Kitchen Cleavers: Full Guide to Different Types and Uses

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If you’re a home cook or a professional chef, you know that having the right tools in the kitchen can make all the difference in your culinary creations.

One essential tool that many cooks overlook is the kitchen cleaver knife.

Kitchen Cleavers: Full Guide to Different Types and Uses

With its heavy blade and versatile design, a cleaver knife can be used for everything from chopping vegetables and slicing meat to crushing garlic and opening coconuts.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of using a cleaver knife in the kitchen and offer some tips on choosing the best one for your needs.

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What is a cleaver?

A cleaver is a large, square-bladed knife that is traditionally heavier and thicker than other knives. 

Its design helps you chop through large cuts of meat and even smash through bone without the risk of slowing down or dulling the blade. 

Traditional meat cleavers are supposed to be able to cut through large joints of meat, like a chicken breast or a large fish, without having to worry about the blade deflecting. 

A cleaver is usually made of stainless steel blade and has a handle for easy gripping when chopping vegetables or slicing meats.

Kitchen cleavers have been popular since the Middle Ages, when they were mostly used to butcher animals and prepare meals. 

Today, cleavers come in a variety of sizes and styles to suit the needs of any cook.

Japanese vegetable cleavers like Nakiri are very popular, and so are Chinese cleavers, generally used to cut through meat and other hard foods. 

What does a cleaver look like?

A cleaver typically has a wide, rectangular blade. Some models have a rectangular blade that tapers to a pointed tip.

The shape of the blade allows it to be used as both an efficient chopping tool and a meat slicer.

Cleavers also have an ergonomic handle for easy gripping. The handles are usually made from plastic or wood and have a secure grip for safety.

Take a look at my top 4 buying recommendations for Japanese Chukabocho cleaver knives for some beautiful examples of this type of knife

Types of cleavers

There are many different cleavers out there, some specifically for meat and some for vegetables.

Some have a traditional square-shaped wide blade, whereas others have a pointed tip for precision cutting.

Below are some of the most common types of kitchen cleavers:

Western cleavers

When you think of a cleaver, the first thing that comes to mind for most English speakers is a Western-style cleaver.

Here’s a list of common features to help you identify this type of knife:

  • Large, square-shaped blade
  • Heavy blade
  • Thick and tough edge to keep the knife stable and prevent damage
  • Long, flat cutting surface with little to no curve on the blade edge
  • Normally kept sharp

Western cleavers have ample cutting power due to their weight and momentum.

The handle is traditionally made of wood, but modern cleavers use polymer materials. 

The offset handle means the handle is attached to the reverse edge of the blade, opposite the cutting surface, instead of in the middle of the blade for balance.

Different types of Western cleavers can be identified:

  • Traditional cleaver/meat cleaver – This type of cleaver has a wide, rectangular blade and is great for chopping through bones and tough meats. A traditional cleaver is also part of the “western cleavers” category since it’s been used in Europe and America for centuries as more of a butcher’s knife. 
  • Serbian cleaver –  This type of cleaver has a thick, rectangular blade and is great for splitting bones and tough meats. It looks like a hatchet with a curved spine.
  • Curved cleaver – the curved cleaver is a unique and versatile tool perfect for tackling those hard-to-reach places in the kitchen. Its curved blade lets you get into tight spaces and make precise cuts. But what really sets the curved cleaver apart from other kitchen cleavers is its ability to handle small bones, especially poultry bones and cartilage. With its sharp blade and comfortable handle, you can easily cut through those pesky bones like a regular chef’s knife.

Generally, a meat cleaver is designed mainly to chop meat, making it an outstanding tool for the butcher.

It’s also well-suited for preparing many meat dishes, like buying joints of meat and prepping them at home. 

Japanese cleavers

This type of cleaver has a thinner, pointed blade that is ideal for slicing vegetables into thin strips. 

However, there’s more than one type of Japanese cleaver, so let’s take a look at them:

Japanese cleavers come in various styles and sizes, each suited for different tasks.

Here are some of the most common types:

  • Usuba – This type of cleaver has a square-tipped, thin blade that is great for slicing vegetables into thin strips. It’s single-beveled, meaning that only one side of the blade is sharpened. 
  • Nakiri – This type of cleaver has a flat, rectangular blade that is great for chopping vegetables. It has a straight blade and a blunt tip, making it ideal for chopping vegetables without worrying about piercing them.
  • Deba – This Japanese cleaver type has a narrower blade that is perfect for cutting through delicate meat and fish bones. But the deba is also more of a knife than a cleaver, although it could be called a fish cleaver.
  • Chukabocho – Chukabocho (which means “Chinese-style kitchen knife”) is basically an identical copy of the Chinese cleaver but made with Japanese steel and forging methods (learn about the special art of Japanese knife making here). 

