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Old 11-20-2010, 12:53 PM   #1
Assistant Cook
Join Date: Nov 2010
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What Sort of Cleaver to Get?


As you may able to surmise, I am an boyfriend earnestly seeking to get my girlfriend a nice gift for her birthday (two weeks after Christmas; double duty!). We both enjoy cooking, though she is wonderfully adept at it and I have just recently began dabbling in the craft half a year ago.

So, here's the situation. I remember her hinting one time that a cleaver would be useful, particularly after watching some shows in which chefs used them. Now, I went and did some research, and found that the two distinct "schools" of cleaver, Chinese and Meat, ought really not to be confused. Subtly, I brought these up with my girlfriend (under the perhaps illformed guise of researching about knives), and found that her inspiration for them came from watching a Chinese cook, who she presumed was both chopping, slicing, smashing, and cutting through bones with the device. I brought up the fact that Chinese cleavers in general appear not to made for this purpose and, after some clever rhetorical dialogue, got her to suppose that, given the choice, she would probably want a cleaver that would be able to cut bones.

So, I thought that my quest was finally at its finale: she wants a cleaver that get rid of (at least light) bones and perhaps cleave through frozen goods. However, her original inspiration was for a cleaver that also seemed apropos in the cutting and slicing categories. So my question, esteemed cookery folk that you are, is this: is there a manifestation of the Chinese cleaver that can do both of these activities decently (cutting through frozen things/light bones as well as performing as a quasi-chef's knife)? Further, will a normal meat cleaver be able to perform the quasi-chef's knife tasks well, or is this the boon of the Chinese cleaver?

And, if you have been kind enough to stick with me and perhaps consider the above situations, I would also appreciate some recommendations as to cleavers. I used to sell Cutco, and am a big fan of their products (and guarantee, particularly for something that would be doing such blade-dulling activity as cleaving), but am not sure if their cleaver is any good, and I'm aware that the general consensus is that the brand does not produce "professional" products (my girlfriend's analysis was that they were wonderful knives, but placed much more emphasis on the handle than standard knives and also had lighter blades).

Thank you so much!

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Old 11-22-2010, 06:30 PM   #2
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The answer to your question is no, there is not a cleaver that can cut vegetable and bones.

The traditional rectangular cleavers, start very thin and end up very thick and heavy. Thin cleavers are known as slicing cleavers. They are at their best slicing and chopping vegetables and meats.

Next are the all-purpose cleavers, thicker then the slicers, but still meant for vegetables and boneless meat. The blade goes food faster with the extra weight. A working theory, is that the thickness of the knife acts as a foundation to support a strong edge. The all purpose knife can cut up frozen chicken breasts and de-bone a chicken. It cannot chop or hack bones.

Medium thick cleavers are breaking down fish, chicken, ribs, etc.... Thick cleavers are for chopping fish, chicken, ribs. The extra thick cleavers are what butcher shops use.

Cleavers come in two sizes, small and full size. Small cleavers are generally for home use, they are 180-210mm in length. Full size cleavers are for professional\restaurant use, they are 220-240mm.
Which size cleaver a person uses, is a personal choice.

Smaller cleavers will be more agile then a full size cleaver. Most Chinese restaurants in the U.S., use Dexter Russell cleavers. Martin Yan, in a number of his videos, uses a smaller cleaver.

Full size cleavers are alien to most people. The lightest slicing cleaver
is going to weigh in between 400-450 gram, which is just shy of a pound. All purpose cleavers are between 500-700 grams. A pound and a half of knife. Try to pinch grip, on one of these knives and your arm will be aching in 20 minutes or less.

Why would anyone want to use a full size cleaver? Production. Nothing chops vegetables like a full size cleaver. Since cleavers are relatively flat on the edge, a 220mm cleaver has more edge touching the board then a 240mm and 270mm chef's knife.

The wide blade of a cleaver is a built in knife guard. As long as the cleaver is not lifted above the knuckles, then getting cut isn't a problem. Speed chopping on a cleaver is easy and fairly safe. I've never cut myself using a cleaver. The wide blade is also useful in scooping up vegetables and putting them into bowls or pots.

The key to using a cleaver, is letting its weight do the work. That requires a different kind of grip. To hold a cleaver, thumb is extended down one side of the blade, the index finger extended down the other side of the blade. Sometimes the middle finger joins the index finger, in what looks like a peace sign. This provides extra control of the cleaver. The grip allows the large muscles of the arm to work, instead of the tiny muscles in the wrist.

Even after a few years, now of using a cleaver, I still find myself wanting to bare down on the cut, and push hard. It's easy to revert back to old habits. The blade should be guided, to where the cut needs to be made, a little bit of motion and the blade, should fall through the food.

The least expensive cleavers will be Chinese. CCK is probably the most well known. The carbon steel cleavers at restaurant supply houses, will be close to CCK. If you live close to a China Town, they should carry inexpensive carbon steel cleavers.

Chinese cleavers, especially the CCK knives are good, because the profile is excellent. Very thin knives, but the steel is cheap, so they need to be sharpened on a regular basis.

Dexter Russells are popular in Chinese restaurants. A number of internet sites carry them.

A cleaver that made an appearance a few years ago was the Maestro WU. It is a small cleaver, from Taiwan, that is made out of bombshell. It can be purchased at Chef Knives to Go.com.

If you want a cleaver and don't want to worry about maintaining it. Then the Shun would be a good choice. They offer a lifetime warranty and free sharpening.

Japanese cleavers, get very sharp and hold their edges for a long time. Japanese Chef Knives.com has a few that start at the $80.00, but they quickly go up in the $300-$400 range. I wouldn't recommend one of them, until you have tried a less expensive cleaver first.

Hope this helps,

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Old 11-23-2010, 04:59 AM   #3
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Thank you jaybett for that explanation about cleavers.

One of the things I like about the cheap Chinese cleavers is that they are easy to sharpen. Yes, they need it more often, but much quicker than my Henckels.
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Old 11-29-2010, 05:45 PM   #4
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Forget the cleaver. Buy her a dozen roses and a diamond ring. Unless you're doing your own meat cutting and fabricating gallinaceous birds and rabbits, you can get along just fine without one.

And if you really, really have to get a cleaver, get two. A 5 inch light and a 7 inch heavy. But they will sit in your drawer and corrode.
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Old 11-29-2010, 05:51 PM   #5
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What kind of cleaver??? All I could think of was, June or Ward, Beaver or Wally.
I'm old
Get a knife that does what your current knives can't do. Identify what you want to do that you can't, and get the tool for that.
Check out NutritionFacts.org for the latest in nutrition research.
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Old 12-01-2010, 05:57 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by moltogordo View Post
Forget the cleaver. Buy her a dozen roses and a diamond ring. Unless you're doing your own meat cutting and fabricating gallinaceous birds and rabbits, you can get along just fine without one.

And if you really, really have to get a cleaver, get two. A 5 inch light and a 7 inch heavy. But they will sit in your drawer and corrode.
A common misconception is that cleavers are only for cutting meat or chopping bone. Thin\slicing cleavers are meant for vegetables and meat. In my opinion, there is nothing better for chopping vegetables then a thin\slicing cleaver. A Chinese cleaver such as a CCK will absolutely out perform any German knife. The shape/geometry of a thin/slicing cleaver is superior to any German knife. A thin\slicing cleaver made out of Japanese steel, gets extraordinarily sharp and has great edge retention is the ultimate vegetable chopper. Jay
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