The meat cleaver is one of the most trusty, dependable tools in any home cook’s arsenal. But what about it makes it such an important and versatile tool, and why is it so popular?
1. What is a Meat Cleaver?
Meat cleavers are great. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re likely familiar with this iconic knife shape as being the standard go-to when it comes to butchering. And it’s true: butchers use the meat cleaver to get through tough cuts of meat, bone, and gristle. Its unique shape and size makes them powerful kitchen tools to get through some of the more challenging tasks of butchering.
The large, rectangular shape of the traditional meat cleaver is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of a butcher. Because of this association, meat cleavers are sometimes mistakenly referred to as butchers knives. But while meat cleavers are often used for butchering, the term “butchers knife” refers to a different type of kitchen tool.
So what exactly is a meat cleaver, anyway? What are they used for in comparison to a butcher knife? Do you really need one for your kitchen? Why are they shaped that way – blocky and rectangular? Why are they often so much heavier than most other kitchen knives? And why do so many of them have that little hole in the corner?
Let’s talk about it.
Meat cleavers are shaped for their purpose.
There’s a reason meat cleavers are built that way. They’re large, usually rectangular, and usually featuring a blade that is much thicker from most other types of knives. This is because meat cleavers are made to cut through thick bones and ligaments. It needs to be a thick, heavy blade so that it can come down with power.
Sectioning meat is the most common use of a meat cleaver. Its thick blade makes it easy to cut through bones as well as other heavy-duty tasks. Its weight contributes to the cutting force, making it easier and less tiring to quickly get through large pieces of meat. This means that you’ll be able to buy larger pieces of meat and do the sectioning at home.
You can also use meat cleavers for sectioning poultry, easily cutting through thick points, splitting ribs, cutting through joints, and even trimming fat and skin portions (though you might need a paring knife for some of the finer work). Scaling fish is also easy work for a meat cleaver, especially since it has a large surface area.
And while the name “meat cleaver” points to its use on meats, you can also use it in several aspects of vegetable preparation. It makes for a great chopping knife for vegetables, especially hard ones. And its large surface area makes it ideal for crushing ingredients such as ginger and garlic. It’s also great for transferring ingredients from the chopping board.
Do you need a meat cleaver?
If you’re the kind of home cook who loves to work with meat, getting a meat cleaver for your kitchen is a no-brainer. The ease with which you can chop, cut, and slice meat and bones is unparalleled, and you’ll quickly find yourself wondering how you ever got around without one. Sure, chef’s knives are great, but there’s a limit to what you can do with them before you start to damage them.
It’s not just about the time you’ll save, it’s about how much more enjoyable cooking will be. Think about it. The things that make cooking less fun are the times you have to physically exert yourself to the point where it can even get painful. Because meat cleavers are especially built for tough jobs like cutting through joints and portioning big pieces of meat, their size and heft make it much easier for you.
Simply put, having the right tools for the job (such as, for example, a good cutting board, or fillet knives if you’re a seafood enthusiast) can make all the difference in terms of enjoyment. A good meat cleaver will make things easier and more pleasurable for you as a cook, and that’s worth the investment.
2. What to Look For in a Meat Cleaver
Not all meat cleavers are the same (for instance, there are also Chinese cleavers, and various cleaver hybrids). Let’s talk about what you should keep an eye out for when it comes to finding the ideal meat cleaver for you.
When it comes to blade design, you need to think of thickness. A thin blade is going to wear out much faster than a thick one, and it can even break if you use it on very large bones. On the other hand, a thick wedge-shaped blade can feel dull when cutting, and tend to drag. A great meat cleaver will be somewhere between these two options.
There are a few different material options for meat cleavers. Stainless steel meat cleavers are great, especially since it’s resistant to rust, corrosive acids, and stains. High carbon stainless steel tends to be better for sharp edges, so look for high carbon steel if you can find it.
Meat cleaver handle
Believe it or not, the handle is crucial. It’s what you’ll be spending most of your time interacting with. And since meat cleavers are commonly used for tough jobs, you want to make sure that your meat cleaver handle is comfortable and easy to use. Look for handles that aren’t made of rigid plastic, as plastic handles tend to loosen up and crack easily; similar with hardwood handles or rosewood handles. Look for non-slip handles to avoid any mishaps. And look for an ergonomic handle for comfort.
3. Best Cleaver Knives
As we’ve established, there’s more than one type of cleaver kitchen knife out there, so your options are pretty varied. From the classic cleaver to more innovative spins on the traditional design that incorporate elements from other types of knives to make something entirely new, let’s take a look at our picks of best cleaver knives in the market.
Any time I get to talk about the knives in Dalstrong’s awesome Shadow Black series, I’m more blown away by their design and build quality. This 7 inch cleaver knife is one of the coolest-looking knives you’ll buy. Featuring a sleek, futuristic design with a black non-reflective titanium-nitride coating, coupled with a unique handle geometry that is inspired by the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter. It looks and feels like something out of a movie.