The Nakiri (or nakiri bocho, which means “knife for cutting greens”) looks similar to a Chinese-style cleaver at first glance. 

However, nakiri cleavers are smaller and have squared blades with a little point at the end.

The flat cutting edge tells you exactly what this blade is designed for: cutting vegetables. 

The way the knife is designed lends itself to firstly, nakiri knives tend to be lighter and smaller than cleaver blades, which makes the blade easier to handle and quicker by hand.

This makes a big difference when finely chopping greens or working fast in the kitchen. 

The blade of a nakiri is also thinner than other cleavers, making it far sharper and with a more delicate edge.

This lets the nakiri slice effortlessly through thicker vegetables and with a rapid chopping motion, which is common in many Asian cuisines. 

Although the nakiri is designed to cut meat, its lighter weight requires more force to cut through a thick joint of meat.

The delicate blade is also unsuitable for cutting through bone and is liable to chip.

Chukabocho is lighter and smaller than a Western-style cleaver.

Despite having a squared general shape, this knife is like a chef’s knife and is designed for general use, not a dedicated meat-cutting tool. Chukabocho should be treated like a standard chef’s knife.

Chinese cleavers

This type of cleaver has a wide blade and is great for mincing herbs and crushing garlic.

Some Chinese cleavers are designed to cut and mince herbs and vegetables, whereas some are specifically designed to cut through hard meats.

Several Chinese knives have broad, square blades without points that resemble cleavers.

The Cai Dao, a broad name for Chinese kitchen knives, can refer to a wide range of blades, although it is most frequently used to designate a “standard,” all-purpose form of vegetable knife.

Cleaver-style Based on the blade thickness and the intended use of the knife, Chinese knives can be divided into three main categories.

  • Chinese vegetable cleaver – Although it may resemble a Western cleaver in appearance, the Chinese vegetable cleaver, sometimes referred to simply as a Cai Dao, does not handle like one. It features a more sensitive blade with a lighter profile and a thinner, sharper edge.
  • Dual-purpose cleaver – The All-Purpose Knife, or a Chopper, features a blade that is thicker and stronger at the heel than a vegetable cleaver, making it significantly better suited for the preparation of meat dishes, particularly fish and fowl. 
  • Chinese meat cleaver – The Gudao, also known as the Chinese meat cleaver and translating to “bone cleaver” or “bone chopper,” is a knife that is employed for the purpose that is suggested by its name. 

A dual-purpose cleaver’s design emphasizes its adaptability to any task.

The knife is easier to control and ideal for thin slicing since it is narrower and more sensitive closer to the front of the blade. 

The blade’s thicker back, which also has a strong spine, moves the weight and balance closer to the hand and makes it easier to cut through small bones.

The Gudao is meant to chop through meat and bone with the least amount of resistance and is heavier, and has a thicker blade than a Western cleaver.

It’s more heavy-duty and best for cutting through meats, sinew, cartilage, and bone. 

Chukabocho vs. Chinese Cleavers

As mentioned, chukabocho is a literal translation of the Japanese for “Chinese kitchen knife.”

It’s a Japanese variant of the Chinese cleaver, but the differences are relatively minor. 

I’m focusing on the difference between these two types of cleavers because they’re commonly mistaken. 

Types of Chinese cleavers and Chinese kitchen knives resemble cleavers with large, square blades and lack a pointed tip.

The general term for Chinese kitchen knives is cai dao.

This term is used to describe different knives, but it’s most commonly used to describe the standard, general-use style of vegetable knife.

Cleaver-style Chinese knives are split into two general varieties based on blade thickness.

A knife designed for Chinese vegetable cutting is called a vegetable cleaver.

Chinese vegetable cleavers, or cai dao, look similar to a Western cleaver, but with a handle like a common kitchen knife.

In Chinese households, this knife is known as the vegetable cleaver. It has a delicate blade and a lighter profile, with a thinner and sharper edge.

Unlike knives designed to cleave through bone, the vegetable cleaver is a generalist knife.

Chinese chefs reach for this knife when suitable for cutting vegetables.

