The Chinese cleaver may not have the popularity of the Japanese Santoku knife, but this versatile kitchen tool can handle everything from cutting vegetables to slicing boneless meats.
The Chinese cleaver is a great item to have in your kitchen cutlery arsenal, and it’s one many professional chefs swear by.
I like the Shi Ba Zi Zuo Chinese Cleaver because it’s made in China with quality materials. The brand has a good reputation, and the performance is solid.
But several other knives have fantastic cutting ability and durable construction. Some are made by German brands and some have special features like Damascus cladding.
Whatever your preferences, there’s a vegetable cleaver that will serve your needs. I’ve broken down the pros and cons of each knife so you can make the best decision.
Which Chinese cleaver belongs in your kitchen? Keep reading to learn more.
At a Glance
Buying Guide: Chinese Cleavers
What’s a Chinese Cleaver?
Cleavers are large, heavy knives with rectangular blades. Most people think of meat cleavers, the type used for butchering and chopping bone-in meats. While these knives are quite common, they aren’t the only kind of cleaver on the block (forgive the pun).
A Chinese cleaver is not intended for butchery. Instead, its purpose is for slicing boneless meat and chopping vegetables. It’s a versatile knife used by both professional Chinese chefs and home cooks.
Although it closely resembles a Japanese Nakiri knife, there are some differences in the designs. (Read more about the best Japanese Nakiri knife here.)
You might also see a Chinese cleaver called a Chinese Chef’s knife. It performs the same functions as a traditional chef’s knife, thus the interchangeable names.
Check out this short video for a good explanation of what a Chinese cleaver is and how it is different from a traditional butcher cleaver:
Does the Blade Material Matter?
While traditional Chinese cleavers were made from carbon steel, modern cleavers might be made from other types of steel. Carbon steel is still used, but there are also high-carbon steel and stainless steel. Each blade material has its advantages and disadvantages. Read a brief rundown of each type:
High Carbon Stainless Steel
High-carbon stainless steel is a popular choice for many of the best Chinese cleavers. It’s considered the best blade material by many.
High-carbon stainless steel knives are harder and keep a sharp edge longer than other knives. It’s corrosion-resistant and easier to sharpen than softer steels.
As with any advantage, however, there is a trade-off. This steel is more prone to rust, and it can be more brittle. That’s why it doesn’t work as well for boning knives, where flexibility is helpful.
Of course, with proper cleaning and care, you should be able to use your vegetable cleaver for years to come.
The traditional Chinese cleaver was made from carbon steel. The steel holds a sharp edge and sharpens easily, making it a great choice for Chinese chef’s knives. The drawback of this blade material is that it’s more susceptible to rust, due to the carbon content.
To get the most out of a carbon steel knife, never leave the blade soaking in water. It’s also important to dry the knife immediately after washing it.
Another common blade material is stainless steel. Stainless steel knives are rust-resistant and stain-resistant, which makes them great for low-maintenance care. However, they will need more frequent sharpening, since stainless steel won’t hold its edge as long.
What Handles are the Best?
The best Chinese cleavers have handles with a comfortable and secure grip. Vegetable cleavers generally have one of two types of handles: wooden handles or synthetic handles.
A wooden handle is beautiful, comfortable, and durable. Wood is inexpensive, but you don’t have to sacrifice quality with a wooden handle.
However, a wooden handle requires more careful maintenance. Wood is a porous material, so you can’t put it in the dishwasher. It’s also a good idea to periodically treat the handle with oil.
Wood species commonly found in knife handles include rosewood and ebony.
A synthetic handle is non-porous and will stand up better to the dishwasher. However, a plastic handle can have a “cheap” feel to it, and it isn’t as attractive as a wood handle.
A textured plastic handle is preferable over a smooth handle. The texture provides a better grip and makes it less slippery.
There is no right or wrong answer to the handle material. It comes down to personal preference. However, a non-slip ergonomic grip is non-negotiable.
Full Tang vs. Partial Tang
When researching Chinese cleavers, you’ll see knives advertised as full-tang. Full-tang means the blade extends all the way through the handle, creating a stronger connection between the blade and the handle.
