From all of the many things that can be found in the kitchen, very few are as easily identifiable as the cleaver. But you’ve probably seen a meat cleaver more often in the movies or television than you have in anyone’s real-life kitchen.
Although historically, a meat cleaver was commonly used to chop meat, these days they don’t pop up in your mainstream knife set. So, what is a cleaver used for now in a modern home kitchen?
Most people don’t really need a cleaver, and you’re unlikely to find it on a list of knives you really need. But, they do have many uses besides hanging pretty on the wall–including some surprisingly delicate tasks!
Check out the guide below for all the information about cleavers that you need, including some things you might not have thought about!
Let’s get into it.
What Is A Cleaver?
A cleaver, which is sometimes referred to as a meat cleaver, is a type of knife that appears larger than most normal knives, with a sort of hatchet design to it.
It has a large rectangular blade and a thick handle.
The most likely place to see a cleaver is at a butcher or a slaughterhouse, as the tool is used for chopping and preparing meat or cutting bones.
This usage of the tool has not changed since its inception.
It is believed that the cleaver has been used since the Acheulean period of the Stone Age, hundreds of thousands of years ago, for precisely this purpose – preparing and chopping meat.
Their design is therefore as such to support the usage of the tool. For example, the blade and handle are both large and thick to ensure that they do not break and can withstand consistent impact.
The blade does not need to be incredibly sharp, unlike other knives. This is because the cleaver chops using the person’s momentum alone and therefore does not need a serrated edge or razor-sharp tips.
It is important to differentiate between a cleaver and a Chinese chef’s knife. Many people often confuse or conflate the two, but they are different tools.
The Chinese chef’s knife is intended for general kitchen purposes, and if a Chinese chef needs to chop and prepare large meat or small bones – they will opt for the cleaver.
A Chinese cleaver is very similar to the common Western one, but it’s sometimes difficult to see the change between a Chinese cleaver and a Chinese chef’s knife.
In Japan, their version of the cleaver is called “deba bocho” which translates to “pointed carving knife”.
The larger version is used to chop off the heads of fish, and it resembles a similar shape and style of the Western cleaver – but the blade is more triangular.
What Is A Cleaver Used For?
With its common name the “meat cleaver”, it probably comes as no surprise that meat is primarily a target for the cleaver, but it can be used for many other purposes.
Let’s break it down into sections though:
Meat And Fish
Due to its versatility, the cleaver can be used to mince, tenderize, scale, slice and chop whatever meat or fish you have in the kitchen.
Of course, this makes the cleaver incredibly handy with so many uses.
The cleaver cut goes through bones easily, but if you were planning to try and go through a much larger bone, you would use a tool called a bone-saw.
The blade is designed in a perfect way that it allows for meaty flesh to be separated from the bone and can chop and snap bones from chickens in seconds.
The blade can be used in different ways. You can, traditionally, use brute force to do your will with the bone and meat – allowing the cleaver to go through the meat and bones from your action.
Or, you place the blade on the area you wish to chop and then put some weight on it.
Cleavers shouldn’t be used in a “sawing” motion unlike most knives, however you can use a cleaver for general cutting of things like the skin of meats.
If you are looking to scale a fish using your cleaver, you should place the fish on a chopping board and angle your cleaver from the tail towards the head.
Typically, if you’re looking to prepare vegetables – having a good set of knives will help you and you might not always lean towards the cleaver.
However, the cleaver can be an excellent substitute if you do not have access to other knives – and is fantastic for thick-skinned vegetables or stubborn to chop vegetables.
If you’re chopping or slicing your vegetables using a cleaver, you should take it slow and make sure the cleaver goes all the way through the vegetable and all the way back up, which will differ from normal kitchen knives with vegetables.
You can also use your cleaver to crush things like garlic or ginger. To do this, you’ll want to get the back of the cleaver on the handle side, right over the top of the garlic or ginger etc.
Next, simply move your weight over the top of it and slowly press down further on the area.
The great thing about the cleaver’s blade is the sheer size of it, which makes it a fantastic “tray” tool.
You can move multiple things at once or “scoop” a load of cut vegetables into a pot. This will make preparing things like a stew easy!
Why Does The Cleaver Have A Hole?
This is a common question when it comes to the cleaver.
There’s no real definitive answer, but the likelihood is that the hole allows chef’s to hang the cleaver in handy areas of the kitchen or attach it to a belt.
There is also the small possibility that the hole might allow for easier movements when chopping meat or vegetables, or make it more lightweight.
A cleaver is a fantastic tool to use in the kitchen and is generally used for chopping and preparing meat, particularly if it has bones – but it can also be used for vegetables and other ad-hoc uses.