This suggests that cleavers of this type are an excellent choice for mincing herbs and leafy greens, as well as slicing prepared cuts of boneless meat into smaller portions.

What is a cleaver used for?

Kitchen cleavers are primarily used to cut through bones and tough meats. They can also be used to mince vegetables or slice them into thin strips for stir-fries.

The cleaver is a heavy, rectangular-shaped knife that’s perfect for breaking down large pieces of meat into manageable chunks, chopping tough vegetables, and mincing, dicing, and slicing various foods.

It’s also great for pounding and breaking through tendons and bones.

The size and weight of a cleaver make it the perfect tool for getting through large pieces of meat quickly and easily.

It’s also surprisingly versatile; you can chop, slice, and dice vegetables, particularly those with tough skins.

A kitchen cleaver can also be used as an all-purpose knife for other tasks, such as slicing fruits and vegetables, dicing cheese, or crushing garlic.

Finally, a meat cleaver is a great addition to any kitchen because it stands up to the toughest of tasks.

It’s perfect for sectioning large carcasses in a butcher shop, but it’s also good for modern tasks in the home kitchen.

Here is a list of what kitchen cleavers are mostly used for:

  • Butchering and preparing meats
  • Slicing vegetables
  • Crushing garlic
  • Mincing herbs
  • Chopping fruit
  • Dicing cheese
  • Cutting through bones
  • Opening cans and bottles

How is a kitchen cleaver used?

To use a cleaver properly, hold the handle with one hand and place your other hand on top of the blade. 

Gently press down and rock the blade back and forth to create thin slices. 

Alternatively, you can use the cleaver like a hammer by pressing down on the blade and driving it forcefully through the meat.

Unexpected ways to use a Chinese cleaver

As a proud cleaver owner, you have a whole universe of Chinese knife methods to explore. 

Here are some unexpected ways to use one:

  • A swift downward chop makes easy work of hacking chunky produce like daikon, watermelon, and coconuts with thick-skinned pumpkins.
  • Twist and crack open nuts with the heel of the blade.
  • Use the wide surface area of the blade to crack peppercorns and smash an entire head of garlic. The papery skin practically peels off.
  • Angle the blade on the cutting board to mash garlic cloves and soft beans into a spreadable paste.
  • Flip the knife upside down and use the dull spine to tenderize meat and bruise lemongrass.
  • Use the cleaver as an excellent bench scraper for meal prep.
  • Chop ingredients for hot pot dinner and swipe food onto a flat blade to transfer it to a wok or bowl.

Are cleavers double bevel or single bevel?

The majority of kitchen cleavers are single bevel, meaning that the blade has a flat side and an angled side.

This allows for more precise cutting and makes it easier to chop through hard foods.

Some cleavers may also be double bevel, meaning that both sides of the blade are angled.

This type of cleaver is usually used for cutting softer foods like fruits and vegetables, as it provides more control over the cut.

Nakiri usually has a double bevel blade, while Usuba and Deba typically come with a single bevel blade.

Meat cleavers can be double or single bevel, depending on their intended use.

Single bevel cleavers are great for splitting bones and tougher cuts of meat, while double bevel cleavers are better for finer cuts.

What is the best angle for a cleaver?

Regarding cleavers, the best angle depends on the knife you have and the food you’re preparing. 

There’s a general rule which says a single-edged cleaver should be sharpened at 50 degrees and the double bevel at 25 degrees.

However, there are actually no real rules, and there are many cleaver varieties. 

  • For a Chinese cleaver, a dual-purpose version with a reinforced heel area should be sharpened at an angle of 20 degrees for two-thirds of the blade and 25 degrees for the remaining third. 
  • For a Chinese vegetable cleaver, a 17 to 20 degree angle is recommended.
  • For a dual-purpose cleaver, a 20 to 25 degree angle is best.
  • And for a bone cleaver, a 40 to 50 degree angle is the way to go. 

No matter what type of cleaver you have, the key is to find the sweet spot between long-edge retention and sharpness.

If you’re a home cook, you’ll want to opt for a lower angle to compensate for your lack of knife skills.

But if you’re a professional chef, you’ll likely want to go for a higher angle to ensure you can handle tougher foods. 

So, when it comes to cleavers, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

But with a little trial and error, you’ll be able to find the perfect angle for your knife and your culinary needs.

Benefits of using a cleaver

Cleavers are incredibly robust tools that are easy to sharpen and can last for years if looked after correctly. 

