Vegetable Cleaver vs. Meat Cleaver
I have no cleaver, be it vegetable or meat. I've been wanting a Vegetable Cleaver but wondering if it's neccesary to get one that is specifically a Vegetable Cleaver or would a meat cleaver be more of a multi-tasker?
What is the difference?
Usually my 7" santoku works on a hard squash. The blade is thin so it does not have to fight to wedge the squash apart, but wide enough to be reasonably stiff. For butternut it is long enough, so I can press on the outer of the blade if needed. For kabocha squashes I start the cut with a stab with the point near the stem, and then rotate the blade around.
I haven't used my chefs knife on a squash in a long time, so I can't say how it compares.
I don't think a shorter rectangular vegetable knife would do as well, in part because its front corner is rounded.
Three types of cleaver come to mind:
- the western style meat cleaver (butcher's cleaver). This has a thick blade. Often the front is wider the the back. It is design to cut by hacking, i.e. with a swinging overhand stroke. Check the picture on the Wiki article for cleaver.
- Chinese cleaver, usually a rectangular blade, not has heavy as the meat cleaver. This is a general purpose cooks knife in China.
- Japanese vegetable knife. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakiri_bocho
This style is not as deep (wide) as the Chinese style, nor as thick. A santoku is similar, except for the shape of the tip. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santoku
The santoku has been discussed in many threads, often comparing it to the French style chef's knife.
You have pretty much said it all about the descriptions, so I will just offer advice:
If you are planning on using the cleaver for general kitchen prep work such as prepping veggies and the like, most Westerners use a Chef's Knife or recently, a Santoku for this purpose. Some Santokus are very sharp, with thinner blades, and therefore are better suited to all but the densest vegetables. So, unless you are cutting melons with thick rinds or acorn squash, they are pretty interchangeable for vegetables. If you do any meat prep work, such as butterflying cutlets or slicing meats before cooking, I prefer the heavier weight of my German chef's knife, but this is a personal choice.
If you are planning on using a cleaver the way Chinese chefs do, in other words, in place of a chef's knife, a thin, rectangular blade is preferred. I learned to use one many years ago in a Chinese cooking class, but soon reverted back to my chefs knife because of sheer maneuverability. It does take some getting used to.
Finally, if you are going to separate spare ribs, or break small poultry bones, go out and get yourself a sturdy German cleaver meant for meats. I remember holding the beautiful Shun cleaver and a Wusthof side-by-side at a William Sonoma, and decided to buy the Wusthof. The thicker blade, for what I was planning to do with it, made the Wusthof a better choice. Its thick blade is less likely to chip when hacking.
So, it all depends on what you plan to do. As you can see by my response, a sturdy meat cleaver, a good chef's knife (and this can be a thinner Japanese model, if you prefer) and/or a Santoku all have a place in my kitchen. In as much as I learned to use the Chinese cleaver properly, I ended up storing it in my kitchen rather than using it, because I was more comfortable with a chef's knife. However, this does not mean that a Chinese cleaver cannot be your preference if you are more comfortable with it.
qwerty kind of summed it up. Meat cleavers are thick, heavy and come with, and should have, a rather blunt edge. Vegetable cleavers (sometimes called chinese chef's knife) are thinner, lighter and have a honed edge like you would find on a "regular" kitchen knife, e.g. a santoku. The issue with calling them both cleavers is that most people think of cutting with them like being in battle, and picture swinging the cleaver over their head to drive said tool through whatever they happen to be cutting -- while this would work fine for a meat or western style cleaver, this will destroy a vegetable cleaver, even if you're just hack through vegetables.
As far as which would be a better multi-tasker... that would be the vegetable cleaver, you can chop, mince, slice and scoop up your food when you're done! A meat cleaver does... that, it's mean to cut through bones, forcefully -- although sometimes they are awesome for getting through a big squash. Hope this helps.