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What is a Chukabocho (Chinese Cleaver)?

Chukabocho is the Japanese term for a Cai Dao (Chinese vegetable cleaver) or ‘Chinese-style’ knife that is made in Japan following Japanese knife forging techniques. The Chukabocho typically features a sharp and straight double bevel edge, and is characterized by its extremely tall, large and rectangular-shaped blade that is similar in shape to the Nakiri and the Edo-Usuba.

The Cai Dao, which is the original inspiration of the Chukabocho, is often regarded as a Chinese chef’s knife due to its versatility and multi-functional use in a Chinese kitchen. Similarly, the Chukabocho is able to slice, chop, mince and crush its way through virtually any vegetable, fruit and small-boned proteins with ease, thanks to the weight of its large wide blade.

Although both the Cai Dao and the Chukabocho are often referred to as a ‘cleaver’ knife in English, it should be noted that the Chukabocho nor the Cai Dao are as sturdy as a true cleaver and should not be used to chop through large bones or for other heavy-duty work. A true cleaver is more like a mini axe than a knife, and usually much heavier and robust.

What does Chukabocho mean?

Literally translated, ‘Chuka’ in Japanese means ‘Chinese’ as in Chinese-style cuisine and ‘bocho’ means ‘kitchen knife’ - hence giving the Chukabocho its English translation of ‘Chinese-style kitchen knife’.

The Chukabocho is said to be the Japanese take on a traditional Chinese Cai Dao cleaver, and is created by utilizing the unique knife forging techniques of Japan.

What is a Chukabocho knife best For?

A true all-rounder knife, the Chukabocho knife is best for slicing, chopping, mincing and crushing virtually any kind of vegetable, fruit, herbs, small-boned proteins and fish.

The Chukabocho is typically available in varying blade thicknesses and weights in Japan, with the size of the blade determining the best use of this versatile knife.

Thinner, and therefore lighter blades are best suited for chopping and fine slicing soft meat, vegetables and fish; crushing smaller ingredients such as garlic; removing blemishes from fruits and vegetables with the heel corners of the blade; and for decorative cutting with its sharp corner edges.

Thicker, and therefore heavier blades are best suited for general kitchen usage including medium-sized butchery work, such as splitting and breaking down smaller bones of meats, poultry and fish. Thicker and heavier Chukabochos are often used by professional chefs who are skilled in utilizing the weight of the knife itself to break through the bones without damaging the blade.

Medium-sized blades are a versatile compromise between the two sizes, and can be used for general cutting of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and boneless proteins, or to cut through small bones found in fish and poultry.

Chukabocho knife characteristics

Size

The Chukabocho is one of the largest traditional Japanese knives with an average height of 100mm and blade lengths ranging between 180mm to 240mm. Its weight is also significantly varied, from a light 300g to a heavy 900g.

While the large size of the Chukabocho may be intimidating at first, a unique advantage of the Chuka Bocho is its ability to merge the thinness of a traditional Japanese knife with the heaviness of a taller blade to produce clean and precise cuts through tougher produce.

Typically when choosing a knife, the user must make a choice between having a thin blade at the cost of a lighter knife overall, or a heavier knife at the cost of a thicker blade. However, the Chukabocho’s extra-tall height provides significant weight behind its thin edge, thus allowing the knife to strike down with extra momentum and gravitational force to cut through tough foods.

Shape

The Chukabocho is characterized by its flat profile and its tall, large and rectangular-shaped blade that is similar in shape to the Nakiri and the Edo-Usuba, albeit bigger. The sharp, straight edge of the blade provides full contact with the cutting board on each cut, which helps to achieve a clean slice every time.

The flat profile of the blade makes the Chukabocho well-suited for tap-chopping, push-cutting or pull-cutting techniques, and the extra wide blade allows for maximum knuckle clearance. The wideness of the blade also makes it easier to safely guide the blade with the knuckles of your free hand when chopping, and gives plenty of room to easily scoop your ingredients and transfer them to the pot or pan.

Edge

The Chukabocho knife typically features a double bevel blade with a razor-sharp edge, as Japanese double bevel knives are ground at a more acute angle than other western-style knives, usually at an angle between 10 to 15 degrees.

