Vegetable Cleavers

Published November 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.

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It won't replace your all-purpose Western chef's knife, but if you chop a lot of vegetables, this may be your new go-to knife.

Overview:

What the heck is a vegetable cleaver? Rectangular vegetable cleavers, which are traditional in Asia, have a straighter edge that, unlike curving Western-style knives, stays in contact with food as you cut and chop, ostensibly streamlining vegetable prep. Unlike meat cleavers, which have thick, heavy blades and a blunter edge for hacking through bone, vegetable cleavers have thin blades that taper gently to a honed edge, for cleanly slicing vegetables and other, more delicate boneless foods.

There are two basic types of vegetable cleaver. Chinese-style vegetable cleavers (also known as Chinese chef’s knives) look like meat cleavers but are more slender and versatile: besides chopping vegetables and fruits, they’re also used for slicing boneless meats and mincing and crushing aromatics, and they can serve as a broad surface for scooping and transferring chopped food from cutting board to bowl or pan. Japanese-style vegetable cleavers (available either as double-bevel nakiri or single-bevel usuba) are shorter, resemble a… read more

What the heck is a vegetable cleaver? Rectangular vegetable cleavers, which are traditional in Asia, have a straighter edge that, unlike curving Western-style knives, stays in contact with food as you cut and chop, ostensibly streamlining vegetable prep. Unlike meat cleavers, which have thick, heavy blades and a blunter edge for hacking through bone, vegetable cleavers have thin blades that taper gently to a honed edge, for cleanly slicing vegetables and other, more delicate boneless foods.

There are two basic types of vegetable cleaver. Chinese-style vegetable cleavers (also known as Chinese chef’s knives) look like meat cleavers but are more slender and versatile: besides chopping vegetables and fruits, they’re also used for slicing boneless meats and mincing and crushing aromatics, and they can serve as a broad surface for scooping and transferring chopped food from cutting board to bowl or pan. Japanese-style vegetable cleavers (available either as double-bevel nakiri or single-bevel usuba) are shorter, resemble a squared-off santoku, and are primarily used for cutting vegetables. (According to experts in the field, santoku knives likely evolved from vegetable cleavers.)

We chose seven knives—three Chinese cleavers, three nakiri, and one usuba, priced from $30 to $190—and used them to dice onions, mince parsley, slice potatoes, and quarter butternut squash. Most sliced beautifully. Taller, heavier Chinese cleavers were easier to guide through large vegetables, and we found that their heft did most of the work. But they were too unwieldy for some testers, who preferred smaller, lighter Japanese blades.

None of the cleavers were completely square; all had a bit of a curve toward the tip of the knife, some more than others. Our least favorite Chinese-style cleaver had almost no curve, and its tip dug into the cutting board when mincing parsley, leaving splinters in our food and gashes in the board. Blades with too much curve needed a lot of rocking to cut fully through potatoes. Our favorites had moderate curves. We also found little difference between the double-edged nakiri and the single-edged usuba until we tried cutting butternut squash, when the single-edged blade pulled to one side, making it difficult to control. In fact, nakiri cleavers are preferable for cutting straight slices, while usubas are more specialized, intended for extremely thin vegetable slices and requiring some skill to use correctly.

Blade width turned out to be the most important factor. Slimmer blades glided effortlessly through food; thicker blades with a more pronounced, V-shaped taper from spine to cutting edge worked like a wedge, tearing instead of slicing. At the spine, our blades ranged from less than 2 millimeters thick to more than 3 millimeters thick. Those with the thickest spine turned out to be the worst performers.

Our favorite, weighing less than 5 ounces, with a 1.9-millimeter spine, was light, sharp, and nimble, making vegetable work a breeze. Does the vegetable cleaver replace your all-purpose Western chef’s knife? Not necessarily, but it’s a pleasure if you chop a lot of vegetables.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    MAC Japanese Series 6 1/2-Inch Japanese Vegetable Cleaver

    This small, lightweight cleaver was razor sharp and easy to control. Just about every tester who handled this knife wanted to take it home. It sailed through all of our tests, slicing through even butternut squash more effortlessly than heftier Chinese cleavers did.

    • Design ★★★
    • Performance ★★★

    $95

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  • Highly Recommended

    Shun Classic Series 6 1/2-Inch Nakiri

    Heavier and more substantial than our winner, this cleaver was the favorite among testers accustomed to weightier knives. We found it easy to make precise cuts with its well-balanced, sharp blade.

    • Design ★★★
    • Performance ★★★

    $134.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Shun Classic Series 7 3/4-Inch Vegetable Cleaver

    The best of the Chinese-style cleavers, this weighty product (nearly 11 ounces) was too large and heavy for users unaccustomed to this style of knife. But with its keen edge and comparatively slim spine, that weight did most of the work, slicing through almost everything with little effort.

    • Design ★★
    • Performance ★★★

    $189.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    Kasumi Damascus 7-Inch Vegetable Knife

    A solid, well-balanced knife that neither dazzled nor disappointed. Its sharp blade had the most curve, which made it easy to rock when mincing parsley but kept it from slicing completely through potatoes.

    • Design ★★
    • Performance ★★

    $188.00

  • Recommended with Reservations

    Zwilling J.A. Henckels Miyabi 5000s Usuba

    The cutting edge of this knife, the only usuba in our lineup, is beveled on only one side. Sharp and substantial, it performed fairly well in most tests, but the single-beveled edge pulled the blade off course when cutting through hard squash.

    • Design ★★
    • Performance ★★

    $149.99

  • Not Recommended

    Victorinox Forschner Chinese Cleaver

    This knife was a drag (literally). The edge was sharp, but no matter what we tried to cut through, the blade lagged instead of slicing smoothly. When we tried quartering butternut squash, there was more tearing than cutting.

    • Design
    • Performance ★★

    $29.95

  • Not Recommended

    Wüsthof Gourmet Chinese Chef’s Knife

    The heftiest of all the knives we tested, it also had the thickest spine and the most drag. The size and heft made this knife cumbersome for many testers. The blade had almost no curve, causing its tip to dig into the cutting board when we tried to mince parsley and leaving us with a combination of bruised, crushed parsley and splinters from the gouged board.

    • Design
    • Performance

    $79.95

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