Their versatility means that chefs and kitchen professionals are always reaching for them when preparing meat. 

Cleaver-style knives are also perfect for chopping and dicing heavy fruits and vegetables, such as butternut squash and large root veg. 

The large, flat blade of a cleaver is also perfect for pounding and crushing things like herbs.

The flat, broad cutting edge makes it incredibly simple to scrape diced herbs off the cutting board and into a bowl. 

Cleaver features: what to look for in a cleaver

Blade material: stainless steel vs high carbon steel

When choosing a cleaver, it’s important to consider the type of material used for the blade. There are two main types: stainless steel and high-carbon steel

Stainless steel blades are rust-resistant, so they’re great for use in wet environments.

However, they can be harder to sharpen and don’t have the same sharpness as high-carbon steel blades.

High-carbon steel blades are sharper and can hold an edge better, but they’re more prone to rusting.

It’s also important to ensure the blade is well-balanced and not too thin or thick for its intended use.

When looking for a cleaver, you must ensure it has the sharpest blade possible.

Cleavers face a lot of heavy use, so you’ll want to ensure the knife is robust enough to handle it. 

High carbon steel is the hardest variety of steel and will be sharper than an equivalent stainless steel blade.

The increased carbon content makes the blade harder, but it is more likely to chip or break over a long period of time. 

Damascus blade

Ah, the Damascus blade. It’s the stuff of legends, and it’s been around for centuries.

But what does it have to do with kitchen cleavers? Well, let’s take a look.

The Damascus blade is a type of steel that was forged in the Middle East as far back as the 13th century.

It was made from a special type of steel called Wootz, which was imported from southern India.

This steel was known for its toughness, resistance to shattering, and ability to be honed to a sharp, resilient edge.

So, how does this relate to kitchen cleavers? 

Well, it turns out that the same Wootz steel used to make Damascus blades was also used to make kitchen cleavers.

The blades of these cleavers were characterized by distinctive patterns and banding, similar to the flowing water or ladder rose pattern found on Damascus blades. 

This made them tough, sharp, and able to stand up to the rigors of a busy kitchen.

So, there you have it.

The Damascus blade and the kitchen cleaver have a long history together, and it all started with the special steel known as Wootz.

It’s a testament to the strength and resilience of this steel that it can still be found in the kitchen today.

Handle size and design

Cleavers often have an offset handle and are one-handed knives.

In terms of how a knife feels in hand, how straightforward it is to use, and how easily it cuts, a decent handle makes a significant difference.

Wood is the material usually used for a cleaver handle.

Hardwood handles come in a wide range of designs and look fantastic, but comfort is the primary factor to consider. 

When cutting through thick joints and bones, wooden handles are more forgiving on the hand and have the tendency to lessen the intensity of repeated strikes.

Japanese cleavers can have magnolia wood handles (learn about traditional Japanese Wa knife handles here).

While buying a knife, it’s important to pay attention to the knife tang as well. The portion of the blade that continues into the handle is known as the tang. 

A full-tang knife is the best kind to purchase since it has a blade that reaches all the way to the bottom of the handle, making it considerably stronger and less likely to shatter. 

Size and weight

Cleavers exist in a variety of sizes, much like other knives.

The blade of the typical Western cleaver measures between 6 and 10 inches in length and 3 to 4 inches in depth. 

Even though they often come in slightly smaller sizes, Asian-style cleavers, particularly those with larger, meat-cutting blades like a Gudao, can be about this size.

Knives called cleavers are hefty by design.

You need to use less force per swing since the heavier blade puts more weight behind the cutting edge, making it simpler to chop through the prepared material.

This load must be evenly distributed.

Smaller chefs might not desire a cleaver that is heavy on the scale since repetitive swings could induce muscle fatigue or lack of blade control.

Consider purchasing a lighter, more manageable knife if you have smaller hands.

How to care for a kitchen cleaver

Taking a few extra minutes to care for a cleaver can dramatically extend its life

Hand wash your cleaver and avoid extensive heat and moisture. The dishwasher can damage the wooden handle. 

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • Wipe dry immediately, especially if it’s a carbon steel cleaver, as it’s prone to rusting. 
  • Use the cleaver on wood, plastic, or rubber cutting boards. 
  • Dull blades can be dangerous, so make sure to keep them sharp. 
  • Store the cleaver in a knife block to minimize the risk of damage. 