Handle

Chukabocho knife handles can be categorized into two categories: the traditional Japanese ‘Wa-Handle’, or a Western-style handle.

The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal. While some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, the choice of the handle comes down to personal preference.

How are Chukabocho knives made?

Chukabocho knives first appeared in Japan after World War II when the use of the Chinese cleaver began to spread across the country.

The Cai Dao, also known as the Chinese vegetable cleaver, is the original inspiration for the Chukabocho. Chukabocho simply refers to the same style of these Cai Dao knives that are made using traditional Japanese knife forging techniques.

The Cai Dao is often called a Chinese chef’s knife and is extremely versatile - so much so, that it is typically the main and only knife found in Chinese kitchens.

To understand how Chukabocho knives are made and to decode the common phrases that are found in knife descriptions, it’s best to look at traditional Japanese knife forging methods and the materials used.

There are two basic categories of Japanese knives - honyaki and kasumi - which are defined by the materials and methods used in their forging.

honyaki (“true-forged”) knives are manually forged by hand following traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques, and are created entirely out of one single material: high-carbon steel (hagane). The hagane is typically a type of White Steel (Shirogami) or Blue Steel (Aogami), and this style of knife blade is also called a mono steel blade.

The method of creating a honyaki knife is similar to how Katanas (Japanese traditional swords) were made in the past. Forging a Chukabocho knife is a lengthy and difficult manual process that begins with a single high-carbon steel blank, and involves multiple rounds of heat treatment, steel hammering, kilning, polishing and sharpening. This is done manually in the hands of skilled blacksmiths in Japanese cities famous for their knife production, such as Sakai (in Osaka), Seki (in Gifu), and Echizen (in Fukui).

Because honyaki knives are forged from high-carbon steel, its blade is extremely hard and can be sharpened to incredibly thin and sharp edges that will remain sharp for a long time. However, they are challenging to resharpen and prone to chipping, cracking, or breaking if used improperly. Due to the small-scale production and the highly-skilled artisan nature of the blacksmiths, honyaki knives are more expensive, and recommended for experienced and professional chefs who can maintain them.

On the other hand, kasumi (“mist”) knives are made by joining together a piece of soft iron (jigane) with a piece of high-carbon steel (hagane) to create a laminated blade. After forging, hammering and shaping, the carbon steel (hagane) forms the core and cutting edge, while the soft iron (jigane) clads the body and spine of the blade. The hazy appearance of the soft iron in contrast with the glossy carbon steel gives kasumi its signature ‘mist’ appearance, as referenced by its name. Thanks to the added soft iron, kasumi blades have reduced brittleness overall, and are cheaper and easier to sharpen than honyaki knives.

In relation to kasumi knives, Hon Kasumi or Hongasumi knives are also commonly found, and refers to a higher grade of kasumi knives. Although Hongasumi knives are made in the same way as kasumi knives, they are often made from higher quality materials and involve extra attention and steps in its forging, tempering, polishing and finishing processes.

For more information on how Japanese knives are made and the types of steels used, check out our blog on how Japanese knives are made. (link coming soon)

What are popular Chukabocho knife brands?

Chukabocho knives are Japanese-made Cai Dao (Chinese vegetable cleaver) knives, and draw their inspiration from China but are made in Japan. Chukabocho knives are often sold as ‘Chinese-style kitchen knives’ in Japan, while many western knife manufacturers also offer their own version of the Chinese Cai Dao knife.

The Chukabocho is made by a variety of manufacturers including:

  • Tojiro
  • Sakai Takayuki
  • Moritaka
  • Takeda
  • Gesshin Uraku
  • Mac
  • Kai
  • Shun
  • Masamoto
  • Global

How to choose a Chukabocho knife

If you’re in the market for a Chukabocho knife, it can seem difficult to figure out which particular one will be perfect for you, especially if you haven’t had the chance to try out a few models in person to get a feel for what size and style of the Chukabocho feels the most balanced and stable in your hand.

You can see our best recommendations here, but here are some factors to first consider that will help you to choose your Chukabocho knife:

  • Types of steel
  • Handle styles
  • Ideal size
  • Your budget

Which steel should I choose for my Chukabocho knife?

