vs Santoku comparison is the blade design features.

The shape of a knife’s blade greatly impacts its usage or performance in the kitchen.

You should also look closely at whether the tip is pointed or not, as well as consider the thickness of the blade.

Nakiri

As mentioned, the Nakiri bears a striking resemblance to the Chinese kitchen cleaver. 

Its blade sports a rectangular shape and is much wider than the Santoku. 

However, while it looks substantial from the side, it is actually much thinner than the Chinese cleaver.

Make sure you do not use it on meat, fish, or food that is fresh out of the freezer. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging it. 

Santoku

The Santoku looks a lot like a shorter version of a full-sized chef’s knife.

It features the familiar flat edge, but unlike the Nakiri, its spine curves downward towards the knife’s point.

Another key difference is that its blade is thicker. That is why it can stand up to more abuse in the kitchen than the Nakiri.

Winner: Santoku

We are proclaiming the Santoku as the winner in this round, but with one important caveat.

Its blade design is better for most applications in the kitchen. Still, when it comes to cutting vegetables, the Nakiri is king.

In other words, while many might find the Santoku more useful, the Nakiri is a no-brainer for vegetarians.

Cutting Technique

Some people do not consider the cutting technique when shopping for any type of knife.

This is a mistake you can’t afford to make when it comes to the Santoku vs Nakiri knife comparison.

That is because the difference between the cutting motions of the two popular knives is too great to ignore.

It will greatly impact your effectiveness and performance in the kitchen, especially when cutting large quantities of food.

Nakiri

The Nakiri is like a veggie cleaver with its wide, rectangular blade and straight edge. It is designed to make clean and complete cuts with an up-and-down motion.

What’s more, the blade is symmetrically ground, which is a better design if you want to make even cuts. 

Santoku

The Santoku is a bit more versatile not only in its usage but also in its cutting action. 

You can use the traditional rocking motion, where you push and pull the knife horizontally.

Additionally, you can position it on top of your food product and push it down to make a clean cut.

Its blade is thicker, so it might take a bit more effort if you want to use this method. Still, it is sharp enough to get the job done.

Winner: Nakiri

The Nakiri is a bit limited in its kitchen applications. Nevertheless, if you look strictly at the cutting action, it edges out the Santoku by a small margin.

It is designed for effortless chopping, allowing you to make quick work of large amounts of vegetables or fruits.

Edge of Blade

No Japanese knife comparison is complete if we do not discuss blade edge.

It determines how much clearance the knife will have with respect to the chopping board. Consequently, it will impact the knife’s ease of use or effectiveness in cutting.

Nakiri

All it takes is one look to see what makes the Nakiri stand out: its squared edge. Looking more closely, you will see that the sharp edge is straight.

As a result, its entire length can make contact with the cutting surface once it hits the board. Therefore, you can make clean and complete cuts every time you make a slice.

Santoku

The Santoku features a cutting edge that has a hint of a curve.

While only slight, it is enough so that you can use the Santoku with a rocking, back-and-forth motion when you slice things. 

That said, if the food item you are slicing is small, you can use the up-and-down motion to cut it.

Winner: Nakiri

The Nakiri takes this round, but again, with only the slightest advantage.

Some points can be taken away because of the cutting edge’s limited application since you can only use it on vegetables and fruits.

However, it does its job very well that you would love cutting your vegetables and eating them afterward.

Ease of Sharpening

Sharpness and edge retention are things you should look into even before you buy a knife.

These characteristics will determine, to a large extent, how hard it will be to maintain the blade once you start using it.

Nakiri

Nakiris are double-bevel knives, which means they are evenly ground on both sides. The usual angle of sharpness is 28 to 34 degrees.

While you can sharpen it much the way you would a traditional knife, it is not as sharp as the Santoku.

Santoku

The Santoku can either be a double or single-bevel knife, but the double-beveled Santoku knife is more common.

What sets it apart from the Nakiri, aside from the occasional single-bevel variety, is its sharpness. It slants at a total angle of 20 to 30 degrees for both sides.   

Winner: Santoku

The Santoku has a lower angle, making it sharper than the Nakiri. Plus, it is incredibly durable, so you do not have to sharpen it often.

Weight

It is important to pay attention to weight when shopping for kitchen knives.

Remember that you will be slicing, chopping, or cutting with it using your hand. So, the heavier it is, the harder it will be to use.

Nakiri

The Nakiri weighs anywhere between five and 7.5 ounces on average. This is surprising if you consider how wide the blade is.

It is very easy to handle and is suitable for complex prepping techniques. 

Santoku

The Santoku sports a thicker blade than the Nakiri, but it is narrower. As a result, it weighs just around the same as the Nakiri.

Winner: Tie

Nakiris and Santokus of the same blade length carry around the same weight. As such, they perform pretty evenly in this round of the comparison.

Final Recount

Nakiri: 2/7

Santoku: 3/7

Pros:

Nakiri 

  • Ideal for processing vegetables
  • Convenient cutting action

Santoku

  • Suitable for more applications
  • Sharper blade edge
  • More durable

Cons:

Nakiri

  • Limited use in the kitchen

Santoku

  • Requires more skill

Nakiri vs Santoku: The Final Verdict

If you want to cook like a pro, you need both Japanese knives in your collection. However, if you have to choose one, go with the Santoku.

Compared to a Nakiri knife, it requires a bit of practice to master, but you could get more things done with it in the kitchen.

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