How to correctly use a cleaver knife

A cleaver knife is not to be reckoned with. Cleaver education is imperative to ensure the avoidance of accidents, and optimise the cooking process. The truth is, whilst it’s usually the skilled chefs amongst us who frequently use cleavers, so long as the correct techniques are adopted, anyone is capable of using them. 

Read on to discover all things best practice, as far as cleavers are concerned. 

Set up 

Before getting started, it’s imperative to ensure your workstation is up to scratch. Doing so is as simple as ensuring your chopping board is thick, heavy, and wooden. The board’s weightiness ensures its stability. In turn, this negates potential hazards, such as the board’s ability to move around whilst a knife as robust as a cleaver is in use. 

Grip

Before proceeding to use the cleaver, it’s important to learn how to hold it properly, and there are two key grips to be aware of. 

First, when handling tough meats, the rule of thumb is to hold the cleaver handle at its very forefront, as close to the blade as possible. The thumb should rest on the side of the handle that meets the blade, whilst the remaining fingers should curl over to the other side. This is otherwise considered holding the handle ‘in full’. 

Alternatively, when extra control of the cleaver is needed, one can place the index finger on the opposite side of the handle to the thumb, rather than curling all remaining fingers to the opposite side of the handle. 

The first grip method is ideal for tough ingredients, and the latter for softer ingredients, such as vegetables. Ergonomic handling aside, the principal difference between the two grip types is the level of force that they are capable of wielding. 

Techniques 

Once equipped with the ideal cutting station and grip technique, it’s time to get started. The versatility of cleavers may be surprising to some. They are inherently multi purpose tools that are capable of a range of preparation techniques, as detailed below. 

Cutting 

Perhaps the most obvious and unsurprising use of a cleaver is to chop meat, and the reality of it is not as laborious as it may appear. Provided the cleaver is of high quality, weighty, and well-balanced, the cleaver truly does most of the hard work, much to the chef’s delight. 

However, to achieve an optimal cut, the cleaver’s hard work needs to be paired with solid wrist work. The chopping technique is as simple as raising the arm and elbow of your dominant hand, and guiding the cleaver down in the direction of the chop with your wrist.

All force used should derive from the wrist, and the knife should be pulled from the chopping board before proceeding with the next cut. 

Slicing

The horizontal technique is the ideal way to uniformly slice meat. The cleaver should be held in the dominant hand and angled to line up horizontally with the chopping board and ingredient of choice. The freehand should be positioned on top of the meat to stabilise it, after which the cleaver hand can proceed with the horizontal slice.

Aim well and take care not to allow the cleaver to make contact with the hand on top of the meat. 

Mincing 

Yet another great use, cleavers can be used to effectively mince meat. To do so, grip the cleaver as usual and place a couple of fingers on the freehand on top of the blunt-most part of the blade, whilst ensuring that the cleaver’s tip remains attached to the chopping board. Proceed to mince the meat by lowering the cleaver and systematically turning the blade from side to side. 

Tip: the mincing method is most effective if the meat has already been neatly chopped. 

Tenderising 

To physically tenderize meat using a cleaver, hold the cleaver upside down so as to utilize the blunt back edge of the blade, and proceed to pound the meat in a criss cross manner, going across the muscle fibers.

Vegetables

Cleavers are deemed multipurpose not only due to the number of ways that they can be used to cut meat, but also due to the fact that they can just as skillfully cut vegetables through the above mentioned chopping and slicing techniques.

From tough fruits and vegetables such as butternut squash and watermelon, to softer ingredients that require a simple slice or dice, cleavers have proven to be truly competent kitchen companions for chefs, time and time again. 

Transferring 

The wide blade of a cleaver makes it the ideal tool to transfer ingredients from the chopping board to the stove or a bowl. To do so, simply lay the blade horizontally next to the prepared ingredients and slide the blade under the ingredients whilst using your free hand to simultaneously push the ingredients onto the blade.

Easy! 

Summary 

Cleavers can be used in a range of different ways in the kitchen. From tenderizing and mincing meat, to chopping and slicing all types of ingredients, they are one of the most multifaceted types of knives out there, and undoubtedly a worthy investment for one’s kitchen.