A cleaver has a tell-tale rectangular profile that many of us associate with the butcher shop. But don't make the potentially costly mistake of assuming that all cleavers are the same. In fact, the majority of all cleavers sold over the past 20 years (or more) have little in common with the heavy bone-choppers of yester-year. Be sure to read the product description so you know the difference before making a selection!
Western-style cleavers are heavy, thick-bladed knives that are used almost exclusively for chopping through animal joints and bones. These blades emphasized weight over a very sharp edge, in order to generate the force needed to cut and crack through hard bones. But for a long time now, it is fair to say that these awesome old heavyweights have become virtually obsolete in the home kitchen. We simply don't buy our meats with heavy bones unless we want them there (such as with bone-in steaks, chops and ribs). But smaller versions can still be a great asset for serious cooks who sometimes work with larger, bone-in cuts of beef, pork or lamb. They can also be used to crush ingredients (such as garlic or peppercorns) or pound cutlets to a uniform thickness with the flat of the cleaver blade. The spine of a traditional cleaver can also be used to tenderize tougher cuts. For those rare few who still buy bones to make stocks and stock-derived sauces, you should consider purchasing one.
Asian-style cleavers (commonly called a Chinese cleaver) share the rectangle profile, but that is where the similarity ends. The Asian cleaver is light with a thin blade and very fine, sharp edge. Using such a cleaver on hard bones would likely damage the edge. However for chopping and slicing vegetables, fruits and boneless meats, they are hard to beat. The boxy knives exhibit great versatility and can actually perform with surprising grace and speed. Many Chinese cooks use them as the primary knife for everything, and are even able to use them to bone-out small poultry! They can also be used to crush ingredients with the flat of the blade and to scoop prepped foods from the board.

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