A Chinese cleaver, also known as a vegetable cleaver or cai dao, is a useful tool for slicing, dicing, and mincing both meat and vegetables. In Chinese culture, a single knife is traditionally used for all kitchen tasks, which is why this blade may also be referred to as a Chinese chef knife. While a Chinese cleaver resembles a standard meat cleaver, the two knives are completely different and can’t be used interchangeably.
While choosing a Chinese cleaver might seem like a simple decision, there are a number of considerations to weigh. This guide explores several important features to look for and offers choices by category for some of the best cleavers to add to your knife collection.
- BEST OVERALL: TUO Vegetable Cleaver
- RUNNER-UP: Mercer Cutlery Chinese Chef’s Knife, 8″
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Winco Blade Chinese Cleaver
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE: Dexter S5198 8″ x 3 1/4″ Chinese Chefs Knife
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature Chinese Chef
- BEST FOR SLICING: ZHEN Japanese VG-10 Chopping Knife 8-inch
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: Shun Classic 7 Inch Cleaver
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Chinese Cleaver
While it’s easy to assume that all cleavers perform similarly, a number of factors affect their functionality. A vegetable cleaver should be made of high-carbon stainless steel and should have a 6- to 8-inch blade. This blade should be thin and sharp with an edge between 15 and 20 degrees. Keep reading to learn more about the most important features to look for when choosing the best Chinese cleaver.
It’s important to note that a Chinese cleaver differs from a standard meat cleaver. These two knives shouldn’t be used in place of one another. Meat cleavers have thick, heavy blades that are designed to cut through tough bones and joints. Vegetable cleavers, on the other hand, have thinner blades and are crafted to slice, dice, and mince fruit, vegetables, and boneless meat.
The two knives can be visually distinguished by the fact that meat cleavers tend to have a hole at the end of the blade, while Chinese vegetable cleavers do not. Due to its large blade, a vegetable cleaver can be used like a bench scraper to scoop up and transfer vegetables from a cutting board to a pan. The wide blade can also be used to crush ingredients like garlic and nuts.
The blade of a Chinese cleaver should be thin and slightly flexible, with a thickness between 2 and 8 millimeters. The blade edge typically has an angle of between 15 and 20 degrees. While traditionally made of carbon steel, almost all models on the market today have blades constructed from high-carbon stainless steel, which combines the benefits of both materials.
Carbon steel is easier to sharpen, but it requires careful maintenance and rusts over time. Knives made purely from stainless steel are simple to maintain and resistant to rust and corrosion but aren’t as sharp as blades containing carbon steel. Chinese cleavers tend to have a high carbon content, so they’re somewhat delicate and are prone to chipping if used improperly.
The blade length of a Chinese cleaver varies between 6 and 9 inches. Most products on the market have 7-inch or 8-inch blades, which are versatile enough to be used by most home cooks and professional chefs. Blades are typically between 3 and 5 inches tall.
- The blades of full-tang knives extend the entire length of the handle. This makes them more durable because there’s no breaking point where the blade and handle connect. Because of the additional steel required to construct them, full-tang knives tend to be more expensive. Chinese cleavers are usually constructed with a full tang.
- Partial-tang knives, which may also be referred to as half-tang or three-quarter tang knives, are more affordable but less durable because the blade and handle can break or separate more easily.
When discussing knives, much of the focus is put on the blade, but handles are also important. The handles of Chinese cleavers are typically between 4 and 5 inches in length. Traditionally, the handles were made of wood, and many modern products replicate this design. Wood handles, however, are prone to water damage and can split or crack over time.
Some modern versions are made from molded polypropylene or hollow stainless steel, both of which are easier to clean and maintain. Unlike a meat cleaver, a Chinese cleaver should be lightweight, so it’s important the handle doesn’t add unnecessary weight to the knife. Many modern cleavers are ergonomically designed and have finger grips on the handles to make them easier to maneuver.
Some Chinese cleavers may come with these additional features:
- A protective sheath to preserve the sharp edge of the blade if the knife is stored in a drawer, rather than in a knife block.
- Gift boxes, which can also be used for storage.
- A claim to be dishwasher safe. However, it’s always best to wash sharp blades by hand in order to increase their lifespan.
Our Top Picks
The following recommendations consider each knife’s purpose, blade material, handle, and additional features. This list offers a variety of top-notch Chinese cleavers to help you find the right one that suits your needs and budget.
The TUO Vegetable Cleaver is a well-rounded pick that’s both well-made and affordable. The blade is constructed with high-carbon stainless steel and features a hand-sharpened 18-degree edge, making it sharp and durable. The 7-inch, full-tang blade makes the knife easier to maneuver than some larger models.
