If someone mentions ‘meat cleaver’, many of us have an involuntary image of a cartoon character or a martial arts film star waving a meat cleaver popping into our head. Yes, the meat cleaver with its large blade and hefty weight may make some of us a little nervous, but if you do prepare a lot of meat in your kitchen then using a meat cleaver can reduce the amount of work needed when cleaving through meat and bone.As well as a traditional meat cleaver, there are other types such as the Chinese cleaver and, in this article, we look at these in some detail, as well as the design of the meat cleaver and how to use it correctly.
The Zelite Infinity Cleaver is our best of the bunch with its 56 Rockwell high carbon stainless steel blade and lifetime warranty.
The competitively priced heavy duty and dishwasher safe Utopia Kitchen 7” cleaver is our budget pick.
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Meat Cleavers
[table id=33 /]
1. Zelite Infinity Cleaver
Made from German high carbon stainless steel for better rust and stain resistance, the Zelite Infinity cleaver is a 7” multipurpose cleaver. It is a 56 Rockwell full tang blade honed to 18-20⁰ and unusually, it has a tapered bolster for forward balancing.
Its ergonomic solid molded handle is made from G-10, although some users may find the handle takes a little time to get used to as it is shaped slightly differently to the more traditional handle. There is a lifetime warranty against any manufacturing or material defects and this cleaver comes in a gift box also suitable for storing the cleaver in when not in use.
2. Utopia Kitchen 7” Cleaver
Made from rust and corrosion resistant stainless steel, the heavy duty Utopia Kitchen 7” cleaver has an ergonomically designed ABS 430 composite handle for easy maneuvering and gripping, although some users may find that the part tang handle is not as robust as a full tang design.
3. Dexter-Russell Heavy Duty Cleaver
The Dexter-Russell heavy duty cleaver offers a hand sharpened and honed, stain free, high carbon steel blade. Measuring 8” long it weighs around two and a half pounds. It has a hanging hole in the end of the blade and is a full tang blade with a riveted rosewood handle.
4. J.A. Henckels International Meat Cleaver
The J.A. Henckels International meat cleaver is a 6” cleaver made in Spain from high-quality German stainless steel. The full tang blade is satin finished and finely honed for longer lasting sharpness. Its traditional style narrower non-slip handle is riveted, and the blade has a hanging hole.As this is lighter weight than typical meat cleavers, it may not be suitable for all types of meat preparation. This is a dishwasher-safe cleaver, but the manufacturer recommends handwashing.
5. Traditional Chinese Chef’s Knife
This traditional Chinese chef’s knife or cleaver is made in the US from high carbon steel and comes with a traditional wooden handle riveted to the blade. As a Chinese cleaver this is more suitable for slicing and chopping of vegetables and meats than bones.
6. SPEVORIX 7” Meat Cleaver
Forged from stainless steel, the SPEVORIX 7” meat cleaver is hand sharpened to 25⁰ and has a taller blade to assist with food preparation and knuckle clearance. A full tang blade, the handle is premium laminated pakkawood – a wood and plastic composite – for durability. Some users with smaller hands may find this handle a little too large for gripping comfortably.This cleaver has a 58 Rockwell hardness and comes with a hanging hole and a gift box. The manufacturer also offers a satisfaction or money back guarantee.
7. Sato Forged Meat Cleaver
Weighing 1.6lb, the Sato meat cleaver is forged from stainless steel and its blade is 8” long and 4” wide. As a heavy duty cleaver, you need to ensure that your cutting board is robust enough to minimize any impact damage to your board or even your worktop. It has a solid wood walnut handle and is a full tang blade.
8. Shun DM0712 Classic 7-Inch Chinese Vegetable Cleaver
The Shun Classic Chinese Cleaver has a 7” blade suitable for multipurpose food preparation. It is a Damascus clad blade with a pakkawood D-shaped handle. Handcrafted in Japan, it comes with a limited lifetime warranty and is NSF certified for use in commercial kitchens. Like any type of Chinese cleaver, this is unsuitable for cutting through bones.
9. SKY LIGHT 7” Cleaver
Made from high carbon stainless steel with 58+ Rockwell, the SKY LIGHT 7” multifunction cleaver is hand polished over 60 days. It has been nitrogen cooled to enhance its flexibility, hardness and resistance to corrosion and it has an ergonomic, military grade high polymer handle – resistant to temperature extremes and moisture.
