Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chef's Tool Kit Part 2: The Cleaver Chronicles

Chef’s Kit II: The Cleaver Chronicles

The heavy cleaver is the workhorse of the chef’s knife kit, handling chores not meant for a sharp blade; think of it as the hatchet of the knife kit. It relies on the momentum and weight of the blade to perform tasks like splitting joints or cutting through thin or soft bones, cartilage, and sinew (bone saws are used for cutting thick bones). It can be used for carcass work or dispatching fish heads. It’s great for prepping really dense items like acorn squash, or spatchcocking birds. The weight of the cleaver is ideal for smashing garlic or ginger with the side of the blade, pounding-out meats for milanesa or flattening portions for stuffing, or even flipping upside-down to use the back of the blade for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  A heavy cleaver has a blade angle of about 25° and is usually made from softer steel; hard steel could fracture hitting dense items with such force. The exception is the light Asian-style cleaver, which is used more like a chef’s knife.

Zhen 7-inch Light Vegetable Cleaver

I have used a lightweight Chinese-style vegetable cleaver for many, many years, finding it especially useful during prep. It’s perfect for sliding along the cutting board and scooping up whatever you just sliced. It’s ideal for smashing garlic and ginger AND mincing it up. It juliennes vegetables better than any other blade, and there’s no better tool for mincing meats. I love the Zhen 7-inch VG-10 Light Vegetable Cleaver that I ordered from It’s made from VG-10 alloy and is easy to keep super sharp. The balance is perfect in the hand, especially if you fudge a little and hold the index and middle finger on the side of the blade when slicing, like I do. The handle coating is made from non-slip TPR (thermoplastic rubber) and the shape fits my hand nicely. It’s made in Taiwan from 3 layers of forged Japanese steel, with a VG10 stainless alloy core, and has an HRC hardness rating of 60-62.  This has ended up being one of the favorite knives in my kit, and at $55, worth the price. A comparable Wusthoff or Henckel would be $75, a similar Global is about $160, and a comparable Shun blade would set you back $230.


Update 7-inch Heavy

My Update International 7-inch Heavy Bone and Meat Cleaver is made for dispatching big chunks of meat, splitting heavy joints, and any task related to a bone. This baby is thick-bladed and heavy weight, and it has a full, thick tang and a massive handle. This cleaver is not meant for delicate detail work of any kind. This tool is indestructible, and at a retail price of $14.25, it seems impossible that it could be sold that cheaply. To put the price into perspective, the Wusthoff version is $100, while the Henckel Standard is $50, the Henckel 4-Star is $120. For a Global, pay $170, and a Shun will run you $220.


Ayutthaya Cleaver 

My other cleaver is a work of handmade art, constructed by knife craftsmen in the ancient Thai city of Ayutthaya, pounded-out by hand (and mechanical press, if I had to guess) from a sheet of glowing hot steel. The company has made this 12-inch cleaver exactly this same way for the last 70 years. It has a hardwood handle, a full tang, and pounded-metal handle posts. The 18-ounce blade is meant for any chore, including harvesting sugar cane stalks, splitting firewood and chopping kindling, or splitting a pig carcass down the middle. Trapped somewhere by rampaging zombies and need to split some skulls? Grab this thing. It is available from and is well worth the $26 price tag (although had I bought this in Thailand it would have been more like $5 US). This is a down-and-dirty chef’s tool that can take on anything.

Mick Vann ©

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. Nice info.
    Still using the Kiwi you recommended 20 years ago!