Sharpening your cleaver is a must if you want to keep it in tip-top shape.

You can employ a honing rod, knife sharpener, or water stone a few times a year.

You’ll notice a big difference in cutting with a sharp knife, and it’s less likely to hurt you. 

Find my full guide on sharpening Japanese knives with a whetstone here

Meat cleaver vs vegetable cleaver

Regarding the kitchen, a meat and vegetable cleaver are two very different tools. 

A meat cleaver is designed for chopping through tough cuts of meat, while a vegetable cleaver is designed for chopping through softer vegetables. 

If you’re a home chef, you know that a meat cleaver is essential for slicing through thick cuts of meat, while a vegetable cleaver is perfect for chopping up softer vegetables.

But don’t let the names fool you – a meat cleaver isn’t just for meat, and a vegetable cleaver isn’t just for veggies. 

Think of a meat cleaver as a heavy-duty tool for tough jobs. It’s got a thick, heavy blade that can easily chop through bones and tough cuts of meat. 

A vegetable cleaver, on the other hand, is a much lighter tool. It’s got a thinner, lighter blade that’s perfect for slicing through softer vegetables.

When it comes to the kitchen, it’s all about having the right tool for the job.

A meat cleaver is great for chopping through tough cuts of meat, while a vegetable cleaver is perfect for slicing through softer veggies. 

So, if you’re looking to make a delicious meal, ensure you have both a meat and vegetable cleaver in your kitchen arsenal!

Find out all the Japanese knife types that will always have a place in my kitchen

Cleaver vs chefs knife

If you’re a cook, you know there’s no one-size-fits-all knife. You’ve got your cleaver and chef’s knife, each with a unique purpose. 

But what’s the difference between the two? Well, let’s take a look! 

The cleaver is the big, bad boy of the kitchen.

It’s got a hefty blade that can easily chop through bones, and its wide surface makes it perfect for crushing garlic and other herbs. 

One major and noticeable difference is that a cleaver has a wide blade, whereas the chef’s knife is narrower. 

On the other hand, the chef’s knife is a bit more versatile.

It’s got a thinner blade that can easily slice through veggies and meat, and its curved shape helps you make quick, precise cuts.

So, if you’re looking to break down a chicken or chop up some veggies, the cleaver is your go-to.

But if you need to make thin, precise slices, then the chef’s knife is the one for you.

And if you’re looking for something in between, then you can always go for a Santoku knife

Bottom line: if you want to be a master chef, you need both a cleaver and a chef’s knife.

The cleaver is the big, burly guy who can handle the tough stuff, while the chef’s knife is the more refined one who can quickly work the finer cuts. 

Cleaver vs knife

Regarding kitchen tools, there’s no denying that a cleaver and a knife are two very different animals. 

Sure, they both have sharp edges and can be used to cut things, but that’s where the similarities end.

Let’s take a look at the differences between these two tools. 

The main difference between a cleaver and a knife is the shape of their blades.

A cleaver has a wide, rectangular blade that is great for chopping through meat, bones, and tough vegetables.

A knife typically has a much thinner blade that is ideal for precision slicing or dicing tasks. Additionally, cleavers are typically much heavier than knives. 

When it comes to size, a cleaver is much larger than a knife.

A cleaver is usually about twice the size of a knife, so if you’re looking for something that can do some serious chopping, a cleaver is the way to go. 

On the other hand, a knife is much more versatile and can be used for various tasks. 

When it comes to sharpness, a cleaver is much sharper than a knife.

The blade of a cleaver is designed to be able to cut through tough materials like bones and meat, so it’s much sharper than a knife. 

On the other hand, a knife is designed to be used for more delicate tasks like slicing and dicing vegetables. 

Regarding weight, a cleaver is much heavier than a knife. A cleaver is usually made of a heavier material than a knife.

On the other hand, a knife is much lighter and can be used for more delicate tasks. 

So, when it comes to the differences between a cleaver and a knife, it’s pretty clear that they are two very different tools.

If you’re looking for something that can do some serious chopping, a cleaver is the way to go. 

But if you’re looking for something that can do various tasks, a knife is the way to go.

So, if you’re looking for the perfect kitchen tool, it’s important to know the differences between a cleaver and a knife.

German vs American cleaver

When it comes to cleavers, there’s a world of difference between German and American models. 

For starters, German cleavers are usually made of stainless steel, while American cleavers are usually made of carbon steel. 

