With popularity comes proliferation. We enlisted chef Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama to evaluate the best of the expanding Santoku breed. He tested ten straight from the box (no additional sharpening allowed) by chopping onions, slicing boneless chicken, and mincing parsley. Finally, he tried slicing parchment paper—the same way he tests his beloved single-bevel Yanagi knife after its daily session on the grindstone. He judged each for balance, sharpness, cutting ability, and how long it kept its edge. They are ranked below in order of preference.
1. SHUN CLASSIC 6.5-INCH KNIFE
It’s made by Kai, one of Japan’s oldest knife companies, using the “Damascus technique”—32 layers of steel painstakingly sharpened to a fearsome edge, leaving a beautiful moiré pattern on the blade.
$94.98 at Broadway Panhandler, 477 Broome St., nr. Greene St.; (212-966-3434).
2. MISONO UX10 SEVEN-INCH
The blade is made from top-quality Swedish stain-resistant steel, which has a hardness comparable to carbon steel and holds its edge well. Masa called this model “very comfortable and well balanced; it is stiff, strong, and sharp. This type of blade is good to sharpen on a whetstone.”
$169 at Korin Japanese Trading Corp., 57 Warren St., nr. W. Broadway; (212-587-7021).
3. KORIN VG SILVER 6.8-INCH
Designed by Korin’s knife master Chiharu Sugai, this has a carbon-steel interior coated with a high-chrome-low-carbon layer; that makes it softer and easier to sharpen. Masa found the handle too light, “but it has a comfortable grip when chopping, which is important for regular use. The nice, soft stainless steel and the longer shape let you chop onions and parsley fast.”
$96 at Korin Japanese Trading Corp.
4. MAC SUPERIOR 6.5-INCH
The Mac, which tied with the Wüsthof below, has a high-carbon stainless blade that sharpens well, but it’s delicate, so it could chip if it hits a bone. The plastic handle resists staining, heat, and cracking, but “it’s too light, and difficult to grip,” said Masa. “The soft steel blade is very sharp, but it won’t hold that sharpness for long. It is good for slicing onions.”
$59.95 at Broadway Panhandler, 477 Broome St., nr. Greene St.;(212-966-3434).
5. WÜSTHOF SEVEN-INCH
A high-carbon stainless-steel blade forged in Solingen by one of Germany’s oldest knife companies. Masa called it well balanced; “the blade is very thin, but in a good way, and it’s very sharp and cuts well. Ideal for slicing chicken and vegetables.”
$114.95 at Bowery Kitchen Supplies, Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., nr. 15th St.; (212-376-4982).
6. GLOBAL SEVEN-INCH HOLLOW-GROUND
A high-carbon stainless-steel blade whose futuristic “hollow-ground” (those identations) style is said to help the knife slide more easily through food. For general purposes, said Masa, “the knife has a good curve,” but a heavy handle and thick blade make it clumsy and hard to sharpen.
$90 at Broadway Panhandler.
7. OXO GOOD GRIPS PRO
A high-carbon stainless-steel blade with the trademark cushiony nonslip grip. “The blade is not made from good stainless steel,” said Masa, after it failed the paper test. “The knife does not have a good balance, and I don’t like the soft, fat handle.”
6.5-inch hollow-ground$19.98 at Zabar’s, 2245 Broadway, nr. 80th St.; (212-787-2000).
8. WOLFGANG PUCK SEVEN-INCH HOLLOW-GROUND
Puck’s celebrity knife gets low marks for an uncomfortable handle and a blade that’s “more or less uniform throughout. Just the the tip comes to a ‘V,’ and because of this it’s not very sharp … It’s impossible to ever sharpen a knife with this shape.”
$79.98 as part of a set of fourteen, from HSN.com.
9. ZWILLING J.A. HENCKELS TWIN CUISINE SEVEN-INCH
Forged in Germany from a single piece of high-carbon steel, with a smooth polypropylene handle. “The handle is long and heavy, which means you will tire easily,” said Masa. “While the edge is sharp, the blade is very thin and will dull fast.”
$89.95 at Sur La Table, 75 Spring St., at Crosby St.; (212-966-3375).
10. RACHAEL RAY FÜRI COPPERTAIL SEVEN-INCH
Thanks to Ray’s endorsement, this has been a best seller in its year on the market, but it came in last in Masa’s evaluation. “This knife does not have a good balance,” he said. “The blade is heavier than the handle and feels like it is tilting forward; the stainless steel is cheap, and the handle is uncomfortable.”
$69.95 at Sur La Table.