This cleaver is especially engineered for breaking down smaller cuts of boneless meats and poultry as well as all your regular kitchen tasks: slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing, etc. This makes it a great choice for pitmasters, home kitchens, and professionals. Add to that the fact that it’s made of top-of-the-line materials (razor-sharp high-carbon knife stainless steel blade at 58+ Rockwell hardness) and you’ve got an incredible kitchen powerhouse that’s a force to be reckoned with.
- Precision forged, ultra-sharp, wear resistant high-carbon 7CR17MOV-X vacuum treated steel.
- Hand-sharpened to 16-18 degrees per side, the perfect balance between blade sturdiness and sharpness.
- Absolutely amazing look: menacing, sophisticated, futuristic, and elegant. This is in large part thanks to its black non-reflective titanium-nitride coating.The knife is comfortable and easy to handle, yet sacrifices none of the power or features of a cleaver knife.
- When sharpening this knife you might find yourself a little hesitant to touch the titanium-nitride coating, but you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
- Not everybody is a fan of knives that are this “showy” with their looks. Maybe you’re not looking for a cleaver knife that looks this unusual. In that case, there are more traditional-looking cleaver knives listed here.
If you want a meat cleaver but would also like something that can be applied to other, more general uses, this awesome chef’s knife / cleaver hybrid is exactly what you’re looking for, As part of Dalstrong’s Gladiator series, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re getting a high-quality product made of the very best materials available.
And in terms of design, few things are as convenient as this marriage of the best elements of a meat cleaver and the versatility of a chef’s knife. Best of both worlds. Great for both the burgeoning home cook and the seasoned professional. And at 12” long, you’ll be able to make quick work out of even the largest cuts of meat.
- The blade is hand sharpened to 16-18 degrees per side, with an expert heat treatment. You’ll get clean, straight cuts with this.
- Made of super sharp German high carbon stainless Thyssenkrupp steel. A fantastic bone chopper.
- While this is a kind of in-between a cleaver and a chef’s knife, it features the best design elements of both types of knives, including the stamped hole on the blade for proud display.
- A fantastic value; just check prices out there to see this offer is unparalleled. .
- This knife marries design elements of the classic chef’s knife and a heavy duty meat cleaver. If you’re looking for more of a traditional cleaver, we have plenty of those further down the list.
- 12” is a lot of knife. Not every cook might need a knife this long. Check out some of the other sizes displayed in this list.
This gorgeous and utterly unique knife from Dalstrong’s Frost Fire Series is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s a meat cleaver, yes, but it’s also straight-up beautiful. That sounds like a weird thing to say about a meat cleaver, isn't it? But the Frost Fire series 7” cleaver knife’s gorgeous honeycomb design and icy cold look make it something that should be admired just as much as it’s feared.
It’s more than just about looks with this 7 inch meat cleaver knife, though. Made of premium materials (a blade carefully engineered with 7-layer high-carbon high-chromium 10CR15MOV steel) and carefully engineered for ruthless performance and comfort, this cleaver knife is a fantastic gift for anyone who values aesthetics and elegance just as much as they value unparalleled kitchen performance at an amazing price point.
- Made of 7-layer, high-chromium 10CR15MOV high carbon stainless steel with added cobalt and heat treatment.
- Absolutely gorgeous cleaver knife, featuring a sandblast finish that not only gives it a frosted look, it also enhances the blade’s nonstick properties.
- Really beautiful white resin handle with a honeycomb satin finish.
- Sharpened under the ancient 3-step Honbazuke method.
- This meat cleaver is a little on the lighter side when compared with the other cleavers on this list.
- The sandblasted frosted look and honeycomb finish might not be to everyone's liking.
Talk about looks and power. This incredible 7” meat cleaver from the Omega series is one of the most impressive kitchen tools available in the market. An absolute kitchen powerhouse, ready-built to take on meat, bone, sinew, and just about any culinary task you throw its way, the 7” Omega series cleaver knife is exactly the type of knife people mean when they say “premium quality.”
This powerful kitchen tool is a fantastic addition to the kitchen arsenal of any chef, butcher, or home cook, no matter the experience level. You’ll be able to quickly and easily break down pieces of various meats, as well as tough-skinned fruits and vegetables. And with its gorgeous “LiquidMetal” blade pattern, you’ll find yourself wanting to show this one off.
- Made of BD1N American forged hyper steel with an added vacuum treatment.
- Features an awesome “LiquidMetal” blade pattern, which not only provides it with a futuristic look but also reduces drag on the food.
- Features a comfortable, ergonomic midnight-black G10 woven fiberglass handle; nearly impervious to heat, cold, and moisture.
- Tapered bolster for a perfect zero-grip balance and finger protection.
- This butcher cleaver knife is 7” long, which is plenty for many uses. However, some cooks – particularly those used to butchering larger pieces of meat – might need something a little larger, like some of the other knives on this list.
