The butcher’s cleaver used to be essential in every farm kitchen and even in city homes in the days when people bought red meat in big chunks. Today, most of that is done for us and we get cuts and roasts neatly wrapped and cut to order. Even now, if there’s a hunter in the family, or if you’re like my sister who cooks a whole hog for friends and family at least once a year, you still need a meat cleaver. Combined with a butcher block that can hold up to the work a cleaver parcels out large table fare expertly. Even heavy soup bones yield to it.
From the Eastern half of the world there’s an entirely different cleaver with a different style. In Chinese kitchens a cleaver takes the place of the Westerner’s chef’s knife. Asian cleavers come in many different grades, some heavier and capable of anything a western chopping blade could do, and some much lighter and more refined. Used for cutting hard squash, small bones, root vegetables and nearly everything else, it’s sometimes the only knife in the Asian kitchen. The convex cutting edge slices, dices and even minces with an efficient two handed rocking motion.
Even the smaller vegetable cleavers are built of thicker steel than ordinary knives, and sharpening them can be a real chore. You’ll at least need a set of sharpening stones to keep the edge in top shape.
Traditional rectangular Chinese Cleavers often seem awkward to western chefs. The LamsonSharp cleaver conforms to the western way of working but keeps the strength and depth of cut.
If you only use a butcher’s cleaver occasionally the Restaurant Cleaver from Forschner/Victorinox will handle all the heavy chopping at a reasonable price.
For those who want the traditional style and none of the modern worries about whether this edge will chop that, our choice for the best cleaver is Henckels’ Twin Cleaver. Use it and swing away with confidence.