What is a Cleaver?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cleaver is a specialized type of heavy bladed broad knife which is primarily used by butchers and Chinese chefs, although it has been adopted by other cultures as well. In basic design, a cleaver most resembles a hatchet, with a sturdy squared blade anchored to a strong short handle so that the cleaver can be used with brute force to chop through bone, coconuts, and other heavy items. A well sharpened cleaver can also be used for fine work like chopping and shredding vegetables, and many Chinese cooks use a cleaver for all their knife work, rather than a set of chef's knives.

A cleaver may be used to unhusk garlic.
A cleaver may be used to unhusk garlic.

The design of a cleaver can vary slightly: some have a blade which is slightly curved or tapered, for example. As a general rule, however, the square blade has a razor sharp edge that is kept sharp through regular sharpening and proper use. Some cleavers are molded as a single piece, with a metal handle that blends with the blade, while others have a wooden handle mounted onto the blade. In both instances, the handle is shaped and textured to provide maximum gripping ability.

For heavy work like butchering and cutting into fruit with a thick rind, a cleaver is an excellent choice, especially if the blade is kept in good condition. Use a cleaver with firm, decisive chops to open fruit or butcher livestock, but make sure to keep other hand clear of the field of work. The side edge of a cleaver can also be used to tenderize meat, unhusk garlic, and crack things in the shell. Remember to leave the blade facing away from you when using it for this purpose, in case it slips. A cleaver can also be used to chop other foods; fine control over the knife can yield a variety of precise cuts and interesting shapes.

Because a high quality cleaver can be quite expensive, some energy should be invested in caring for it, and if you do not already know how to use a knife properly, you should receive some training before using a cleaver so that you can cut food safely and efficiently. Care must be used around a cleaver, because it is fully capable of slicing through the bones of the foot if dropped, thanks to the sharp edge and heavy weight. Proper foot protection should always be worn in a kitchen, but especially when working with a cleaver to avoid unfortunate accidents. When a cook is done using a cleaver, it should be washed, dried, and secured in a knife rack or covered with a blade protector.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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