A partial-tang knife means the blade only extends partially through the handle (half-tang means it extends halfway down the handle). Can a partial-tang construction still be an effective knife? Sure. Is it as sturdy or long-lasting as a full-tang knife? No.
Not every Chinese cleaver has the tang advertised, so it may be challenging to find that information. But when possible, go for a full-tang knife.
Stamped Blade vs. Forged Blade
All knives, Chinese cleavers included, have either stamped or forged blades. The blade construction does make a difference in the stability and durability of the knife.
A forged blade is made from a single piece of steel, which is heated and pounded into shape by hand or by machine. Forged blades have a bolster, a wider part at the end of the blade where it meets the handle.
A stamped blade is cut or stamped out of a sheet of metal. The blade is then heat-treated or honed for increased durability. While forged knives are generally better, it is possible to have a high-quality stamped knife.
Which Cleaver Do Chinese Chefs Use?
The typical Chinese chef will use a variety of blades, just like any other chef. But Chinese cleavers are grouped according to their blade thickness and how they are used. There are three categories of Chinese cleavers:
- Caidao are the thinnest cleavers with blades that are incredibly sharp. They are used for precision tasks, such as thinly slicing vegetables, meat, or fish.
- Choppers have a medium-thickness blade and are the most common. These versatile knives are ideal for chopping vegetables, preparing meat or fish, crushing garlic or ginger, or smashing herbs.
- Gudao are the heaviest and have a thick blade. Gudao are Chinese meat cleavers, so they can be used for thick cuts of meat and can chop through bones.
What Size Chinese Cleaver Should I Buy?
The best blade length depends on the type of cutting task, but anywhere from 7 to 9 inches (17.8 to 23 cm) should work for most people.
Any longer than that, and it can throw off the balance of the knife. Any shorter and it can’t handle larger fruits and vegetables, which would defeat the purpose of getting a Chinese cleaver.
How to Use a Chinese Cleaver
If you’re used to the grip of Western knives, it can take some time and practice to learn how to properly use a Chinese cleaver. Once you have mastered the cutting techniques, however, you’ll find the Chinese cleaver to be a versatile kitchen tool.
To slice meat and chop vegetables, lay them flat on a cutting board. Hold the food with your non-dominant hand, curving your fingers so you can use your knuckles to guide the blade.
Hold the knife in your dominant hand. Use a pinch grip (pinch the spine of the knife) close to the balance point. This knife will be weighted toward the blade, so you’ll have to choke up on the handle/blade.
Place the tip of the knife on top of the food. Slice downward away from yourself. Draw the blade back toward yourself and repeat the motion.
One advantage of a broad blade is the extra height for your knuckles, providing extra safety. After chopping, the Chinese cleaver’s broad blade surface can double as a bench scraper.
You can also use a Chinese cleaver for smashing garlic. Simply lie the cloves or ginger onto the chopping board. Turn the knife so that the flat of the blade is horizontal to the board. Push down on the flat of the knife with your non-dominant hand until the aromatics are crushed.
Some people even use a vegetable cleaver as a pestle, crushing spices with the end of the handle.
For more tips on using Chinese cleavers, including the proper grip, watch the Test Kitchen demonstration in the video below:
Chinese Cleaver Product Reviews
Shi Ba Zi Zuo 8-Inch Kitchen Knife: Overall Best Chinese Cleaver
Shi Ba Zi Zuo is one of the top knife brands in China. The Shi Ba Zi Zuo Chinese Cleaver has a blade length of 8 inches (20 cm).
It’s clad with three layers of high-quality stainless steel. The high-carbon steel core provides hardness and durability, while the outside layers of low-carbon steel resist corrosion and provide flexibility.
Watch as Chef Panko reviews and highlights some features of the Shi Ba Zi Zuo Chinese cleaver:
The blade is 55-57 on the Rockwell hardness scale, giving this knife a good balance between edge retention and being easy to sharpen. The blade angle is 25-30° for each side, perfect for maximum utility.
