Santoku Vs Usuba: Which One Is Better For You?

By Ryan Leavitt •  Updated: 07/21/21 •  6 min read

The Santoku is one of the most popular Japanese knives ever made, not just because it is an all-rounder in the kitchen but because it has a non-threatening profile. The Usuba, the single-beveled version of the Nakiri or the Japanese veggie cleaver, is just as benign, thanks to its flat tip which is parallel to the heel.

Japanese knives are so popular these days thanks to cooking competitions and similar shows on TV and on the Internet, more and more home cooks are shopping for Japanese knives.

The most common of all these J-knives is the Santoku, probably found in a lot of kitchens in the whole world today.

What many don’t know is that a lot of these modern knives have been derived from traditional prep tools. The Santoku is based off on the Nakiri and its closest relative, the single-beveled Usuba.

Check out the comparative table featuring these two below:

 SantokuUsuba
Best forHome cooksProfessional chefs
VersatilityGreat for a lot of slicing tasksLimited to a few slicing tasks
Edge GrindingDouble-beveledSingle-beveled
Ease of SharpeningEasy to hone and re-sharpenNeeds expert sharpening skills
Standard Sizing6-7 inches in length, an inch or so at its widest6.5 to 9.5 inches in length, 2.5 to 3.5 inches in width
Weight and BalanceLight and well-balancedSlightly heavier, leans towards the blade
Type of HandlesHas Wa (round, octagonal) & Yo (western)Commonly has Wa handles, very rarely with Yo
AvailabilityVery common, even with American and European brandsOnly common with Japanese brands
PricingReasonableQuite pricey

Related: best santoku knives

It was in the mid to late 90s when cooking shows made several names famous: Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, and Alton Brown were just a few.

In turn, these TV chefs also made certain recipes, ingredients, or tools popular. For example, many credit Rachel Ray for introducing the Santoku.

After she gushed about its ‘friendliness’ and exceptional function, many viewers wanted one too.

Soon, American and European cutlery companies started to include this knife in their product lines.

It is a Relatively New Piece

What many people don’t know is that this is not a traditional knife at all. In fact, it was only designed post-WWII.

At the time, locals were looking for a more versatile blade that can do a whole lot of jobs compared to the task-specific knives they used to have.

They already have the all-rounder Gyuto, designed in the 1900s and patterned after the Western-style Chef’s knife, but they wanted something that can chop, dice, and julienne vegetables like the cleaver-like Nakiri.

A Short Side Story About the Nakiri (And Its Transformation into the Santoku)

The Nakiri is a vegetable cleaver – rectangular in shape, slightly thick at the spine but tapers to an incredibly sharp edge.

The Gyuto was used more often to slice meat, poultry, and fish.

When the locals needed a multi-purpose tool, bladesmiths figured out a way to combine these two.

Designers then retained the straight spine and the height (from the spine to heel) of the Nakiri but cut the flat tip, creating a downward slope. They then got the arch of the Gyuto’s belly, meeting the sloping tip and creating a sheep’s foot.

The Very Many Uses of the Modern Japanese Blade

The name they gave it – Santoku – is translated as ‘three virtues’ because it can chop, slice, and dice vegetables, meat, and fish. Here are specific tasks it can do:

The Time-Honored Usuba (And the Genius of Japanese Kitchen Knives)

The Usuba is practically the same as the Nakiri. It is a rectangular-shaped blade, thick at the spine and tapered at the edge.

The difference is that the former is single-beveled while the latter is double-beveled.

Japanese knives are categorized into those two groups:

Single-beveled pieces were created by the Japanese for two main reasons.

First, it makes amazingly intricate and perfect slices which is a must-have for their beautiful-looking dishes.

Second, it prevents food from sticking to the blade.

We won’t go into the specifics of this because it’s so complicated, it requires its specific article.

But remember when we described single bevels earlier – when one side is ground at an angle but the other is a little concaved? That concave part acts as an air pocket, pushing the blade away from the food and preventing it from sticking. Ingenious, isn’t it?

What Can This Blade Do?

The Usuba translates to thin (Usui) blade (ba or ha, derived from hamono which means edge tool). There are two main kinds of Usubas:

Both these types are used for these three main tasks:

A Comparative Summary

Based on what has been discussed earlier, here are some important points of differentiation between the Santoku and the Usuba. We have also added several other salient bits of information that you should know.

Which Should You Get?

Based on the summary above, it’s quite easy to choose between the two options.

The Santoku is not just versatile. It’s also pretty friendly (as in not intimidating and dangerous) and quite easy to use.

In comparison, the Usuba is a very task-specific blade. It also requires a bit of skill to use and a whole lot more to sharpen.

If you’re a home cook, go for the former.

To be honest, single-beveled Japanese tools are for the masters. Unless you’re confident enough to call yourself that, don’t waste your money on a piece that you can’t use.

Besides, a lot of knife sets offered these days already include this particular Japanese blade.

But if you want a nice-looking knife – something that will look great hanging on your wall magnet – go for a Nakiri instead of an Usuba.

It can do the same job as its sibling but it’s double-beveled so it’s way easier to use.

Ryan Leavitt

Hi my name is Ryan Leavitt a Marine Corps Veteran and currently an over the road trucker (Long Haul). I am no expert chef but am enjoying preparing my own meals on the road and testing all the different knives.

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