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Jan 21, 2010 03:26 PM

Technique Cleaver/chopper knife handling

A couple days ago, I was in T&T, a large urban Canadian, Asian chain. I was near the fish area and heard this very loud and repetitive pounding. I walked to the counter and watched. He was using a cleaver/chopper in conjunction with a mallet (rubber on the outside). He was chopping a large fish, into 3 to 4 inch sizes (steaks)?.

- light slice
-pound the spine of the cleaver/chopper with the mallet.
-light slice


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  1. I would be impressed too. That he didn't lose a finger.

    I draw the line at pounding knives and cleavers with a mallet. These guys are in a class by themselves.

    6 Replies
    1. re: RGC1982


      ??? Why. What so dangerous about using a mallet on a cleaver? It isn't like they put their fingers next to the knife. One hand on the knife, the other on the mallet.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        I wouldn't do it. If you think it is safe, okay that's your call, but I don't find it something that the average home cook with passable skills ought to be considering. We are talking a cleaver here on a slippery food surface, not a chisel on wood. These guys at these Asian food places are masters, not novices.

        1. re: RGC1982


          I am not saying it is easy to chop up a nice neat fish steak with this approach. One has to do so very consistent. The real difficult part is to pound the cleaver enough to cut through the bone and then slice the rest. If too much force is applied, then the cleaver will cut through the bone and squeeze the fish meat underneath. In addition, any small change in the angle will ruin the fish steak.

          However, there is nothing dangerous about it. Both of the hands are up and above the knife and the fish is below. It is solid tap at the knife spine, not a big whack at it.

          If tapping a knife with a mallet is supposed to be impressively dangerous, then I am not sure what the Chinese BBQ chefs are doing every minute by chopping through roasted chicken and ducks at incredible speed and having their free hand next to the foods -- while taking to customers.

          This guy is actually not very fast, but I figure this will do:

        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

          agree, no safety issue here. I always use a cleaver and mallet to cut up raw chicken.

          1. re: janniecooks


            Really? I have only smacked my cleaver on a fish, but not a chicken. Were you trying to cut through the chicken bones?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Yes, I don't want to nick my good chef's knife, and my cleaver is not a high quality cleaver (but holds a great fine edge), so I use it both to disjoint the birds, cutting thru the ligaments and sinew, and to cut thru the bones. Using the mallet saves my hand - whacking the top of the cleaver with my fist to force it through the bone hurts, alot, and I never seem to get a clean or complete cut when swinging the cleaver down from on high.

      2. That is cool. I would like to use my cleaver more but I am a little afraid of it. I use my big chef's knife when I should probably be using a cleaver.

        1. I've used choppers that glanced left and right and scared me. I thought the use of a mallet provided sensible control.

          7 Replies
          1. re: rosetown

            You got your scary choppers from CCK as well? I thought you only got the thin blade ones.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Years ago,I purchased a small CCK SS chopper, no longer in production, and I have an old, small, and very heavy Wingen Solingen chopper. Both are old. Both scare me. I thought that the mallet was a superb solution. I assume you agree?

              1. re: rosetown

                :) So why did you buy knives which scare you?

                My understanding is that I can either swing a chopper and split the bone by momentum or put the chopper right on the bone and split the bone open by exerting sudden force from my other free hand or a mallet. The first method is easier and more powerful The second method is more accurate. I believe most Deba users (who you are one) put their free hand on the spine of the Deba and push on it with their body weight.

                Personally, I think it is safer to tap the knife with a mallet than to lean on the knife with my body weight. In the case the chopper slides, I can really lose my balance if I lean on it. Bad things can happen.

                Honesty, I think you should just get a mallet -- if anything to be really cool.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  It's the swinging that produced the dangerous glancing. I will buy a mallet! I purchased the choppers, that scare me, out of ignorance. :) Because of initial bad experience, I never used them. With a mallet, I can use them and feel safe.

                  1. re: rosetown

                    Oh. I thought you bought those big cleavers because you were on a date and you want to impress your date. That would have been something I do.

                    Yes, I agree. The swinging action is the one which is more dangerous because there is less control. Unlike those Chinese roast/BBQ chefs, my swinging actions do not usually land where I want them to. For example, I bought a small bone cleaver and was testing it against disposable chopsticks on a chopping block. Man. I were aiming one place and my knife landed on an inch off. I mean I were consistently off. I rarely hit the mark. Anyway, the bone cleaver worked pretty well. I can consistently chop through the chopstick with one blow. Chopstick pieces were flying everywhere. At the end, I had to re-profile it because the edge was off center. It wasn't lined up with the spine. Well, what can I expect, right? I only spent $10.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      In summary, choppers have a very wide spine, are rugged, and designed for tough jobs, and can be safely used with a mallet. They are dangerous for the unpracticed and professional to swing.

          2. Ok since we are talking about unsafe or dangerous knife handling skills...I just had to mention a certain video which is on All you have to do is type in 'how to use a cleaver" in the search, and find the one from Expert Village, It will have the 98% NEGATIVE rating. If you want to just about laugh your head off, and perhaps curse the lady and her supposed cooking expertise, then just watch the video. And please add your comment on it on youtube. Actually for more laughs read all the funny comments left by other people.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Jvsgabriel

              Yeah, that is a very funny video. She also made many other interesting videos like "How to Use Chef Knives : How to Sharpen a Knife" and "How to Use Chef Knives : How to Cut a Mango"... etc. Supposely, she is a professional chef, which is the real surprise.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Yeah that 'How to Use a Cleaver" video is classic.
                I hadn't seen the "How to sharpen a knife" vid before. That got uglier and uglier as it went on.
                I especially like "how to hold a chef's knife" where her advice is... you put it in your hand. I spat out the handle of my knife in shock when I saw that.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Yeah, the "How to Use Chef Knives : How to Hold a Chef's Knife" is pretty bad too. Not only the way she incorrectly hold her Chef's knife, but she incorrectly curl her non-dominant hand. The "How to Use Chef Knives : How to Cut a Mango" is funny because it shows the knife is extremely dull (0:50-0:55 min):


                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    "is funny because it shows the knife is extremely dull (0:50-0:55 min):"

                    she probably did the mango tutorial just after her knife sharpening video :P

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I had no idea she was in the industry! that makes it even worse!! i'm going to go revisit these videos for a laugh. I really hope no one takes those videos as fact, they're full of disappointment and fail.

                  1. re: cannibal

                    Yeah, if you look at the description/details section, you will find something like:

                    Expert: Laura Banford
                    Bio: Laura has cooked professionally for many years, including as a garde manger in a restaurant kitchen, and as a cooking instructor.
                    Filmmaker: Laura Banford