The cleaver features a pakkawood handle that’s ergonomically designed and resistant to warping and water damage. The total length of the knife is 12 inches, with a height of 2.25 inches. It comes packaged in a gift box, which also works for safe storage.
The blade on this chef’s knife from Mercer is made of high-carbon Japanese stainless steel that won’t rust or corrode when exposed to water. It’s easy to sharpen, in order to maintain the blade’s razor-sharp edge. The 8-inch blade length makes it a workable size for most cooks.
The triple-riveted rosewood handle is stain-resistant and lends the knife a traditional look. Designed to fit comfortably in the hand, the handle features a rounded end that can be used as a makeshift pestle. The manufacturer recommends hand-washing for best results. The total height is 3.25 inches.
Despite its extremely affordable price, this knife from Winco can stand up to much more expensive competitors. It’s commonly found in kitchen supply stores and is favored by professionals. The blade is constructed from high-carbon steel that retains its sharp edge but can chip if used on tougher items like bones.
The 4.5-inch wooden handle has a cylindrical shape, making it effective as a pestle for crushing whole spices. The overall length is 12.5 inches, with the blade measuring 8 inches by 3.5 inches. While it’s marketed as being dishwasher safe, it’s always best to wash knives by hand, especially models with wooden handles like this one.
Made from high-carbon stainless steel, the half-tang blade of the Dexter Chinese Chef’s knife is easy to sharpen and won’t corrode. The blade’s edge is slightly thicker than other Chinese cleavers, with an angle of 25 degrees closest to the hilt narrowing to 20 degrees at the tip. This design makes it versatile enough for a number of kitchen tasks.
It has a hardness rating of between 54 and 56 HRC, meaning it’s slightly softer than other models and more resistant to chipping. The blade measures 8 inches by 3.25 inches; the lower height adds to its versatility and ease of use, which might be a plus for those new to chopping with a cleaver.
The steel formula of this Henckels Chinese Chef Knife includes iron, carbon, and chromium. The blade is ice-hardened, meaning it’s tough and strong. It rates as a 57 HRC on the Rockwell Hardness Scale, meaning it will hold its sharp edge without being brittle.
The full-tang construction ensures optimal durability, and the blade is resistant to staining and corrosion. With a 15 degree, hand-honed edge, the blade is sharp enough for precise slicing and shredding. The polymer handle is ergonomically designed and makes the knife lightweight, and its design makes it easier to sharpen. The blade is 7 inches long and 5 inches tall.
This cleaver from ZHEN is designed for precise slicing because of its incredibly sharp 16-degree blade and lightweight design. With a blend of carbon, chromium, molybdenum, cobalt, and vanadium, the VG-10 steel core ensures durability. The high-carbon stainless cladding makes the blade resistant to rust and corrosion.
All of this contributes to a 60 to 62 RTC hardness rating. Due to its slightly curved construction, unlike straight-edged cleavers, this knife is designed to be rocked while chopping. It’s available with 6.5-inch, 7-inch, and 8-inch blade lengths. The 8-inch version has a height of 4 inches, and the full-tang handle has a thermo rubber nonslip handle.
The Shun Classic 7-inch cleaver is an excellent upgrade pick for professional chefs and serious cooking enthusiasts. The core of the blade is made up of high-carbon VG-MAX steel clad with 68 layers of Damascus steel—forged steel with a watermark pattern that ensures the finish of each knife is totally unique. The core also contains chromium, cobalt, and tungsten, which make it stronger, sharper, and corrosion-resistant. The edge is honed to 16 degrees, meaning it’s incredibly sharp.
The total length of the knife is 12.1 inches with a 7-inch blade that is 3.8 inches tall. One downside is that the handle is designed with right-handed users in mind, so while it can be used by lefties, they may find it slightly unwieldy.
FAQs About Chinese Cleavers
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Chinese cleavers.
Q. What’s the difference between a Chinese cleaver and a Japanese nakiri knife?
A Japanese nakiri is very similar to a Chinese cleaver but tends to be slightly smaller and more lightweight.
Q. What do you look for in a Chinese cleaver?
Look for a Chinese cleaver that has a 6- to 8-inch blade that’s made from high-carbon stainless steel.
Q. How do you sharpen a cleaver?
Like all knives, cleavers require frequent sharpening to maintain their edge. Have the cleaver professionally sharpened or use an at-home sharpener. Run the blade from the heel to the tip, maintaining the same angle.
Q. How do I maintain the quality of my Chinese cleaver?
Always wash a cleaver by hand, sharpen it regularly, and store it in a block or on a magnetic strip.