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Vegetable Cleavers

Published November 2011

How we tested

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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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*