German cleavers tend to be heavier and thicker, while American cleavers are lighter and thinner.

German cleavers are designed for chopping, while American cleavers are designed for slicing. 

If you’re looking for a cleaver that can do it all, you might be torn between German and American models. 

On the one hand, German cleavers are great for chopping, but they can be a bit too heavy for slicing. 

On the other hand, American cleavers are great for slicing, but they can be a bit too light for chopping.

So if you want a cleaver that can do both, you might have to compromise and get one of each! 

When it comes to German vs American cleavers, it’s like choosing between a sledgehammer and a scalpel. 

German cleavers are like sledgehammers – they’re heavy and powerful but not so great for precision work. 

American cleavers, on the other hand, are like scalpels – they’re light and precise but not so great for heavy-duty chopping.

So if you want a cleaver that can do both, you might have to settle for a hybrid. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to what you need your cleaver for. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty chopper, go with a German cleaver.

But if you need something light and precise, an American cleaver is the way to go.

And if you want the best of both worlds, you might have to get a bit creative and get one of each!

Also find out how German knives compare to Japanese knives (I know my favorite)

German vs Chinese cleaver

Ah, the age-old debate: German vs Chinese cleaver. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, or maybe more like comparing apples to a giant, sharp rock. 

On the one hand, you have the German cleaver, a tool of precision and finesse.

Conversely, a Chinese cleaver is a tool of brute force and power. 

Let’s start with the German cleaver. It’s a lightweight, slim, and sharp tool that’s perfect for precision cutting.

It’s great for slicing and dicing and can even be used for more delicate tasks like filleting fish. It’s also a great tool for chopping herbs and vegetables. 

Now, the Chinese cleaver. This is a heavy-duty tool that’s designed for tough jobs.

It’s great for chopping through bones and tough cuts of meat and can even be used to crush garlic and other hard ingredients.

It’s also perfect for hacking through tough vegetables like squash and pumpkin. 

So, which one should you choose? Well, it really depends on what you’re looking for.

If you need a tool for precision cutting, then the German cleaver is the way to go. But if you need something for tough jobs, then the Chinese cleaver is the one for you.

Meat cleaver vs butcher knife

Here is another fun one: meat cleaver vs butcher knife.

On the one hand, you have the meat cleaver, a hefty tool that looks like it could chop through a cow in one fell swoop. 

On the other hand, you have the butcher knife, a much more delicate tool that looks like it could slice through a steak like butter. 

So, which one is better? 

Well, it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re looking to chop through a thick piece of meat, then the meat cleaver is your best bet.

It’s got the power and weight to get the job done quickly and efficiently. 

However, if you’re looking to slice through a steak or other thin pieces of meat, then the butcher knife is the way to go. Its sharp blade and precision make it perfect for the task. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your needs. But if you’re looking for a good laugh, just imagine a meat cleaver trying to slice through a steak. 

Chinese cleaver vs Japanese cleaver

Are you ready to get your cleaver on?

If you’re looking for a versatile knife to tackle all your cutting jobs in the kitchen, you’ve got two main options: the Japanese cleaver and the Chinese cleaver. 

But which one should you choose? 

Let’s start with the Japanese cleaver. It’s a popular choice among Western chefs, and it’s definitely versatile. 

It’s got a sharp blade that’s great for slicing meat, chopping vegetables, and mincing herbs.

But it’s not the only Japanese knife in town. There’s also the santoku, which is a great all-rounder. 

Now let’s talk about the Chinese cleaver, or chuka bocho. It’s a tall, rectangular blade that looks a bit like a Western meat cleaver, but it’s made differently.

The meat cleaver is thick and tough, designed for smashing bones. 

The chuka bocho is thinner and sharper, and it’s better suited for general-purpose kitchen use. 

So what’s the difference between the two? 

Well, the Japanese cleaver is a higher-performance version of the Western chef knife, while the Chinese cleaver is a harder and sharper version of the Chinese chef knife. 

The difference is in the steel: Japanese knives are sharper and stay sharper for longer. But they’re also more delicate.

The Chinese cleaver is like a monster truck, while the Japanese cleaver is like a Porsche Cayenne. 

In China and other parts of the world, cleaver-like knives are the primary knife found in the kitchen.

There are variations on the theme, and the thickness of their blades usually categorizes Chinese cleavers. 

So which one should you choose? Well, if you’re looking for a jack of all trades, master of none, then the middleweight Chinese cleaver, or wénwǔ dāo, is a great option. 

