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August 11, 2010 2:00 PM   Subscribe

[Cooking Filter] Serious Eats' Kenji Lopez-Alt explains what to look for in a meat cleaver.
posted by BZArcher (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So the winner is a classic-looking cleaver that has DEXTER engraved on it in large letters. That's a bit of unintentional comedy.
posted by jedicus at 2:06 PM on August 11, 2010

I use my big heavy cleaver maybe twice a year. And I do stuff like part out my own fresh chickens. I would guess 90% of people don't need a cleaver at all, but for the 10% who do, this is solid advice. Heavy, sturdy, and cheap.
posted by rusty at 2:18 PM on August 11, 2010

I'm in the same boat as rusty. The cleaver comes out for beef\veal stock and that's about it.
posted by sanko at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2010

Fifteen bucks at any Asian grocery store. We've got good knives, but a cleaver is more like a hammer.
posted by fixedgear at 2:26 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

True dat. I've been cooking professionally for over 15 years and I do 95% of my knifey things with a regular 12" chef's knife. That's what you spend your money on--and even then, there's no point in going more expensive than a Swiss or German Henckels or Victorinox IMHO. I mean, if you're gonna get props from all your food-blogger friends for spending exhorbitant sums on luxury brand cookware and the like, feel free to enjoy yourself but understand it's not gonna make you a better chef any more than a $5000 carbon fiber bike is gonna make you Lance Armstrong.
posted by arto at 2:26 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

Dr. Scrivello's advice in these matters comes to mind: Sturdy. Heavy. Dull.
posted by adipocere at 2:30 PM on August 11, 2010

A chef's knife is far more generally useful, but nothing says "don't fuck with the chef" like a big-ass cleaver embedded on a 45 degree angle an inch deep in a bloody chopping block.
posted by CaseyB at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Like Lopez-Alt says, the light ones aren't all that useful unless you learned to use one in lieu of a chef's knife. I was given a light one as a gift one year, and it sits unloved in the dusty corner of my useless utensil drawer. Gotta think very few home chefs need a cleaver at all unless they regularly chop bones to make stock.
posted by briank at 2:51 PM on August 11, 2010

I use a cheap Chinese cleaver for everything. I love it, and when it dies (my last one had been dropped a few too many times over the years, and part of the tang broke), I spend another $15.
posted by antiquark at 3:03 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You'd think such a heavy cleaver wouldn't make such weak sauce.
posted by dersins at 3:11 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I still worked in cutlery, I once likened buying a meat cleaver to buying a hatchet. Sure, you could spend absurd amounts of money on some titanium handled name tag, but I could take a $10 one and put the same edge on it, and it would be just as effective at cutting branches.

A meat cleaver is the same thing. In high ticket knives, you care about the quality of the steel because of things like flexibility and edge retention, with a meat cleaver (or a hatchet) it's mostly about brute force. Keeping it sharp is still a good idea, but it doesn't require the razor edge of it's more delicate counterparts.

Which isn't to say that I didn't occasionally put a razor sharp edge on one, just for the fun of it. I know a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, but working with one of those can actually be a little scary to the uninitiated.
posted by quin at 3:12 PM on August 11, 2010

My vegetable cleaver is my knife of choice for pretty much every task. I just like cutting with it better.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2010

Also, smashing garlic.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:16 PM on August 11, 2010

I don't know what he means by a chinese chef's knife requires a different skill set. I use a french knife at work, but I love my chinese knife for home. It's dirt cheap and extremely thin. I could pay for a MAC knife to get that kind of thin, pressed metal blade, but my cheapass chinese cleaver is just as thin, and it's made of laquered carbon steel which makes it way easier to sharpen to a fine edge.
posted by Evstar at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2010

Also, I just happened to be in the market for a meat cleaver. I got one of those Dexter ones off ebay. Looks pretty good.
posted by Evstar at 4:29 PM on August 11, 2010

My $15 cleaver from Lee Valley Tools worked wonders on a duck last time it was needed. Unfortunately, it was the cutting board that proved not up to the task.

Any recommendations for a non-wooden cutting board that can handle a reasonably strong guy putting everything he has into severing bones on it?

(my wife isn't crazy about having wood for her meat board, which I can respect, but I busted the hell out of our last "unbreakable" plastic and now I'm looking for a good replacement.
posted by Shepherd at 5:36 PM on August 11, 2010

Shep, look for Sanituff composite rubber boards. They're more expensive than simple plastic ones, but they last longer since they can be sanded down like wood, and they're gentler on the edge of your knife than either wood or plastic. A kitchen supply store like Nella would carry them, or at least be able to have one ordered in for you.
posted by Evstar at 6:40 PM on August 11, 2010

just in time for Halloween, too!
posted by Redhush at 7:19 PM on August 11, 2010

Those non-cleaver Chinese cleavers (the lightweight chef's-knifey ones) are particularly well-suited to the common tasks of Chinese cooking: julienning, slicing meats/veg to uniform thickness (essential for stir-frying), smashing garlic/ginger, etc.

That said, your counter height needs to be a bit lower than for a western-style chef's knife, and after a long session you will develop a nasty blister in a place completely different from your normal chef's knife callus.

(you do have a knife callus, don't you?)
posted by joshwa at 8:44 PM on August 11, 2010

First, be smart from the very beginning ...
posted by yhbc at 8:50 PM on August 11, 2010

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