Generally speaking, you have a choice between carbon steel and stainless steel when buying a Chukabocho knife. The type of steel you choose will determine the knife’s edge retention, how easy it is to sharpen, level of resistance to corrosion and rusting, and its overall durability. You can first evaluate which of these factors are the most important to you, and narrow it down from there.

Carbon-steel blades are easier to sharpen and maintain their sharp edges for longer, but require more maintenance as it is prone to rust and corrosion. Over time, a dark patina will form on a carbon-steel knife. Popular high-carbon steel options include White Steel (Shirogami) and Blue Steel (Aogami).

stainless steel blades are generally less expensive, tougher, less likely to chip and more corrosion-resistant, however are harder to sharpen and tend to dull quicker. Popular stainless steel options include VG-10, SG-2, AUS-10, Gingami #3 and Swedish stainless steel.

What is the best handle for a Chukabocho knife?

The handle of your Chukabocho knife will determine how comfortable it feels to use in your hand.

Consider your usual grip on a knife. If you mostly hold the knife by the handle, a shaped or tapered Western-style handle will feel most comfortable and familiar to you.

If you hold the knife using a pinch grip, a Chukabocho knife with a traditional Japanese-style handle (‘wa-handle’) will feel great in your hand. The most common wa-handle shapes are the D-shape, oval, or octagonal, and while some prefer the ergonomic grip of a D-shaped or octagonal handle, it all comes down to personal preference.

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How do I take care of a Chukabocho knife?

When purchasing a Chukabocho knife, it’s important to think about how you will care for and maintain your Chukabocho knife. Chukabocho knives should be sharpened with water whetstones, and always hand washed and dried after use to prevent rusting and corrosion.

There are lots of detailed videos on YouTube that show you step-by-step how to sharpen your Chukabocho knife. Otherwise, some Chukabocho knife sellers offer a paid sharpening service by trained Japanese knife sharpeners, which can be an easier option.

How much should I spend on a Chukabocho knife?

There are countless options for a Chukabocho knife, starting with budget-friendly Chukabocho knives to traditionally hand-forged honyaki Chukabocho knives that will set you back a few hundred dollars. Setting your own spending limit will help narrow down your hunt for the best value Chukabocho knife.

If you’re looking for some tried and tested Chukabocho knife recommendations, the Japanese Chinese Style Kitchen Chopping Knife and the Kotobuki 440-146 Japanese Chef's Cleaver are great entry-level Chukabocho knives made in Japan with stainless steel for under $50 a pop.

If you’ve got a bigger budget and want to get the best value for your money, the ZHEN Japanese VG-10 3-Layer Forged High Carbon Stainless Steel Medium Duty Cleaver Chef Butcher Chopping Knife (Bone Chopper), 6.5-inch and the Shun Classic 6-Inch Meat Cleaver Handcrafted in Japan; Heavy Duty Durable AUS8A High-Carbon Stainless Steel; Moisture Resistant PakkaWood Handle; Ideal for Meat and Bones are our picks for a heavier and thicker Chukabocho knife. Read more about them here.

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a Chukabocho knife?

The Chukabocho knife is a true piece of usable art that carries the spirit of traditional Japanese knife-making. Compared to the Cai Dao, the Chukabocho tends to be made of better and harder steel, which helps to retain its sharp edge for longer. The cutting edge on a Chukabocho also tends to have a better grind, not to mention that the fit and finish of a Chukabocho created by traditional Japanese knife-forging techniques is likely to be of higher quality than those found on a mass-produced Cai Dao.

The Chukabocho is a uniquely versatile and multi-functional knife that is recommended to anyone who wants a hefty yet nimble go-to knife for just about everything in the kitchen, especially for those who prefer a push-cutting technique.

How do you sharpen a Chukabocho knife?

As a rule, the Chukabocho knife should only be sharpened using a whetstone when necessary. Here’s an easy to follow video on how to sharpen a Chukabocho knife:

For more tips, insights and tricks, visit our page on how to sharpen Japanese knives. (link coming soon)

Who makes the best Chukabocho knife?

