Why I Use a Chinese language Cleaver Extra Than Any Different Knife

As a daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, I spent each night time of my childhood cooking and consuming conventional Chinese language dinners with my household. Our nightly food-prep routine—smashing knobs of ginger, slicing slivers of beef for stir fry, chopping veggies—doubled as nonnegotiable bonding time. Shortly, what began as a chore grew right into a valuable a part of our days.

From these a long time’ value of meals, one knife, shuffled from hand at hand, emerged as everybody’s most popular cooking device: the Chinese language cleaver. Often known as a Chinese language chef’s knife, the cleaver is a staple of the delicacies, rivaled in utility solely by the wok and chopsticks. We attain for it for each process from crushing aromatics to filleting fish—it’s the final word do-it-all device.

My very own cleaver is a brandless mannequin that my father picked up in a small store in New York Metropolis’s Chinatown 40 years in the past (considerably much like this one). I’ve discovered it powerful to trace down my cleaver’s actual origins, but it surely’s nonetheless in nice form, which exhibits that when handled with care, these instruments can develop into household heirlooms. For those who’re looking for to put money into a cleaver of your individual, you possibly can most likely discover a good one at a restaurant-supply retailer or Chinese language grocer (you probably have one in your space), so long as you recognize what to search for. Or, for a positive guess, you can strive one of many following expert-recommended choices which are ubiquitous in Chinese language kitchens:

Lucas Sin, chef-owner of Junzi Kitchen and Good Day, recommends the Shi Ba Zi Zuo Skilled Chef Knife, with a sturdy carbon-stainless blade, and the versatile stainless-steel Chan Chi Kee Small Stainless Cleaver. “Principally each single Chinese language restaurant I’ve ever labored in or ever stepped foot in has a Chan Chi Kee knife,” says Sin. For a razor-sharp carbon-steel cleaver that requires a bit extra upkeep, Randy Lau, the creator of Made With Lau, recommends the Dexter Russell Conventional 8″x 3 1/4″ Chinese language Cooks Knife. (It’s additionally really useful by Critical Eats and Bon Appétit.) “[That knife] was the usual for Chinatown cooks,” mentioned Lau. “Not solely did it get me by way of school, that actual knife fed numerous would-be engineers, docs, and attorneys in our technology.”

What’s a Chinese language cleaver?

A Chinese cleaver between a santoku and a western-style knife, shown on top a wooden cutting board for comparison.
Photograph: Sarah Kobos

A typical Chinese language cleaver has a big, rectangular blade certain by a wood deal with. It differs from a Western-style chef’s knife in a lot of methods. For one, it lacks a pointed tip and as a substitute has a squared-off blade with a broad floor space. A Chinese language cleaver can also be considerably heavier. Mine weighs slightly over 10 ounces (by comparability, Wirecutter’s high choose for a Western chef’s knife weighs 6.6 ounces). Whereas the load of a Western chef’s knife is distributed evenly between the blade and the deal with, a Chinese language cleaver’s weight is concentrated within the blade, making it front-heavy. To the uninitiated, the form and heft might be intimidating—my father as soon as unintentionally dropped our cleaver on the kitchen flooring, and it was the tile, not the knife, that fractured into items. However with observe, I discovered that gravity is on my aspect, because the pressure and momentum might help produce clear cuts with much less effort.

Typically, these knives are categorised into two sorts. First, meat cleavers, or gudao (“bone knife” in Mandarin), are inclined to weigh extra, have thicker blades, and are meant for hacking by way of exhausting bones. The opposite kind is a vegetable cleaver, usually referred to as a caidao (“vegetable knife”), a slicer, or a Chinese language chef’s knife. A caidao, just like the Shi Ba Zi Zuo mannequin that Sin recommends, has a thinner blade and is meant for extra delicate work. There’s additionally a 3rd model that’s a bit much less widespread, however I discover it to be essentially the most helpful. Sometimes called a chopper, it’s a hybrid of the opposite two, with a blade that’s thickest on the heel and thinnest on the entrance finish. Choppers, just like the Dexter Russell and the Chan Chi Kee, mix the utility of a gudao and a caidao to be essentially the most versatile possibility within the kitchen.

The right way to use your cleaver

A person using a Chinese cleaver to cut green onions into very thin slices, on a cutting board.
Photograph: Brittney Ho

The Chinese language cleaver represents a pressure of each power and precision; the identical device that may carve up a hen can serve to softly rating the outermost pores and skin of a mushroom cap. A chopper-style cleaver like mine is very versatile, because it’s suited to each massive, aggressive actions like cleaving and nice, exact ones like mincing and slicing.

Take the best way my dad makes use of the chopper to make a steamed-fish dish that’s a favourite in our family. With an entire fish in a single hand and the cleaver within the different, first he scrapes the stomach of the blade down the size of the fish to descale it. Then he lays the fish on a reducing board and makes use of the heel of the knife to cut off the tail. Lastly, since scallion rings would overpower the dish’s delicate flavors, he wields the entrance finish of the blade to slice hair-thin ribbons for a wispy garnish. (When you’re a proud cleaver proprietor, there’s a universe of Chinese language knife strategies to discover.)

A cleaver doesn’t change all knives—for instance, it might probably’t noticed by way of a loaf of bread in addition to a serrated knife can. However when you’re on the lookout for an all-in-one device, a Chinese language cleaver comes fairly shut. Within the gallery under, you possibly can see just some examples of the various (and typically sudden) methods you should utilize one.

