The Chinese-style Cleaver: a Real Contender for the Title of Best General-Purpose Kitchen Knife

After decades during which the American kitchen seemed increasingly to be abandoned, people are cooking at home again and loving it. Many families now view the preparation of dinner or other meals as prime time to spend together, as cooking proves to be an activity that all can enjoy and participate in. This renewed interest in cooking at home has produced a similar resurgence of attention to the implements that make cooking possible. Many Americans, for example, discovered years ago that Japanese-inspired knives of so-called “santoku”” design made for much more comfortable and effective tools than the larger, heavier chef’s knives of German heritage that had once been the default. Although of surprisingly different outline and feel, the Chinese meat cleaver is another style of knife that is now gaining popularity for general-purpose use.

Most of the cooking done in the average home kitchen involves some chopping and slicing. Both of these cuts require a relatively long blade in most cases, which is why chef’s knives and, more lately, santoku-style ones became so popular. The style of cleaver long used in China, however, is actually an even more effective tool for many of these common cuts. Despite its resemblance to the butcher’s cleavers that many Americans and Europeans are already familiar with, this knife is, in truth, a relatively delicate implement.

In fact, in terms of weight, these cleavers often come in lighter than the Germanic chef’s knives that were once the standards in North American kitchens. Normally crafted from high-carbon steel, a material whose relative softness allows them, like those knives of German steel, to take a resilient edge, most of the cleavers of this sort can be used to hack through chicken bones but nothing more, a marked contrast to butcher’s cleavers which are designed to split easily through even thick beef bones.

Instead, these Asian cleavers are meant mostly for the same sort of chopping and slicing that chef’s knives are. They excel at these tasks, in fact, typically being built with the same sort of rocking edge that makes those cuts so easy. Best of all, once vegetables or pieces of protein have been cut into shape, they can be easily scooped and lifted to their next stop, thanks to the broad blade of the cleaver.