The ergonomic handle is made of classic rosewood. It’s anti-slip and anti-freezing for safety, while the firm grip helps prevent hands from tiring while in use.
The blade features a non-stick coating to prevent foods from sticking to the blade. The wire-drawing integrated full-tang structure offers durability and stability.
The ultra-sharp blade edge and good balance make this Chinese cleaver perfect for cutting, slicing, dicing, and mincing meat and vegetables.
Buyers enjoyed the multi-purpose utility of this Chinese cleaver. They liked the weight and balance of the knife, as well as the thick, broad blade. There were a few reports of rusting, but it was unclear if the reviewers had used them properly or not.
It’s important to wash these knives by hand, not only to maintain the sharp edge but also to prevent damage from other objects in the dishwasher. Dry them with a towel immediately after washing them and store them in a knife block or protective sheath.
- Wide, razor-sharp blade
- Good weight & balance
- Rosewood handle
- Solid construction
- Carbon steel blade
- Hand wash only
- Isolated reports of rusting
Tuo 8-Inch Vegetable Meat Cleaver: Best Value Chinese Cleaver
TUO began in 2009, and it’s a well-known brand for making a variety of Asian blades. This Tuo Chinese Vegetable Meat Cleaver has a blade length of 8 inches (20 cm) and a broad blade surface, at 3.52 inches wide (8.9 cm).
The Tuo is a high-quality Chinese vegetable cleaver. You can also use it to effortlessly slice boneless meat and fish, but it’s not meant for butchery or sawing through bones.
This Chinese cleaver is made of German stainless steel. The razor-sharp blade is sharpened to 8-12 degrees on each side. That makes this blade great for precise slicing.
Each blade is hardened to 56 Rockwell Hardness, within the comfortable range for most Chinese cleavers. The blades also undergo nitrogen low-temperature tempering for better hardness and durability.
The knife handle is pakkawood, with a full tang structure. The large and round shape provides a comfortable and flexible grip. The tapered bolster encourages correct finger grips, while also providing finger protection.
Customers raved about the effortless cutting with this Chinese cleaver. They liked the balance and the weight, and they were happing with the edge retention, as well.
There were some bad reviews, but they were almost all the result of buyers using the knife as a butcher’s cleaver. This TUO blade is not meant for that purpose. However, a couple of people did find the handle too short for comfortable use.
Overall, this is an affordable, high-quality Chinese cleaver. It’s worth considering.
- German steel, wide blade
- Incredibly sharp
- Balanced weight distribution
- Ergonomic handle
- Some buyers found the handle too short
Dexter Chinese Chef’s Knife: Budget Pick
The Dexter Chinese Chef’s Knife has a blade length of 8 inches (20 cm) and features a carbon stainless steel construction. The blade has a Rockwell hardness of 55, within the normal range for kitchen knives.
The wooden handle is attached to the blade with brass compression rivets. The product description confirms that the blade is stamped, rather than forged.
It does not have a full tang, but it does have a brass bolster to help give you a secure, comfortable grip while slicing through hard vegetables.
The wood handle has an attractive look to it, although some buyers found it too short for people with large hands. Just something to be aware of.
This knife is hand-wash only. It’s not dishwasher-safe. But even though food does stick to the blade, it’s pretty easy to clean.
Customer reviews were mostly positive regarding the Dexter Chinese cleaver. They liked the cutting capability, the weight distribution, and the comfortable grip. They were able to use this for a variety of fruits, vegetables, and boneless meats.
Nonetheless, many people commented on the poor packaging. Some received knives with flimsy cardboard pieces, while others received knives in an envelope. Not exactly ideal.
This is an affordable Chinese cleaver, although others are even more affordable than this one. If having a knife made in the U.S.A. is important to you, this is the best Chinese cleaver for you. It’s made in Massachusetts.
- Honed edge
- High-carbon stainless steel blade
- Good balance and weight
- Beautiful wooden handle
- Made in the U.S.A.