At Japanese Knives Guide, we believe that the best Chukabocho knife is one that fits your budget, grip style, expected steel type and your chosen size of the blade. Of course, everybody will have different resources and requirements, so our ‘best’ recommendations are always those which present great value for money.

If you’re new to the world of Japanese knives, our foolproof recommendation is this: before jumping at the first chance to own an expensive, high-end Chukabocho knife, why not try your hand at a budget-friendly Chukabocho knife to see if it’s the right fit for you?

Traditionally hand-forged and high-carbon steel Chukabocho knives can easily cost a fortune, and although beautiful, they require some training to get used to the high-maintenance care routine that’s required to keep them in their pristine original condition. It’s always better to first get a feel for the specific qualities of a specialized knife before committing to invest more. That way, you can spend some time mastering different chopping and handling techniques without the fear of damaging your expensive investment piece.

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with plenty of Chukabocho knife options, a transparent customer review section and an incredibly generous returns policy, which makes it the perfect hassle-free and worry-free option for your first Chukabocho purchase. There are many specialized smaller retailers out there, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that can provide as much peace of mind with the same level of service and returns policy as Amazon.

With that said, our favorite entry-level Chukabocho knife is this Japanese Chinese Style Kitchen Chopping Knife which is made in Japan with a stainless steel blade for easy maintenance. At just under $30 with a classy Japanese oak wood wa-handle and wooden sheath to keep your knife safe and dry, it’s a no brainer option for if you want to try out the Chukabocho knife without committing to investing the big bucks. If you’d rather prefer a western handle, this Kotobuki 440-146 Japanese Chef's Cleaver is made with stainless steel in Japan as well and great value for under $50.

If you’re looking to invest a little more, the ZHEN Japanese VG-10 3-Layer Forged High Carbon Stainless Steel Medium Duty Cleaver Chef Butcher Chopping Knife (Bone Chopper), 6.5-inch and the Shun Classic 6-Inch Meat Cleaver Handcrafted in Japan; Heavy Duty Durable AUS8A High-Carbon Stainless Steel; Moisture Resistant PakkaWood Handle; Ideal for Meat and Bones come highly recommended as options for a thicker and heavier Chukabocho knife. The ZHEN cleaver is made with 3 layers of Japanese high carbon steel and VG-10 stainless steel, making the knife extremely hard and ensuring a long-lasting sharp edge. The Shun cleaver is made from AUS8A high-carbon stainless steel in Japan, and the slight curve on the cutting edge is particularly ideal as a compromise for those who want the functionality of a classic Chukabocho but want to be able to rock-chop as well.

Where to buy a Chukabocho knife

Amazon is an accessible and reputable retailer with many Chukabocho knives on offer. They also have a very generous returns policy for extra peace of mind.

For under $50, our favorite entry-level Chukabocho knives include the Japanese Chinese Style Kitchen Chopping Knife and the Kotobuki 440-146 Japanese Chef's Cleaver. Both knives are made in Japan with a stainless blade for easy maintenance, and are the perfect gateway to the versatile Chukabocho knife with a Japanese-style handle or a western-style handle.

If you’re looking for more of an investment piece, the ZHEN Japanese VG-10 3-Layer Forged High Carbon Stainless Steel Medium Duty Cleaver Chef Butcher Chopping Knife (Bone Chopper), 6.5-inch and the Shun Classic 6-Inch Meat Cleaver Handcrafted in Japan; Heavy Duty Durable AUS8A High-Carbon Stainless Steel; Moisture Resistant PakkaWood Handle; Ideal for Meat and Bones are our picks for a heavier and thicker Chukabocho knife.

The ZHEN cleaver is made with 3 layers of Japanese high carbon steel and VG-10 stainless steel, making the knife extremely hard and ensuring a long-lasting sharp edge.

The Shun cleaver is made from AUS8A high-carbon stainless steel in Japan, and the slight curve on the cutting edge is particularly ideal as a compromise for those who want the functionality of a classic Chukabocho but want to be able to rock-chop as well.

Chukabocho (Chinese Cleaver)

Name: 
中華包丁 (ちゅうかぼうちょう)
Rōmaji:
Chūkabōchō
Sizing:
180-240mm
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