If you’re wondering, “What is a cleaver knife used for,” we’re here to help. It can be a little confusing because for starters, there are a lot of different types of cleaver knives. So, below, we’ll discuss the many types of cleaver knives out there and compare them with some common kitchen knives.
What is a cleaver knife used for?
You can use cleaver knives for anything from cutting meat to chopping vegetables. It typically excels in tasks that require striking in a downward motion. The cleaver blade is rectangular and quite large in design. It has a flat edge and a straight spine, giving it plenty of force for chopping tough vegetables and meats.
More specifically, you can use the cleaver to chop, slice, dice, and mince ingredients, giving you many possibilities for recipe preparation.
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Origin of the cleaver knife
Before they invented the modern butcher knife, the cleaver was often referred to as a butcher knife for its popularity among butcheries. The primary purpose of the cleaver was as a heavy-duty tool that can break down thick pieces of meat.
To this day, the cleaver still has plenty of use in modern cooking. It gives chefs and home cooks the extra lever power they need to apply force in all the right ways.
Cleaver knife design
They design the meat cleaver with a rectangular blade of thick high-carbon steel. It has a fairly blunt edge of about 25 degrees per side of the blade. Essentially, the cleaver is not as sharp as most other knives but packs a lot more force behind its chops.
They design the edge to take on repetitive strikes against thick meat and softer bones. You’ll often find a hole in the blade’s top corner that reduces friction and hangs up the knife as needed (1).
Types of cleavers
There are two main cleaver types: meat cleaver and vegetable cleaver. You may have also heard of the Chinese cleaver, though this knife also comes under the vegetable cleaver category. It’s fairly obvious what a meat cleaver and a vegetable cleaver are used for.
However, understanding their design differences is important to understand better why you should avoid using them for the wrong tasks.
Typically, meat cleavers come with a wider and thicker blade with a more blunt edge than a vegetable cleaver. This makes it more suitable for chopping thick meats and thin or soft bones. The meat cleaver is also easily defined by its hole in the top corner of the blade. This is a feature specifically for reducing the friction from chopping thicker meats.
While it is possible to have meat cleavers without the hole on the blade, you will never see a vegetable cleaver with the same hole. Some may even resemble a chef’s knife.
The best way to tell the difference between a meat cleaver and a vegetable cleaver is by the blade’s size, width, and sharpness. A vegetable cleaver always has a sharper edge of about 15-degree blade angles per side.
Remember that vegetable cleavers require more maintenance as the sharper and thinner blade is more likely to dull frequently.
It is also important to use the meat cleaver strictly for meat and bone chopping purposes. The dull blade will not yield great results when slicing and dicing vegetables. Likewise, the vegetable cleaver blade is quite thin and fragile, making it unsuitable for cutting thick pieces of meat and bones.
However, you could use a meat cleaver to summon extra lever power to crack through the tough exterior. This is useful for hard vegetables such as large potatoes and corn cobs.
Related: What Is A Boning Knife Used For?
How to use a cleaver knife properly
To ensure safe use and best practice of your cleaver knife, you should always chop your ingredients using a cutting board. This will ensure no damage, such as scratches or dents, to your countertop as you perform your kitchen tasks. A cutting board also makes transporting your chopped vegetables to their necessary pan, pot, or bowl easier.
Another important aspect of using a cleaver knife is the grip. You should hold the cleaver with your dominant hand and place your grip not too far from where the blade meets the handle. This will ensure you fully control your chopping, slicing, and dicing tasks.
Your thumb and fingers should curl around the handle as though you are making a fist. You should clench tightly, particularly when dealing with tough ingredients that require more power.
You can also use what is known as the “second grip” to hold your cleaver knife. This means placing your thumb directly on the butt of the blade. Next, you place your index finger on the other side of the blade, and these two fingers will work together as the main grip pressure for your cutting tasks.
Finally, you curl your remaining fingers around the cleaver’s handle to complete the second grip. It removes some of your chopping power but adds more control and precision to your cutting tasks.
Cleaver knife vs chef knife
The main difference between a cleaver knife and a chef knife is the design of the blade and its intended use in the kitchen. Cleavers tend to be specialist knives that either chop vegetables or meats, but never both.
On the other hand, the chef’s knife encompasses a multipurpose design. They intend it to tackle all the basic kitchen tasks, from slicing meat to dicing vegetables.