It’s light enough for light jobs like chopping meat and vegetables, but it’s also tough enough for bigger jobs like hacking through pork and beef bones. 

For more delicate and precise cutting, like boneless meat, vegetables, and fruits, you’ll want to go with a thinner blade. 

These are typically known as slicing knives (piàn dāo), mulberry knives (sāng dāo), or the Chinese cleaver-shaped chef knife (mistranslated as a vegetable cleaver, or cài dāo).

The word “vegetable” in this context actually means “food” more broadly, so it’s better translated as a kitchen knife. 

The Japanese approach to knifemaking tends to be more specialized, meaning their cleavers are thinner and harder, making them better suited for slicing and dicing. 

They’re also great for mincing and chopping, but if you’re looking to hack through bones, you’ll want to go with a Japanese butchery cleaver. 

So why should you choose a Chinese cleaver? Well, they appeal to a wide range of professional chefs and home cooks alike. 

For one, they’re safer than a knife with a stabby tip since the width of the blade allows for constant contact with your non-knife hand.

Professional chefs also appreciate the efficiency of the food scoop built into the chuka bocho design, and the relatively durable construction makes Chinese style


Why do Chinese chefs use cleavers?

Chinese chefs use cleavers because they are a great multipurpose tool for various kitchen tasks.

Cleavers are perfect for chopping vegetables, butchering meats, and cleaning workspaces. 

Plus, they are the favorite tool of many chefs, making them a must-have in any kitchen. 

Cleavers are also incredibly versatile. They can be used for various tasks, from slicing and dicing to mincing and crushing.

Plus, they are incredibly durable and can handle even the toughest of tasks. When looking for a tool that can do it all, a cleaver is the way to go. 

Finally, cleavers are incredibly affordable. You don’t have to break the bank to get one, making them a great choice for any budget-conscious chef. 

In short, Chinese chefs use cleavers because they are a great multipurpose tool that can handle a variety of kitchen tasks, they are incredibly versatile, and they are incredibly affordable. 

Is a cleaver a good kitchen knife?

A cleaver is an awesome kitchen knife!

It’s a versatile tool that can do just about anything – from chopping vegetables to breaking down a chicken.

It’s heavier and thicker than a chef’s knife, so it’s perfect for crushing aromatics and filleting fish. 

Plus, it’s the ultimate tool for reaching those hard-to-reach tasks.

Whether you’re a Chinese cuisine aficionado or just looking for a reliable kitchen knife, a cleaver is the way to go. 

It’s a staple in many kitchens, and its rivaled utility makes it a must-have for any cook. Plus, it pairs perfectly with chopsticks and a wok!

So if you’re looking for a knife that can do it all, a cleaver is your best bet.

Do cleavers cut through bone?

The answer is a resounding yes! 

Cleavers are designed to cut through tough, slippery chicken skin and meat, and they can easily slice through bones too. 

With a sharp blade and a hefty weight, a cleaver can chop through bones with ease.

The difference between a boning knife and a cleaver is that a boning knife is designed for more precise and delicate cutting, while a cleaver is made for tougher jobs. 

So if you want to chop through bones, a cleaver is your go-to tool.

What do chefs use cleavers for?

Chefs use cleavers for a variety of tasks in the kitchen, from breaking down tough cuts of meat to crushing garlic. 

A cleaver is the ultimate tool for chefs who need to make precise and effortless culinary cuts. It’s also great for chopping, slicing, mincing, and dicing various foods. 

The right cleaver makes all the difference in the kitchen. It should have a comfortable handle, a thick blade, and a good length.

The material of the blade is also important, as it should be strong enough to withstand the pounding and mincing that chefs need to do. 

Caring for your cleaver is also important. Make sure to clean and store it properly and sharpen it regularly.

This will ensure that it lasts and continues to perform at its best. 

So, if you’re a chef or a kitchen enthusiast, a cleaver is a great addition to your kitchen arsenal. It’s versatile, strong, and can make a variety of tasks effortless.

Invest in the right cleaver, and you won’t regret it!

Can you chop with a cleaver?

Yes, you can chop with a cleaver! A cleaver is a great tool for chopping, slicing, and dicing all kinds of ingredients.

It’s a versatile kitchen tool that can be used to quickly and easily chop through tough meats, vegetables, and fruits.

The sharp blade and heavy weight of the cleaver make it easy to chop through ingredients with just a few swift strokes. 