10. Global 812445 Meat Cleaver
With a lightweight 6½” blade, the GLOBAL meat cleaver is made in Japan from Cromova 18 stainless steel, a mix of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium which gives a hard steel that is easy to sharpen. This type of stainless steel is also highly resistant to staining and rusting.Its double beveled blade is sharpened to 15⁰ and as a lighter weight and shorter cleaver, it may not be heavy duty enough for all types of home meat preparation.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Meat Cleavers
About the Meat Cleaver
Traditional meat cleavers cut more by force than precision and nowadays there are other kitchen and professional tools that perform similar functions to a cleaver, such as band saws or handsaws in butchery or a superior quality chef’s knife in the kitchen.
However as cutting bones with a kitchen knife will usually cause damage to the blade, this is where the cleaver really comes into its own. Using a meat cleaver is perfect for preparing whole chickens, lobsters or separating ribs - tasks that would place a lot of stress on any other type of kitchen blade. Using a meat cleaver to prepare meats for stock also helps to improve its flavor as more meat and inner bone gets exposed to the water in the pan.
As well as cleaving raw meat and bone, the meat cleaver is also useful for chopping cooked meat with bone or mincing raw meat and its large flat blade is ideal for crushing foods such as garlic or flattening and tenderizing cutlets. It can also be useful for removing fish heads and tails, cracking coconuts open or even cutting through melons or squashes.
All meat cleavers have a tough edge on the blade which allows the blade to withstand heavy blows into meat, bone and the cutting board. Most meat cleavers do not have a bolster – the metal band or crosspiece between the blade and the handle – so that the full blade is used for food preparation.
Used like a meat tenderizer, the meat cleaver uses momentum to cut through food and its wider blade usually sharpens to around 25⁰, making it much blunter than other types of kitchen knives.
One disadvantage of using a meat cleaver is it can be harder to use for any length of time just due to the weight of the blade and another disadvantage is that cleaver cuts do not allow cutting to be as exact as they would be with a chef’s knife or similar.
Difference Between a Meat Cleaver and a Chinese Cleaver
Often referred to as a Chinese cleaver, the Chinese chef’s knife and its Japanese equivalent, the chukabocko, have a finer and more flexible blade than a typical meat cleaver. A Chinese cleaver is used in all preparation tasks in the kitchen, whether chopping, crushing, mincing, scooping, slicing or pounding. Users can also grind or bash food with its handle.
Unlike a typical meat cleaver, the Chinese cleaver is not suitable for cutting through large bones – its thin blade is best suited to slicing or chopping. You should really use a Chinese cleaver or chukabocko in the same way as a chef’s knife.
Although the Chinese cleaver looks like and is a similar sizer to a typical meat cleaver, the Chinese cleaver is made through more refined production techniques and from higher carbon steel. This makes it harder and more brittle and a Chinese cleaver will tend to be more expensive than a meat cleaver. The handle on a Chinese cleaver is usually lighter weight than the meat cleaver to allow more delicate slicing.
There are also some differences in the blade structure. A Chinese cleaver is often heavier towards the tip as this helps with the pushing and tapping strokes used by Eastern chefs and there is usually a slight curve on the belly of the blade. Chinese cleavers usually sharpen/hone to a 15⁰ angle.
There are subtypes of Chinese cleavers as well and the type called ‘bone chopper’ by Eastern chefs is the most like a meat cleaver, with a wide bevel on the blade and a duller edge.
The Vegetable Cleaver
These are shorter versions of a meat or Chinese cleaver and found in Japan, there are two main types. The nakiri has a double bevel – the blade is ground on both side of the edge - and the usuba is single beveled. Both are suitable for slicing and chopping vegetables.
Choosing a Meat Cleaver
The bigger the cleaver, the bigger the bones it can cut through, although no cleaver can cut through solid thick bones such as beef bones – these do need a bone saw.
Although a meat cleaver is heavier than other kitchen knives, it should not be too heavy as this will cause arm or hand fatigue sooner if needing to use for any length of time.
Most people tend to choose a full tang handle as there is less risk of injury if the blade does detach from the handle. A full tang is one in which the steel from the tip of the blade continues to the furthest point of the handle i.e. it is one continuous piece of steel. Most full tang knives then have a separate handle grip riveted to the tang, helping to not only protect the exposed steel from corrosion but to also give a more comfortable non-slip grip.
Knives are usually stainless steel or a high carbon steel. The hardness of steel is measured with the Rockwell scale and knives tend to have a Rockwell rating of 55 or higher which means that not only will the knife keep a sharp edge, but it will also sharpen easily.
Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel Cleavers
Stainless steel blades usually have 12% or more chromium in them. This helps make the blades tougher and improves the blade’s rust and corrosion resistance; but, it also makes the blade softer than high carbon steel. Although a softer blade makes for easier sharpening, it will tend to lose its sharp edge faster so may need more regular honing to keep the edge sharp. Some of the more common stainless steels used in knives include AUS 6, 8 or 10, the 440s and Japanese VG-10.
