Why buy a meat cleaver?
There are many different types of kitchen knives out there, from all-purpose chef knives to more specialty types like bread knives, boning knives, and oyster knives. Not everyone needs every single type of specialty knife on the market, but if you cook with any sort of regularity, a meat cleaver is a worthwhile investment.
They’re the perfect type of knife for tasks like spatchcocking a chicken, breaking down large cuts of meat, and preparing bones for stock. Despite the name, a meat cleaver is also a great tool to chop, slice, mince, and dice your fruits and vegetables. They’re especially useful for root vegetables and fruits and veggies with hard, tough skins, like pineapples and sweet potatoes. You can even flip a meat cleaver on its side and use the wide, flat blade to crush up garlic cloves, peppercorns, and other aromatics. Thus, even if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a good cleaver can still be a useful addition to your home kitchen.
What should you look for in meat cleavers?
- Blade: There are several different types of metals that cleaver blades can be made from. There’s high carbon steel, which requires extra care to prevent rusting and is not dishwasher safe. Blades can also be made of stainless steel and other alloy steels that are less difficult to maintain. The strength of the blade material is rated on the Rockwell hardness scale (abbreviated HRc or HRC), a rating scale used by metallurgists to quantify how hard a piece of steel is. According to this scale, a range of 57 to 62 is acceptable, with cleavers ranging from 57 to 58 and Japanese knives ranging from 60 to 62. Also consider the weight of the knife, especially if you have strength or mobility issues, and the sharpness of the blade, expressed as blade angle in degrees. A meat cleaver may have a blade angle of as much as 25 degrees, which is fairly blunt. More precise cleavers may have a blade angle as low as 10 to 11 degrees.
- Tang: Tangs are the part of the blade that extends into the handle. On the best blades, the tang is a part of the blade rather than attached to it. Half tangs are good, but three-quarters of the length of the handle is better. A tang that’s the length of the entire handle gives you the best stability, balance, and durability.
- Handle: The shape of the handle is a matter of personal preference. The most important thing is to look for information about how securely the handle is attached to the tang. A wobbly knife is a hazard. If the handle completely encloses the tang, that may mean that the tang is partial rather than full.
What is the difference between a meat cleaver, a Chinese cleaver, and a Nakiri knife?
The meat cleaver is a thick, heavy rectangular blade designed to cut through bones, joints, and tendons.
The Chinese cleaver has a rectangular shape, but it is thinner and lighter than a Western-style meat cleaver. It might be more accurately described as a general-purpose chef’s knife. Called a cai dao in Chinese, it is used for precise knife work on meat and vegetables, but the flat side is also used for crushing or flattening aromatics or transferring food from the chopping block to the pan. The top edge of the knife’s blade can be used to tenderize the meat and pulverize ingredients. These knives are great for boneless meats, fruits, and vegetables.
A Japanese cleaver, sometimes called a vegetable cleaver or Nakiri knife, has a narrower rectangular shape than a meat cleaver or Chinese cleaver. These knives are usually the lightest of the three types. Their sharp, thin blades make very clean, precise cuts for perfect vegetable prep, though they’re not great for heavy-duty cutting.
Aroma House Meat Cleaver with Ergonomic Handle
A sharp, comfortable, and sturdy cleaver that's equally effective on meat and vegetables.
Pros: The blade is made from high carbon stainless steel that is hard, strong, and anti-rust, while the ergonomic handle ensures the cleaver is comfortable to grip. The surprisingly lightweight feel (only 1.17 pounds) also puts less strain on your hands, especially handy for long meal prepping sessions or more involved recipes that require a lot of cutting with a cleaver. Don’t worry that the lighter weight means this cleaver is any less effective, either. Thanks to the aforementioned high carbon blade that has been sharpened to perfection, it will still cut through strong, tough meats without issue. The full tang provides greater stability and balance for cutting and chopping both meats and vegetables. You can even use it to de-bone meat. A sturdy storage box with a magnetic closure comes included.
Cons: Even though the stainless steel of the blade is dishwasher safe, the real wood of the handle is not. You’ll need to wash this cleaver by hand and be careful to dry the handle immediately afterward to avoid cracking or splintering. Especially since the handle, despite its purported non-slip grip, does grow rather slippery and thus potentially dangerous when wet.
Bottom Line: At 7 inches long with a 17-degree angle and hand-polished to a mirror shine on both sides, this cleaver is great for meats and vegetables alike. Despite its surprisingly lightweight feel for a cleaver, it still has enough power to cut through lighter bones and coconuts with minimal effort on your end.
SHI BA ZI ZUO Chinese Cleaver
Beautifully crafted and plenty sharp, this Chinese cleaver is a great option for crushing and cutting.
Pros: This Chinese cleaver is perfect for those times when you need to make more exact cuts or slices on your meat and vegetables. The blade is made of high-carbon stainless steel—three layers of it—with a full tang for balance. It also boasts a non-stick laminate to prevent residue, stickiness, or small pieces of food from sticking to the blade. This is especially useful when using the flat blade of the cleaver to transfer diced vegetables to a cooking pan or when chopping or crushing small aromatics like garlic. There’s also a finger guard and wide bolster (the space between the handle and the end of the blade) to make this cleaver safer to use. The aesthetically pleasing handle is made of real rosewood, which is light, attractive, and sturdier than faux wood.
