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Cleaver Use in the Kitchen

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I was curious how many people keep and use a cleaver in their home kitchen or at work in a restaurant.  What type of cleaver do you use?  Do you prefer light cleavers, under a pound, or do you go for the heavier cleavers?  What have you found to be the best use for a cleaver?  I was at a product meeting recently with one of the knife manufacturers I deal with, and there was a debate about the direction of cleavers for home and restaurant use.  I am interested in hearing about the use of cleavers in the kitchen.  Our best selling cleavers are the Mundial 5500 and 5600 series lightweight cleavers, followed close behind by the Victorinox/Forschner Model 41589 Asian style cleaver with the round poly handle.  A restaurant owner told me once he never needed a cleaver, because his large chef knife could do anything a cleaver could do.

D. Clay
post #2 of 9
Cleaver is an open term.  On the one hand we have relatively light Chinese knives which are made for general but not heavy duty use -- they're the equivalent of a chef's knife or gyuto.   On the other, we have heavy butchering tools which when used correctly can split bone.  Even though they look similar they're really very different knives.

I'm not a fan of cleaver/chef's -- it took me quite a while to learn to use a European type chef's and don't feel the need to change. 

I do own an old Chicago Cutlery butcher's cleaver -- about 2 lbs I guess -- made in the late sixties and bought NOS in the early seventies.  While I keep it sharp and free from rust, it's a knife I seldom use.  If I hack with it, it's too hard on the cutting board; but if I just lean on it, it's not nearly as agile or useful as my big HD chef's knife (12" K-Sabatier au carbone), neither is it a lot more persuasive.  It's fun, but mostly I keep it because it looks good on my mag-bar.

As with a great number of profiles, using cleavers, whether "Chinese chopper" or a heavy-duty hacker for portioning ribs and splitting foul, is a "to each her/his own" sort of thing.  There's no right or wrong -- only choice.

But, if I were teaching a class on general knife use for caterers, line cooks, and home cooks when it came to heavy duty knives I'd talk about western debas and chef de chefs, but would not bother with cleavers. 

As to the "Chinese chopper" in a Western kitchen -- whatever floats your boat.  But not my cup of tea.

BDL
post #3 of 9
I'm not a pro, I'm only a simple home cook.

I have both a heavy cleaver and a very light weight cheapie.  I used to use the heavy cleaver for steaking out tuna or yellowtail.  These were 20lb plus Tuna and with the cleaver and a mallet when I got to the thick back bone, one or two whacks with a mallet and I was through and then I would go back to the long knife.  I no longer live in So. Calif so I haven't caught tuna in 15 years.

I now use the light cleaver for chicken.  We always buy whole chickens usually 4 at time, and I am often cutting the whole chicken into pieces with the light cleaver.  For whatever reason the light cheapie cleaver keeps an edge better than the heavy cleaver, and sometimes when I'm working fast I don't even bother switching to the proper knife for chopping or slicing veggies, I just keep using the light cleaver.  However the light cleaver is not my 1st choice for those other slicing chores.
post #4 of 9
 I have two cleavers one is a Chinese cleaver. I use it a lot less at home but used it all the time when I worked in professional kitchens. I find it an indispensable tool for chopping herbs, vegetables and even breaking down chicken. 

I also have a much heaver traditional butchers cleaver which I only use when I am roasting a whole pig or lamb. It is a great way to break down the parts and get through the bones, crispy skin etc. 

As far as not needing a butcher's cleaver in a professional kitchen that had to have been spoken by a chef who does not butcher his own meats but gets everything butchered. Spend any amount of time butchering and you will use a cleaver daily. So I disagree with the chefs statement. Besides if you have a high quality chefs knife you do not want to use that for cutting bones etc. 
Thanks,

Nicko 
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Thanks,

Nicko 
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post #5 of 9
I use a Chinese chef cleaver. Thin, not real heavy and quite pleasant to use.  But it's not for hacking or chopping through bone.
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #6 of 9
i use the Forschner Chinese Cleaver with wood handle. i like it a lot. when it comes time to choose a knife to use, its always a toss-up between it and my $160 Gyuto... says a lot considering the cleaver is only $30.
post #7 of 9
Originally Posted by Nicko View Post
As far as not needing a butcher's cleaver in a professional kitchen that had to have been spoken by a chef who does not butcher his own meats but gets everything butchered. Spend any amount of time butchering and you will use a cleaver daily. So I disagree with the chefs statement. Besides if you have a high quality chefs knife you do not want to use that for cutting bones etc. 

I don't know about that.  I worked boucher at a very high end restaurant for a year, and almost never used a cleaver.  Used a saw a lot, but not a cleaver.

BDL
post #8 of 9
I've a lightweight cleaver that I inherited. Weighs barely a pound, but is a standard configuration, rather than Chinese style. Only markings are, on the blade, an escuchen with the words "Universal Resistain." Above the escuchen is says "stainless," and below it it says "Made in U.S.A."

What I've found, through the years, is that it's either too heavy or too light for most tasks. I sometimes use it for light work. I might reach for it when spliting the keel bone on a large fowl, for instance. But I have never thought it suitable for serious butchering, such as breaking down a deer. And it would be the next best thing to useless for heavy bones. For them, I reach for the meat saw.

I don't see the need for a cleaver when working with fish. True, I've never broken down a tuna. But I've handled salmon and stripers weighing to 30 pounds or so quite often, and a knife works just fine with them, even when cutting steaks. If I had to work with a lot of big fish at one time, chopping off heads and making steaks, a cleaver would be useful. But that sort of quantity puts us in a commercial situation.

All in all, I'd say that a cleaver is totally unnecessary in a home kitchen.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 9

This is a shining example of what the internet should be! Thank you for that well balanced and incredible helpful discussion.

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