At our house, dinner meant family recipes cooked with fresh, local ingredients. Mom always boasted that she could prepare an 8-course meal using only a wok, pair of chopsticks, and a cleaver. She did everything with her favorite cleaver–slice, dice, shred, chop, tenderize, bang, even scoop! After a full day working as a public schools teacher, Mom whipped up fast, healthy “Country Asian” meals for a family of five, like Pepper Steak and Rice-a-Roni and Five-Spice Rutabaga.
“Gidgets too hard to clean,” mom said. You mean “GADGETS.” “Yeah, that’s what I said, no gidgets.” Wabbits, rabbits, never mind. We don’t own a garlic roller, garlic press, scraper or tenderizer mallet anymore. I tried and used gift cards to buy her special, not-cheap kitchen and cooking “gidgets” at the gourmet cookware store. They all ended up in the Goodwill box. OK, no more gidgets… or wabbits. Just leave it to cleaver.
Traditionally, Asian-style cleavers were used for butchering whole animals–bones, gristle, and all. They were big and heavy and shaped like an ax. Modern versions of cleavers (sometimes referred to as Asian chef knives) are more versatile and refined. They are generally lighter in weight with a thinner blade and are designed for cutting boneless meat and vegetables. Perfect and practical for most home-chefs and everyday use, from chicken fingers to vegetable stir fry! More hardcore chefs who work with whole animal and bone-in cuts, use a heavier traditional cleaver with a blade that’s geared for chopping through hard bone and gristle. Most cleavers are made in China, Japan or Germany.
I own and have tested a dozen cleavers and Asian chef knives. My favorite one is the type we used in our family restaurant. My mom’s had hers for 25+ years. The wood handle fits in my smaller hand and the blade size is just right for me: big enough to be a real cleaver, but not so top-heavy for a smaller person. And it’s made in the USA. I don’t use it to hack a whole chicken or chop bones, but it does about everything else.
Foodie friends and chefs have their own preferences, see 5 Best Chinese Cleavers to help with research. For some, it comes down to how it feels in your hand and what you like to cook. For others, there are budget considerations. You can find our favorite cleaver at the online CSB here. See My First Cleaver in action in the video below!
Speak softly, eat good food…and carry a big knife!