Cons: Pretty as the rosewood handle is, the small carved ridges along it may prove uncomfortable for some people to grip when cutting or slicing. It’ll also require occasional oiling (mineral oil is recommended) to keep it intact, and you can’t wash this cleaver in the dishwasher due to the real wood. Users who didn’t like the stickers on the blade also found them near impossible to remove.
Bottom Line: Chinese cleavers are known for their ability to make precise cuts, crush aromatics for cooking, and easily transfer food from cutting block to pan. If you’re looking to add one to your kitchen knife collection for fine mincing, dicing, and slicing meat and vegetables, this Chinese cleaver from SHI BA ZI is an excellent option.
TUO Nakiri Knife
The sharp edge and flat blade of this Nakiri knife will make perfect cuts, minces, and dices of your fruits and veggies.
Pros: No more chopping fruits and veggies with a dull knife. This 6.5-inch Nakiri knife was made specifically for vegetables and fruits rather than meat. It’s incredibly well-balanced and strong enough to slice through melons and avocados but thin, sharp, and precise enough to shred carrots or dice peppers. It has the signature very thin, flat, rectangular blade that Nakiri knives are known for, made from high-carbon, vacuum-treated stainless steel and with a full tang for superior stability. The real, high-density pakkawood handle is the perfect blend of strong, stable, and incredibly smooth to the touch and thus easy and comfortable to grip.
Cons: This Nakiri knife is meant as a cleaver for vegetables and fruits, not meat. It should work fine on boneless meats if you find yourself in a pinch, but don’t try to cut through bones or gristle with it. And while the knife is technically dishwasher safe, hand washing and immediate drying are recommended due to the real wood handle.
Bottom Line: There are plenty of fruits and vegetables with strong skins or husks that can be a challenge to cut open with a regular chef’s knife. If you want a cleaver specifically made for chopping up fruits and vegetables and don’t want to risk cross-contamination with a cleaver used for meat and fish, this Nakiri knife from TUO is a great choice.
DALSTRONG Gladiator Series Cleaver Knife
Even the toughest cuts of meat, fish, or bone are no match for this high-quality cleaver.
Pros: If you cook and chop meat a lot, a higher-quality, premium cleaver will be a wise investment as opposed to something lighter and more budget-friendly. This meat cleaver fits the bill perfectly. The high-carbon, heat-treated German steel blade is thick, hard, heavy, extremely sharp, well-tempered, and laminated to be stain-resistant, resulting in a strong, hefty cut, easier cleaning, and superior service life. While the carbon steel isn’t naturally rust-resistant, the blade has been treated to resist corrosion. The full tang gives you a durable, sturdy grip and further improves the cleaver’s already-precise balance. A protective sheath comes included with your purchase. This knife is dishwasher safe, though hand washing is recommended. As a bonus, this cleaver is available in six different sizes. This allows you to choose a longer cleaver for steaks or salmon or a shorter one for smaller cuts of meat, salami, and sausages.
Cons: Premium products often mean a premium price tag, and this meat cleaver is no exception. You’ll get great quality and value for your money, but this isn’t a budget-friendly knife. And while cleavers are meant to be thick and heavy to properly slice through meat and bone, be extra careful with this very heavy cleaver if you’re not particularly strong or don’t have a steady hand.
Bottom Line: Dalstrong calls this cleaver “the ravager,” a fitting name and comparison, given its shape, cutting power, and incredibly strong, razor-sharp blade. If you’re willing to spend a little more money for a higher-quality meat cleaver, you can’t go wrong with this premium product.
Juvale Stainless Steel Meat Cleaver
Relatively lightweight and boasting a full tang, this stainless steel cleaver is perfect for everyday kitchen use.
Pros: If you’re looking to add a meat cleaver to your kitchen knife set but are on a budget, this product is the perfect blend of efficiency and affordability. It’s lower-priced than the average cleaver, and the 8-inch stainless steel blade has a full tang and an ergonomic handle. Despite the lower cost, it’s still plenty strong enough to cut through meat and bone without much effort or force on your end. It’s also dishwasher safe, unlike most cleavers. (Though you can certainly hand wash if you prefer.) As a bonus, the blade features a small hole at the top, so you can hang the cleaver from a hook or peg on your kitchen wall rather than stashing it in a drawer or even loop it through your belt when you’re cooking or grilling outside.
Cons: This knife is really only meant for hacking through meat and bone and gristle. It’s not meant for vegetables or fruits. The handle is also a bit less sturdy than most; you may have issues with it cracking or splitting over time.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a new kitchen cleaver that won’t cost an arm and a leg but is still high-quality, you’ll love this model from Juvale. It’s plenty strong and hefty, more than capable of getting the job done, and will cut through chicken bones and ribs and deconstruct whole turkeys with surprising ease.
Though they aren’t quite as all-purpose as a chef’s knife or utility knife, there are many worthwhile uses for meat cleavers. Even if you never cook meat or need to cut through bone, you’ll be surprised at how often you use your new meat cleaver when you’re cooking dinner or meal prepping.