A swift downward chop makes simple work of hacking by way of chunky produce like daikon or watermelon. Wedge the heel of the blade into coconuts or thick-skinned pumpkins after which twist to crack them open. Photograph: Brittney Ho

The right way to discover the right cleaver

A Chinese cleaver, shown by itself; it has a wooden handle and an inscription in Chinese on the blade.
Photograph: Sarah Kobos

When choosing a cleaver, listed below are some components you must take into account:

Blade metal: For those who’re a critical residence prepare dinner, you may take into account a carbon-steel blade, however that materials comes with some downsides. Though such a blade is simpler to sharpen and more likely to maintain its edge longer, carbon metal can also be brittle and susceptible to rust, so it requires a excessive stage of knife care. On the flip aspect, stainless-steel is rust resistant and fewer more likely to chip, but it surely’s a softer metal, so a stainless-steel knife is extra prone to warping and can boring sooner. For the very best of each worlds, we advocate a carbon-stainless mix, which mixes the sturdiness of carbon metal with the rust resistance of stainless.

Blade form: Some cleaver blades are rectangular, whereas others are barely rounded from tip to heel. Each are properly suited to push reducing (video) and making clear, uniform cuts like these wanted for a stir fry. I want the rounded stomach, which affords the bonus of being nice for rock-chopping herbs, as one would with a Western knife.

A full tang: The blade ought to prolong all the best way to the tip of the deal with, the place it’s secured with pins or rivets (the a part of the blade contained in the deal with known as the tang). This development ensures that aggressive smashing or cleaving received’t dislodge or break your blade.

A cushty grip: A cleaver must also really feel sturdy in your hand, balanced, and cozy to wield. Lesley Stockton, Wirecutter senior employees author and writer of our information to the very best chef’s knife, advises purchasing for a knife in individual when you can, in an effort to grip just a few totally different fashions. “Ensure that the cleaver is snug to carry whilst you’re utilizing a pinch grip,” Lesley says. Your thumb and forefinger ought to maintain both aspect of the blade whereas your three different fingers grip the deal with, as proven on this video. “That gives most management if you’re reducing.”

A straight backbone: Study the backbone with the tip pointed away from you to guarantee that it’s straight and that there aren’t any dings alongside the sting of the blade. Any defects will hinder a clear, exact reduce.

Value: Chinese language cleavers are comparatively cheap. Yow will discover fashions which are tons of of {dollars}, however a midrange cleaver that can carry out properly ought to go for $40 to $60.

If I have been shopping for a brand-new cleaver at present, I’d begin by going to a neighborhood restaurant-supply store or Chinese language grocer and asking for its knife suggestions for residence cooks. For those who dwell anyplace close to New York Metropolis’s Chinatown and are capable of store in individual, strive Hung Chong Imports and Chef Restaurant Provides, two restaurant- and kitchen-supply shops which are cornerstones of the group. Korin, a New York–primarily based vendor of premium knives and restaurant provides, additionally has a web-based retailer.

Make your cleaver final

Cleaver maintenance is much like that of Western knives—only a couple further minutes of care per use will dramatically prolong its life. You must hand-wash your cleaver; the intensive warmth and moisture from a dishwasher may harm the wood deal with, and rattling in opposition to different issues may boring the blade. You must also wipe it dry instantly, particularly you probably have a carbon-steel cleaver, which is susceptible to rusting. Use the cleaver solely on a wooden, plastic, or rubber reducing board, as a result of the rest will boring the blade’s edge. I retailer my cleaver in a knife block to attenuate any danger of injury.

As for sharpening, make use of a honing rod earlier than every use and a knife sharpener or a water stone just a few instances a yr—you’ll discover a giant distinction reducing with a pointy knife, and also you’re a lot much less more likely to damage your self. For an in depth information on the right way to hone and sharpen a Chinese language cleaver, this video is a good tutorial. When handled correctly, these knives can final a lifetime. I hope your cleaver carries you and your loved ones by way of a long time’ value of dinners, simply as ours has for me and mine.

This text was edited by Gabriella Gershenson and Marilyn Ong.


1. Randy Lau, creator, Made With Lau, Zoom interview, July 14, 2021

2. Invoice Leung, chef, The Woks of Life, Zoom interview, July 19, 2021

3. Lucas Sin, chef, Junzi Kitchen and Good Day, Zoom interview, July 20, 2021

4. Lesley Stockton, senior employees author, Wirecutter, Slack interview, July 20, 2021

5. Daniel Gritzer, The Chinese language Cleaver Is a Critical Contender for Greatest All-Goal Kitchen Knife, Critical Eats, December 3, 2019

6. Adina Steiman, The Cai Dao Chronicles, Epicurious, March 14, 2018

7. Mackenzie Chung Fegan, A Chinese language Cleaver Is the Solely Knife You Want, Says My Mother, Bon Appétit, November 10, 2020

8. Anne Loreto Cruz, The 5 Greatest Chinese language Vegetable Cleavers, Bustle, January 10, 2021

9. Daniel Gritzer, Why Critical Cooks Use Carbon Metal Knives, Critical Eats, November 1, 2019

10. Fuchsia Dunlop, The Chinese language cleaver is the one knife you want, The Economist, August 22, 2018

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