Is a cleaver better than a knife?

When it comes to kitchen knives, the debate between a cleaver and a chef’s knife is a hot one.

So, is a cleaver better than a knife? Well, it depends on what you’re trying to do. 

If you’re prepping boneless meat, a cleaver is the way to go. It’s designed for precise cuts and can make easy work of slicing through meat.

On the other hand, a butcher knife is better for larger cuts of meat, like animal carcasses, as it can be used to break them down into smaller portions. 

When it comes to chopping garlic or slicing a tomato, it’s a different story. Depending on what you’re cooking, you might need a different knife altogether.

That’s where versatile knives like the Chinese cleaver and the chef’s knife come in. 

So, which is better? Well, the main difference between a Chinese cleaver and a chef’s knife is the shape of the blade. 

A Chinese cleaver has a broad, rectangular blade with a flat edge, while a chef’s knife has a smaller, curved edge that tapers to a point.

The Chinese cleaver is also heavier and thicker than the chef’s knife. 

The differences in design mean that each knife is better suited to different tasks. So, if you’re looking for a guide to help you decide which is right for your needs, you’ve come to the right place. 

Bottom line? It depends on what you’re cooking. If you’re prepping boneless meat, a cleaver is the way to go. 

But if you’re chopping garlic or slicing a tomato, you might need a different knife altogether.

So, if you want to make sure you get the job done right, it’s best to have both a cleaver and a chef’s knife in your kitchen.

Should a cleaver be sharp?

Absolutely! A cleaver should always be sharp.

It’s the most important tool in the kitchen, and it’s essential to have a sharp blade to get the job done. 

A dull cleaver can be dangerous, as it won’t cut through food properly and can slip off the food and onto your fingers. 

Plus, it just won’t look as impressive when you’re slicing and dicing. So if you want to be a master chef, you need to make sure your cleaver is always sharp!

How can you sharpen a kitchen cleaver?

Sharpening a kitchen cleaver is a task that can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be!

With a few simple steps, you can have your cleaver sharp and ready to go in no time. 

First, you’ll want to make sure you have the right tools. You’ll need a sharpening stone, a honing steel, and some honing oil. 

A sharpening stone is a flat stone that has a rough surface and is used to sharpen the blade of the cleaver.

A honing steel is a metal rod that is used to realign the blade of the cleaver. Finally, honing oil is used to lubricate the blade while sharpening. 

Once you have your tools, it’s time to get started. Start by placing the sharpening stone on a flat surface. 

Then, hold the cleaver at a 20-degree angle and run the blade along the stone. Make sure to keep the angle consistent and move the blade in a circular motion.

You can consider buying a sharpening jig to keep the angle consistent throughout.

Do this for a few minutes, flip the cleaver over and repeat the process on the other side. 

Once you’ve finished sharpening the blade, it’s time to hone it.

Hold the honing rod vertically with the tip resting on a cutting board or other stable surface.

Hold the knife with the blade at a 20-degree angle to the honing rod. The blade should be at the rod’s base, near the handle.

Starting at the base of the blade, draw the knife down and across the honing rod in a sweeping motion.

Keep the blade at a consistent angle as you sharpen.

Repeat this process on the other side of the blade, maintaining the same angle.

Repeat the sharpening process on each side of the blade several times until the edge feels sharp.

It’s important to note that honing a knife with a honing rod will not actually sharpen the blade.

Instead, it helps to realign the microscopic teeth on the blade’s edge, which can become bent or misaligned over time with use.

For best results, use a honing rod regularly to maintain the sharpness of your knife’s edge, and only use a sharpening stone or other sharpening tool when the blade is dull and needs to be sharpened.

Now you’ve successfully sharpened your kitchen cleaver, you can get back to chopping and slicing with ease.


Kitchen cleavers are an essential part of any kitchen.

They’re great for splitting up large pieces of meat and soft bones and perfect for slicing through thick pieces of meat. 

But then you’ve also got Japanese vegetable cleavers like the Usuba and Nakiri, and these are great for vegetarians and vegans who cut up lots of herbs and veggies.

Cleavers are excellent for hard cuts and chops, and they are heavy-duty cutting tools every kitchen needs. 

So if you’re looking for a knife that can do it all, a cleaver is the way to go!

If you have a nakiri cleaver knife, you want to keep it safe by storing it with a saya (best for nakiri knife reviewed here)

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.