Cleaver knives most commonly come with a D-shaped wooden handle. A chef’s knife uses a riveted handle usually made in the Western design. This is because cleavers typically use an up-and-down chopping motion. They design them for repetitive chopping tasks.
Contrastingly, the chef’s knife is a versatile tool designed for many cutting activities. So, they construct the handle with ergonomics and control in mind. In addition, it provides a pinky lock to leverage the knife’s maneuverability.
Ultimately, the cleaver is a specialist knife that you should only use for chopping meat or vegetables. The advantage of the heavy cleaver is you get plenty of force behind each chop. In addition, the straight flat edge makes your cuts nice and even for consistent results.
The chef’s knife is usually a better choice for the average home cook because of its versatility. Still, even the everyday homeowner can benefit from a good cleaver knife.
Related: 10 Best Chef Knife Under $50
Cleaver knife vs butcher knife
A butcher knife features a long blade of about 8-10 inches in length and an edge of about 15 degrees angles per side. This is similar to that of a chef or santoku knife. As its name suggests, this type of knife is used by butchers and is not commonly found in a typical household.
The blade’s shape resembles a sword with a curve that makes it exceptional at slicing up large pieces of meat.
The cleaver knife is best for repetitive chopping tasks. While it is great at cutting through thick meats, the ingredient’s size must not surpass that of the cleaver’s blade. For that reason, a butcher knife is more suitable for large pieces of meat greater than the blade itself, such as a carcass or a whole roast lamb.
In such scenarios, the butcher knife can leverage its pointed tip and long stature and conquer the ingredient with a slicing motion.
Both the cleaver and the butcher knife are great for handling boneless meats, but the butcher is better if you need to debone meats or separate ribs. However, because of its large surface area, you can use the flat side of a cleaver to tenderize meat. The straight edge is better for uniform meat and vegetable slicing.
Cleavers are also better if you crush garlic cloves or chop chili peppers (2).
Best ways to use a cleaver knife
We know that the cleaver is best used for chopping vegetables and meats, but we aren’t so aware of its slicing, dicing, and mincing capabilities. Of course, you need to ensure you are using the right grip for the right tasks and using the right cleaver too! Here, I’ll run you through some of the best ways to use a cleaver properly and the best grips for certain tasks.
We’ll start with the unconventional task first, using a cleaver to slice up fruits and vegetables. Using the second grip is a good idea for cutting thin slices of meat or vegetables. However, these tasks are more delicate, and you don’t want to compromise the ingredient’s structure by applying excessive force.
Ensure that you use the vegetable cleaver for such tasks as the sharp knife will pierce a clean line through the ingredients. A dull meat cleaver could crush it.
On that note, a meat cleaver is great for mincing meat, as this task typically requires breaking down meat into the smallest pieces possible. As such, you don’t need to be too careful with your cutting technique and can typically use the chopping motion in an up-and-down direction.
Use the first grip when using a meat cleaver to leverage the cleaver’s weight for heavy-duty tasks, ensuring that the full edge part of the blade is in contact with the meat.
Cleavers were made for chopping. So, whether you’re using a Chinese vegetable cleaver or a Western meat cleaver, you can apply a chopping motion using the first grip. Then, hold the handle firmly in your hand and use your free hand to balance yourself. You can hold onto the kitchen countertop or use it to stabilize the position of the cutting board.
You can then strike at your culinary obstacle with all your might. Whether you are taking on carrots and celery sticks or meats and whole fish, the way you chop using a cleaver is essentially the same.
What is a cleaver knife used for FAQ
What are cleaver knives good for?
Cleaver knives are fantastic for chopping up vegetables and meats in an up and downward motion. In addition, they are great for repetitive tasks that require a uniform mincing finish. The straight edge and heavy-duty blade ensure power and equality for each chop.
What do you cut with a cleaver?
There are two main types of cleavers, a meat cleaver, and a vegetable cleaver. As their names suggest, meat cleavers are used to cut meats, while vegetable cleavers (or Chinese cleavers) are used to cut vegetables.
Can you use a cleaver for everything?
You should not use a cleaver for everything, as they are not multipurpose knives. However, you should use a cleaver for meat or vegetables. It just depends on the type of cleaver you have.
Why does a cleaver have a hole in it?
Meat cleavers often have a hole in the top corner of the blade, which serves a few purposes. Most notable among them is to reduce friction when cutting thick ingredients. However, the hole also exists to hang up the cleaver on a wall or equivalent location.