Meat cleavers have one of the most recognizable silhouettes in the kitchen. These knives are used when a chef’s knife is too dainty for a task. That can be chopping through a whole chicken, cooking a lobster, making stock or slicing through mammoth squash. They can also be used to crush garlic or open coconuts. Meat cleavers come in a few different styles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. While there is no single best meat cleaver — individual preference is too important a metric — there are a few features that make one meat cleaver generally better than another. Some of those features are related to the blade, the weight of the knife and how the cleaver fits in the hand.
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What Features Make a Good Meat Cleaver
While a chef’s knife can be used to do most heavier tasks around the kitchen, the meat cleaver takes it one step further. Cleavers are designed more for cutting through bones and tough vegetables, but that absolutely does not exclude them from being able to slice smaller vegetables. Thinner-bladed cleavers are better suited to smaller chopping tasks, as they are more nimble. Thicker-bladed cleavers work better for the heavy-duty bone cutting and squash chopping.
Cleavers rely on their unique shape to cut through gristle, cartilage and even bone. For this reason, the edge must be tough enough to remain sharp after repeated blows. Like an axe, the cleaver’s weight helps drive it through dense meat material or tough vegetables. There are a few different styles. Western style cleavers employ heavy, rectangular blades that use weight to chop through dense meat or vegetables. By contrast, Chinese style cleavers are more nimble with thinner blades designed for more chopping and slicing. While some kitchens may have uses for both styles, there is often only the need for one meat cleaver.
Western style and Chinese style meat cleavers vary most by weight and by shape. The heavier a meat cleaver is, the faster the chef will tire. Of course, this depends on the individual using the cleaver — not everyone can swing two pound knives through bones all day. Lighter cleavers do not have the heft to easily chop through small bones and large vegetables. The ideal weight range for most people is between 14 and 16 ounces.
Another factor to consider is the blade length. While this, too, is dependent upon personal preference, the ideal length for most people is about seven inches. Anything longer, and the cleaver gets too cumbersome. Shorter, and a meat cleaver feels more like a toy than a specialized knife.
The blade’s edge determines how well a cleaver can chop through the tasks it is given. A smaller, razor-sharp edge will dull and risks splintering. A rounded edge will feel blunt, and the blade may get stuck in bones, instead of cutting through them. Each person’s preferences are different on this metric, so there are a variety of blade bevels in this list.
How a knife handles is the most important metric, because this determines how confident a chef will be using it. The meat cleaver’s handle should feel comfortable in the hand, and the knife should feel balanced. Because each person’s hands are different, there is no single best meat cleaver.
While not required for a meat cleaver’s function, visual impact is important to consider when looking for the perfect meat cleaver. Many meat cleavers have fancy patterns hammered in the large blades. Some are made from eye-catching Damascus steel. Handle material is another visual consideration. For some, knife handles can only be made of wood. Visual appearance is entirely preference, but should be a consideration when selecting a meat cleaver. The best meat cleaver is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
The Best Meat Cleavers – Our Picks
Here are the 10 best meat cleavers available on Amazon, listed in price order from lowest to highest. These make fantastic gifts for the home chef who has it all, or to gift oneself. After all, these cleavers can help make rich stock, savory roasted birds or delicious butternut squash a great deal easier to prepare.
For under $15, this cleaver is an excellent way to experiment with using a meat cleaver without investing a great deal of money. Constructed from carbon steel and plastic, this cleaver is durable under moderate use. This cleaver features a full tang, which means the knife blade extends all the way through th handle, giving this cleaver excellent balance. As for ergonomics, plastic is usually not the most comfortable material. However, this plastic is textured to provide a better grip. A narrower blade bevel means it is very good at chopping vegetables as well as chopping through meat, although it will not be able to get through heavier bones on its own. At 15 ounces, this cleaver weighs in at the heavier end of the ideal range for most people. This combination of weight and narrow blade angle mean it will help anyone feel authoritative when chopping vegetables. It does not include a hole in the blade for hanging, and its dimensions at 12 inches by nearly 4 inches mean it may be difficult to store in compact kitchens. Overall, the Cooking Light meat cleaver is an affordable, entry level meat cleaver that can help with other chopping tasks in the kitchen.