The high carbon steel blade usually keeps a hard edge for longer and sharpens to a sharper edge than the stainless steel blade. A common carbon steel is 1095 and because high carbon blades are harder and offer greater precision, they are suitable as hunting knives. Because high carbon steel does not contain chromium, it is much more likely to corrode or rust.
This means we must take extra care when using high carbon steel; wiping it regularly during food preparation and then washing and drying it thoroughly after use. High acid foods such as tomatoes or lemons can also increase the risk of rusting.
One key difference in the appearance of the two steels is that with use, a high carbon blade will develop a patina. This is a bluey-gray patina that helps prevent the blade from rusting, while the stainless steel blade will tend to keep its original finish - whether high shine or satin finish - for much of its lifespan.
Choosing a Butcher’s Block or Cutting Board for Using with a Meat Cleaver
Using a meat cleaver means that if you do not already have a heavy duty cutting board or butcher’s block in your kitchen, then you may want to consider investing in one.
A typical butcher’s block is made of wood and at least 1.5” thick. Your block should be larger than the maximum size of meats or foods that you will be wanting to prepare on it. A 12” by 12” block may be a suitable size for many of us – usually big enough for a whole chicken. If you do use a smaller block, then adding rubber feet to its base or popping a damp towel underneath it can prevent it from sliding around on the worktop during use.
Typical cutting boards are available in various materials, including plastic or wood. As wooden cutting boards may be thinner than a butcher’s block, this can make them unsuitable for use with a meat cleaver.
Choosing a block or board made of end grain rather than edge grain timber makes a block or board more resistant to scarring and cuts and if damaged, the density of the wood fibers on an end grain means that they will eventually push back into place. If your board has a one way grain, then you should use a cleaver against the grain direction – otherwise you risk splitting the board!
You can place a plastic cutting board on top of your butchers block to help prevent contaminating your block when preparing meat, but this could mean more movement than you would like when using a cleaver.
Always wipe down a block or board with at least hot soapy water after use, or preferably dilute bleach (one teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water) when meat has been prepared. One part white vinegar to three parts of water is also suitable for cleaning a board. To seal a butcher’s block or board, apply food grade mineral oil or similar every couple of months or so.
Using a Meat Cleaver
It can take practice when using a meat cleaver, especially working out how much force you need to supplement the cleaver with to cut through the food.
Your meat should be on your block or board and if it is a longer meat such as ribs or a backbone then you can stabilize one end with your spare hand, otherwise, keep your hand well out of the way. You might find it helpful to keep this hand behind your back when using the cleaver.
Your fingers should wrap around the handle of the meat cleaver in a handshake type grip and you may want to rest your thumb on the back of the spine (top edge) of the knife.
Raising your arm slightly at the elbow you can then let the weight of the meat cleaver pull it down onto the food and your wrist will then act as a pivot - directing the cleaver and applying force. If you were unsuccessful cutting through the meat on the first cut, then you can just slice through the last bits of meat and bone. Try to avoid a second cut with the cleaver - the risk of mangling the meat becomes much greater if you miss the first cut with the second.
If a cleaver sticks partway through, then put your spare hand on the spine of the cleaver and gently push it downwards to finish cutting. You can also use a cleaver like a chef’s knife by using a pinch grip and slight rocking to push the meat cleaver through the food, this can be helpful with tasks such as halving a cooked duck.
Looking After a Meat Cleaver
If not suitable for dishwasher cleaning, you should clean your meat cleaver in hot soapy water straight after use and dry it with a soft towel before putting away. You can also help reduce the risk of corrosion if you clean it during use when working with acidic foods such as tomatoes.
If you have a high carbon meat cleaver, then you should also oil it between uses to help prevent corrosion. There are several types of food safe oil that are suitable for this, but olive oil is one of the most popular as many of us have some available in the kitchen.
A cleaver should be stored in a box or a knife block to prevent any damage to other knifes in the drawer or even the risk of accidental injury.
For those who of you who may be new to using a meat cleaver, taking time to practice its safe use will help your confidence to grow, while shrinking the time that you need to spend in the kitchen quartering chicken for the pot.We hope that we have provided you with the information that you need to decide whether you should invest in a high carbon or stainless steel meat cleaver, what sort of size or weight it should be, or even if a Chinese cleaver may offer more versatility for your kitchen needs. Whatever its type or size, the best meat cleaver will always be the one that will be best for you.