- Food sticks to the blade
- Partial tang
- Poor packaging
Zwilling Signature Chinese Chef’s Knife: Best Stamped Chinese Chef’s Knife
Zwilling is known for their high-quality German knives, but they also manufacture a line of Asian-style knives, including this Chinese Chef’s Knife. It has a 7-inch blade length (17.8 cm), so it’s a slightly shorter blade, but still long enough for most cutting tasks.
Zwilling knives have a 57 Rockwell Hardness for superb edge retention. With a blade angle of 15 degrees on each side, this knife can handle a variety of cutting strokes.
Zwilling is known for its high-quality steel, and the company brought that expertise to making this Chinese cleaver. The blade is made from high-carbon steel to maintain the blade’s edge while being stain-resistant.
The ergonomically-shaped handle is bonded to the full tang. The blade is stamped, making it a thinner blade that is surprisingly light. Buyers found it to be easy to handle and control.
However, the downside of a stamped, thin blade is that it might not last as long as a forged knife.
Cleanup is easy with the Zwilling Chinese cleaver. It’s dishwasher-safe for busy home cooks, although the company does recommend hand washing the knife.
Customers were thrilled with this vegetable cleaver. They liked the weight and balance, along with the razorlike sharpness.
If you don’t mind a stamped blade, this Zwilling is one of the best Chinese vegetable cleavers.
- Super sharp edge
- High-carbon steel blade
- Lightweight, comfortable
- Riveted handles with full tang
- Dishwasher-safe (hand washing recommended)
- Stamped, not forged
Victorinox 7-Inch Chinese Classic Chef’s Knife: Best Stainless Steel Chinese Chef’s Knife
Victorinox, the brand behind the original Swiss army knife, also manufactures a range of kitchen cutlery. This Victorinox Chinese Classic Chef’s Knife has a blade length of 7 inches (17.8 cm), large enough to handle most veggies and boneless meats.
The blade consists of 316L surgical-grade stainless steel, low-carbon steel that’s corrosion- and rust-resistant. This blade is less likely to chip than high-carbon steel blades, but you will have to sharpen it more often as a result.
I recommend getting a honing rod or sharpening stone to help you keep the keen edge on this Chinese cleaver.
The synthetic Fibrox handle is designed with thermoplastic elastomers to give the user a comfortable, secure grip. This material can also withstand heat, making it dishwasher-safe.
Victorinox boasts of the knife’s NSF certification, which means it’s food-grade safe and completely free of harmful chemicals.
Customers were happy with the Victorinox Chinese cleaver. They liked using it for slicing vegetables and rock-chopping herbs.
If you’re unfamiliar with that technique, check out this video from Victorinox showing how to chop herbs seamlessly:
Several buyers were disappointed with the poor edge retention on this soft steel blade. If you aren’t in the habit of sharpening your knives, I wouldn’t go for this blade.
If you’re willing to run the knife across honing steel regularly, this stainless steel knife might just be the best for you.
- Rust-resistant stainless steel blade
- Comfortable grip
- Non-slip synthetic handle
- NSF certified for sanitation
- Requires frequent sharpening
Mercer Culinary Chinese Chef’s Knife: Best Budget Chinese Cleaver
Next up on the list of best Chinese cleavers is the Mercer Culinary Chinese Chef’s Knife. With a blade length of 8 inches (20 cm), it’s perfect for the home kitchen.
This Chinese cleaver is crafted with German high-carbon stainless steel for long-lasting sharpness and edge retention.
The natural rosewood handle offers a comfortable grip and an attractive look.
This knife is meant for chopping, mincing, and cutting onions and shallots, chopping herbs, and shredding cabbage.
The Mercer Chinese cleaver is not dishwasher-safe. Hand wash it after each use with warm water and mild soap. Rinse and dry immediately with a soft towel.
Customers were able to use this knife to cut squash, slice brisket, and crush herbs. They liked using the thin blade as a bench scraper, as well.
The only thing some people had an issue with was the sharp edge on the spine. This could cause discomfort or even injury when push-cutting.