At just over 14 ounces, this cleaver is on the lighter end of the ideal range. That means it will be less fatiguing to swing for a few hours. Because this blade is full tang, the knife is less tiring to swing. This is because full tang knives have a balance point that is closer to the chef’s hand. To help give this cleaver multi-purpose functionality, the top edge features a scallop for tenderizing meat. The biggest problem with Orblue meat cleavers is that they do not arrive sharpened. This does allow the chef to sharpen to his or her specific task and preference. Once this cleaver has been used, it is possible to clean in the dishwasher. However, hand-washing is recommended. The blade is made from stainless steel, so this meat cleaver is rust resistant. The Orblue cleaver does include a hole in the blade for hanging and a slightly smaller surface area, making it a better pick for compact kitchens. If there are any issues with the cleaver after purchase, Orblue’s customer service team is good at reaching out to rectify the situation. While the Orblue meat cleaver is not the most visually striking, it gets the job done and even offers the ability to tenderize meat.
The small blade angle sets the Mueller meat cleaver apart from the other cleavers at this price point. At 18 degrees, it offers a very sharp cutting edge. This makes the Mueller cleaver an excellent choice for cutting fruits and vegetables. At just over 15 ounces, this is a heavier meat cleaver. The combination of heavy cleaver and small angle on the knife blade makes for a commanding chopping experience. However, the heavier weight means that it will tire the chef’s arm out faster. Using this cleaver is like weight training — the more practice the chef puts into it, the easier it will be to maneuver this knife. Another downside to this knife is that it is not dishwasher safe and must be washed by hand. Visually, this knife looks appealing. With a black contrast to the stainless steel handle, this meat cleaver would look good hanging in any kitchen. It would fit seamlessly in a kitchen decorated in a modern theme. There is a pakkawood handle option, although the shape of the blade changes. The version with a stainless steel handle can be hung using the hole in the blade, but it does not come with any type of sheath. Storing this cleaver in a drawer may cause damage the drawer’s other occupants. If the chef is comfortable with a heavier cleaver, this Mueller meat cleaver offers German engineering for a truly enjoyable cleaving experience.
With more of a Chinese cleaver shape, the Ovanto weighs in at only 10.5 ounces. That makes it light and nimble. It is the perfect choice for chefs who may not have the muscle tone for heavier cleavers. Because of its lighter weight, it is not recommended to chop frozen foods. It does feature a 16 degree blade edge for extreme precision. The Ovanto meat cleaver combines an Italian design and German engineering to make an affordable and reliable meat cleaver. The shape, weight and blade edge make this cleaver a good choice for vegetables. Because of the lighter weight, it is not able to complete the heavy duty chopping tasks that heavier meat cleavers can finish with ease. Designed with a full tang, this is a well-balanced cleaver that promises good handling. The pakkawood handle is as durable as the carbon steel blade, and is shaped with comfort in mind. For chefs who spend more time chopping vegetables than through frozen meats or whole chickens, this meat cleaver is an excellent option.
Hand-polished Vietnamese rosewood and high carbon forged steel give this cleaver a show-stopping appearance. While the pattern on the knife is not the damask pattern of Damascus steel, it is eye-catching. This cleaver is a hybrid between Western style cleavers and Chinese style cleavers. Its shape and weight make it a fantastic choice to chop vegetables. At 16 ounces, it is on the heavy side, so a few hours of chopping could be considered a workout. The blade is full tang, and held in place with three steel rivets. This way, the blade balances well with the handle, and the chef’s hand is better able to control the meat cleaver. While it comes with a storage box, this cleaver can also be hung by the small circle in the blade. As beautiful as this cleaver is, it would almost seem a shame to hide it in a drawer. Because it is hand-forged, the PoLe.Craft Life cleaver is best washed by hand. For a chef who values form as much as function, this meat cleaver offers the best of both.
