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If I don't eat meat, is there any reason why I would choose a chef's knife or santoku over a vegetable knife (e.g. Japanese vegetable knives or Chinese cleavers)?

I eat all kinds of foods (from mexican to chinese) and make nearly everything from scratch (minus things like noodles), so from my cheap interim chef's knife, all I do is chop, slice, and dice. Although I've only recently taken up cooking, I don't see myself doing anything else (paring and bread knife aside). Because of this, I've been debating getting a vegetable knife, such as a Global vegetable knife or Wusthof Chinese cleaver.

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Even for meat eaters, almost all knife work is done on vegetables. Santukos and chef's knives are general purpose knives, with great utility on vegetables. Chinese cleavers are also general purpose knives, the functional equivalent in that culture to the chef's knife.

The advice offered to you in this question:

Which knife is best for somone just learning to cook?

does not change simply because you are a vegetarian.

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I use boning and fillet knives most often when preparing meat, and a slicer knife when portioning it after cooking - heck, I use my kitchen shears more often than my chef's knife when prepping raw meats (especially poultry and fish).

The chef's knife is used to prepare veggies, which is where the bulk of any cuisine's prep is, vegetarian or not. It's designed to reduce aromatics like onions, carrots, peppers and celery into minced, diced or cubed pot-ready ingredients. You can get through almost any food prep task with a chef's knife, a paring knife and a bread knife.

If you like collecting and playing with fine knives in the kitchen (and that's as fine a hobby as any), there are some fruit and vegetable-specific knives you could benefit from trying out.

  • Nakiri and Usubo - these are the knives used by japanese chefs expressly to prep vegetables. The nakiri is a more robust everyday knife, the usobo is meant for making exceptionally thin cuts. They are meant to chop rather than slice.
  • Tomato knife - This is a serrated knife used to cut soft and fragile food, such as tomatoes or ripe peaches. It's thinner and more weildy than a bread knife, and a good accompaniment to thicker European chef's knife styles.
  • Bird's Beak - This is used to tournee root vegetables, pare round fruit, and to make delicate and tricky garnish cuts.
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Chinese chef's knife is a multipurpose tool, and (depending on weight and blade thickness) is very handy to slice, chop and dice vegetables.

The technique is to let the knife's weight to the work, i.e. cook exerts no or almost no force on the downstroke.

Moreover it also used to transfer sliced and chopped ingredients to a wok pan.

Have a look at videos where chefs use same or similar knife for almost anything.

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Although yes, it can perform the same tasks, the chinese chef's knife uses a different technique. The rounded front of the chef's knife allows you to keep the point on the board, and use a rocking motion while slicing, so you can get more precision with less skill. – Joe May 5 '14 at 12:32

Most santoku, and certainly nakiri/usuba, knives are not good at supporting cutting styles that rely on the tip rolling smoothly on the cutting board; santoku tips tend to offer a more limited angle before the tip catches into the cutting board instead of rolling - while this seems to support the knife very firmly, it can very abruptly stop doing so, ending in an imperfect cut or even an injury.

Also, the tip of a chef (or kiritsuke) knife is well suited to doing some paring/cleaning work without having to change knives...

Blades that have a very straight edge (nakiri) have their use for thin or depth-controlled cuts (hasselback anything ;)...

It is likely that your local asian grocer will have inexpensive knives in most of the common asian shapes, these might not be Wusthof quality but they tend to be sharp and easily resharpened, and still of a far better quality than an equally priced supermarket knife - these are useful to experiment and find out what blades you like working with....

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