- This knife is a premium quality product, but we won’t mince words: it’s an investment. If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, there are plenty of other options available here.
Talk about a showstopper. This absolutely stunning chef knife - meat cleaver hybrid is another example of how the design benefits of a cleaver can be applied to other types of knives as well. This is an 8” heavy duty cleaver knife that incorporates elements of both a traditional meat cleaver and a chef’s knife, resulting in a dazzling piece of cutlery.
This Crixus knife marries traditional craftsmanship with the latest technology, resulting in an innovative tool that any cook would proudly display in their kitchen. That’s another thing – this knife is another gorgeous object, with an onyx-black titanium-nitride coating and a camouflage G10 handle for a rugged look that’ll get everybody talking.
- This knife features a painstakingly hand-sharpened blade to 8-12 degrees per side, making it screamingly sharp.
- The blade is made of 8” precision forged ultra-sharp wear-resistant high-carbon 9CR18MOV steel at 60 Rockwell hardness.
- Tapered bolster provides a natural and comfortable pinch grip.
- Super durable G10 camouflage handle that is resistant to both extreme cold and hot temperatures.
- This is another knife with a definite “look” to it. If you’re the kind of person who would prefer a more traditional-looking knife, we have plenty of those available on this list.
- This innovative knife brings together elements of a traditional meat cleaver as well as a chef’s knife. If you’re looking for a more pure example of a meat cleaver, read on.
Sure, meat cleavers are usually a certain size, but every once in a while you need a smaller tool to get the job done. This impressive 4.5” cleaver knife from Dalstrong’s Phantom series is a fantastic tool for slicing beef and poultry, cutting and chopping meats and cheeses, and mincing and dicing vegetables, garlic, and herbs.
Don’t be fooled by its small size; this awesome little tool is engineered for culinary excellence, employing top-of-the-line materials and impressive design. It features a tall blade height and a conservative blade length, making it a sort of cross between a traditional full-sized cleaver and a multi-purpose utility knife. A fantastic kitchen tool for the discerning home cook.
- The blade is precision forged from a single piece of ice tempered, high-carbon, Japanese AUS-8 steel.
- Painstakingly honed to 13-15° and nitrogen cooled for enhanced hardness, making this a fantastic chopping knife.
- Gorgeous laminated pakkawood handle imported from Spain.
- Features a mosaic pin of brass and copper for added refinement.
- An incredible gift for the knife enthusiast in your family or social circle.
- Of course, this cleaver is smaller than the others in this list. It’s ideal for certain uses, but less so if you’re looking to use it to butcher large animal carcasses.
- The knife handle is made of Spanish pakkawood; if you’re looking for a fiber-resin handle, check out some of the other options available here.
We wrap things up with this absolute stunner of a meat cleaver. As part of Dalstrong’s acclaimed Shogun series, this extra-long 12” heavy duty cleaver is a sleek and powerful kitchen tool that is redefining what a butcher’s meat cleaver should look like and perform. This powerful tool would be a welcome addition to any cook’s kitchen arsenal.
With a ruthlessly sharp scalpel-like edge (hand polished to an 8-12 degree angle per side using the traditional 3-step Honbazuke method), you’ll be able to make quick work of poultry, beef, pork, wild game, and the toughest-skinned produce. And its curved profile will allow for clean, perfect slices every time.
- Features 67-layered high-carbon damascus steel cladding and an AUS-10V Japanese super steel core.
- Polished to an extremely sharp 8 -12°degree angle per side.
- Features the Shogun Series Tsunami Rose pattern, making it another absolutely gorgeous knife.
- Built to last a lifetime.
- This is another 12” cleaver knife, making it one of the longest ones in this list. This makes it ideal for dealing with large pieces of meat, but not every cook will need a meat cleaver this large.
- This is a quality product, guaranteed to be one of the best knives money can buy. So it’s an investment, and its price tag reflects it; however, it’s still much cheaper than many alternatives on the market of comparable quality.
4. Frequently Asked Questions
What meat do you cut with a cleaver?
Meat cleavers can be used on just about any piece of meat you can imagine, such as beef, pork, poultry, or even wild game. Because of their design, they can be used to break down large pieces of meat into smaller portions, easily breaking through bone and connective tissue.
How thick should the blade of a cleaver knife be?
Since cleavers are designed for heavy duty jobs such as working with dense bone and gristle, they need to be on the thicker side. This is why most meat cleavers are around the 3/16” - ¼” thickness range.
Not all meat cleavers have holes in them, but some do. The reason the holes are there is so the meat cleavers can be easily hung up when not used, either on a wall mount or on the belt of the butcher. However, if you have a magnetic knife holder, you likely won’t be using this hole at all.
What do you use a meat cleaver for?
Meat cleavers can be used to cut many things. Their shape and heft makes them very well suited to cut through tough cuts of meat as well as bones and sinew. They can also be used on produce, as their shape makes them very useful for chopping vegetables, as well as working with tough-skinned fruit (such as portioning pineapples).