Despite that, this Mercer vegetable cleaver has a lot of value. If you want something affordable that will hold a sharp edge for a long time, this is one of the best Chinese cleavers.
- Superb edge retention
- German stainless steel blade
- Beautiful wooden handle
- Hand wash only
- The knife spine is a bit sharp
Hezhen Chinese Cleaver: Best Damascus-Patterned Chinese Cleaver
The Hezhen Chinese Cleaver has a blade length of 6.8 inches (17.2 cm), a shorter blade than others. It features a beautiful aesthetic.
The super sharp blade is made with 67 layers of Damascus steel and a high-carbon stainless steel core of 10Cr15CoMoV (a Chinese budget-friendly copy of the Japanese VG10 steel).
The blade angle of 15 degrees per side is right in line with similar knives, while a Rockwell hardness of 60-62 gives this blade extra durability.
The Damascus Steel not only gives the knife a beautiful pattern, but it also helps form a more durable edge. The blade is rust-resistant and stain-resistant.
With an ergonomic sycamore wooden handle, it’s not only comfortable but easy to control. The mosaic brass embedded in the handle provides balance and a touch of elegance.
This vegetable cleaver is best for sushi, bread, fruits, veggies, boneless fish filets, and more.
Buyers had mixed reviews. Some found it to be a good Chinese cleaver, while others said the wooden handles faded or cracked after washing them. I do recommend oiling the wooden handles to help maintain their color and performance.
But a word of caution. The website has multiple dead links, and the storefront on Amazon shows a man that looks like a professional chef when he’s a professional actor. I came across more than one red flag when researching the company.
If you’re willing to risk it for Damascus steel, you might find this vegetable cleaver to be worth it. But if you’d like a safe bet from a reputable company, I might go with some of the other knives on the list.
- Sturdy high-carbon steel blade
- 67 layers of Damascus cladding
- Solid edge retention
- Beautiful Sycamore wooden handle
- Vacuum heat-treated technology
- Shadowy brand/website
- Reports of a discolored wooden handle
- Not dishwasher-safe, hand-wash only
Wusthof 7-Inch Chinese Cleaver: Best High-End Chinese Cleaver
Wusthof is a world-famous German brand that makes all types of western and Asian-style knives. This Wusthof Chinese Cleaver is fit for a professional chef and has a blade length of 7 inches (17.8 cm).
The blade material consists of high-carbon stainless steel tempered for extra durability. The blade is forged from a single piece of steel for outstanding strength.
Even though the blade will hold its edge for a long time, it’s recommended to run it over a whetstone occasionally to keep the blade sharp. This blade is rust-resistant and stain-resistant, as well.
This traditional Chinese cleaver is perfect for fruits, vegetables, boneless meats, fish, and herbs.
The ergonomic black plastic handle is comfortable and hygienic. The full tang and triple rivets give the blade extra sturdiness and good balance. The bolster helps guide your grip as you cut.
Customers loved the weight and balance of this Wusthof knife. They were impressed with the super sharp edge and the ability to cut through tough vegetables and meats, especially produce like butternut squash and rutabaga.
Buyers also used this blade as a bench scraper. Several even said they would prefer this knife to a Western chef’s knife for everyday cutting tasks.
Despite this knife’s performance and quality, it is significantly more expensive than the other knives on the list. It’s most certainly a splurge.
If you have your heart set on a Wusthof knife, or if you value the extra boost in performance, it might be worth it. Otherwise, you might opt for another option that’s easier on the wallet.
- Forged blade
- Blade holds its edge well
- High-quality carbon stainless steel blade
- Razor sharp
- Triple-riveted full-tang handle
- Made in Germany
- Significantly more expensive
Best Chinese Cleaver: The Last Word
What’s the best Chinese cleaver? My recommendation is the Shi Ba Zi Zuo 8-Inch Chinese Cleaver. It has great reviews, solid construction, and long-lasting performance. With proper care and cleaning, it should last you for years to come.
If you have flexibility in your budget, the Wusthof Chinese Cleaver is also a top-quality pick. It has a synthetic handle instead of a wood handle and features German steel.