Kessaku is the Japanese word for “masterpiece,” and this meat cleaver definitely lives up to that standard. Constructed from German steel with a 16 degree blade edge, the blade is everything any chef could ask for. It is hand-sharpened and designed with a reinforced spine to help prevent breakage. That reinforced spine is warranted, because this meat cleaver only weighs 13.8 pounds. As a knife with a full tang, that 13.8 ounces is well-distributed to give the chef perfect control over where the blade goes. Because it is a little lighter, it may not be able to handle heftier beef or pork bones. Stainless steel does not keep an edge as well as other blade material options, so this cleaver will need to be sharpened regularly. The glass fiber resin finish provides a good grip and an ergonomic shape. Aesthetically, this meat cleaver looks like it does exactly what it is designed to do: chop through small bones and big vegetables. The Kessaku meat cleaver comes with several extras, including a magnetic gift box, a storage sheath and a cleaning cloth. For a no-frills meat cleaver, the kessaku performs well with some extras included.
Made in the U.S. from high-carbon stainless steel and a walnut handle, the Lamson meat cleaver makes chopping through dense foods enjoyable. It weighs 14.4 ounces, which is about the middle of the ideal weight range for a meat cleaver. That makes it light enough to be nimble, but heavy enough to get the job done. It is sharpened to a narrow blade angle, so it can chip if used to chop heavier bones. This meat cleaver is not dishwasher safe and must be hand-washed. If it is not thoroughly dried, rust spots will begin to develop on the blade. Some complain that the wood is rough when first handled, so it may need to be sanded down with sandpaper to reach the desired smoothness. Of course, that is personal preference. The blade does include a round hole for hanging, but not everyone has a place in their kitchen for a meat cleaver to hang. The Lamson cleaver does not come with any type of sheath or box, so storing it in a drawer may be a safety issue. For a reliable meat cleaver that will be ready for whatever tasks in front of a chef, the Lamson meat cleaver is a fantastic choice.
Everything about the Dalstrong Obliterator is intense and over-the-top. From a nine inch blade to a 2.9 pound weight, this meat cleaver goes well beyond what the average chef would ever need. The blade is made from a steel alloy and sports a satin finish. Constructed from G10, the handle is a military grade material similar to fiberglass. The blade and handle are triple-riveted together to ensure they stay together. As the cleaver is full tang, a degree of precision is available, even with the nearly three pound weight. The edge is sharpened to an admirably thin 14-16 degrees to allow for easy cutting. Dalstrong’s Obliterator is able to destroy any chopping objective. While this cleaver may be overkill, it is perfect for the chef who has everything. Because storing such a behemoth could be a challenge, the Dalstrong Obliterator comes with a handmade acacia wood stand that displays as well as contains. This showy cleaver gets the job done and is very fun to use.
A truly beautiful meat cleaver, the Yarenh pairs Damascus steel with a rosewood handle. The blade is a geometrically pleasing rectangle that is not interrupted with a hole for hanging. However, Yarenh includes a plush gift box that can be used to store the cleaver in a drawer. Besides looking very attractive, which is expected at this price point, the Yarenh meat cleaver delivers an incredible level of functionality. This cleaver is heavy, but the Damascus steel allows the edge to be sharpened to a tiny 13-15 angle without the risk of chipping when it is put to work. That small blade angle is ideal for chopping vegetables quickly, and the weight behind that edge means that meat and bones will not stand a chance. Because it is heavier, it will wear the chef’s arm out faster than some of the lighter options. However, the ergonomic handle and slender blade make this cleaver feel just as nimble. Those who prefer lighter cleavers will not enjoy this one. However, this meat cleaver is perfect for the chef who enjoys a striking piece of cutlery and is able to move around a lot of metal.
For this price point, a great deal is expected from a meat cleaver. The Shun Classic delivers on that. The blade is made from two components: a proprietary mix of metals for the core with Damascus steel layered on top. The proprietary mix of metals mean this cleaver can be very light but still provide admirable performance. The blade is full tang, and the handle is constructed from black pakkawood. The pakkawood is resin-infused hardwood to provide more water resistance. As expected at this price, this cleaver handles like a dream. Even individuals with arthritis can chop effectively with the Shun cleaver. The biggest problem is that the blade can chip. However, the chips can usually be sharpened out, and free sharpening for life is included. When cleaning, this cleaver should never go in the dishwasher. It should be hand washed and dried immediately. As a Japanese cleaver, it is designed a little differently than European knives, and does take a little practice to master the technique. With the lifetime sharpening, this meat cleaver is definitely a knife that will last the chef’s lifetime. In addition, the Shun meat cleaver will bring joy to any chef’s chopping tasks.