When it comes to the scariest kitchen implement, I believe nothing would come close to the meat cleaver. This rugged and ancient piece of tool survived the test of time and still finds usefulness even in a modern kitchen. The sheer size and structure of this tool are enough to intimidate the faint of heart.
But despite its scary appearance, this tool is the most abused of all kitchen implements. What do you use to cut through tough flesh? The meat cleaver. What do you use to break those fossil-like bones? The meat cleaver. Because of this, this tool needs to be tougher than everything you throw its way.
If you have spent your share of time in the kitchen, you know that you can’t stand the challenge without the help of a trusty meat cleaver. So how do you pick when you need one?
Forged or Stamped? Which Meat Cleaver Should You Get?
A meat cleaver relies on its weight and sharpness to cut through meat and bones. It’s popular among butchers in shops and restaurants but this is also a good implement to have in your kitchen. In fact, any cook worth his or her salt would have this in the kitchen.
As far as construction is concerned, there are two ways in which a cleaver is made--forging and stamping. Although I tend to prefer forged blades over stamped ones, there are advantages and disadvantages to both and at the end of the day, it’s really up to you choose your blade.
- Manufacturing differences
- Question of quality
- Which one should you get?
A forged cleaver is created from a heated single bar of steel that is pounded into shape. The process makes steel stronger because the shaping of the molecules makes it less flexible. This results in the cleavers ability to hold the edge longer.
Stamped cleaver, on the other hand, is made from a sheet of steel that is formed into shape by “stamping” or cutting out, then honed, sharpened and heat-treated to hold the edge. Forged cleavers are usually heavier and stronger than stamped ones.
The best way to identify a forged cleaver is to find the bolster. This is the protrusion at the end of the blade where it meets the handle. This helps the balance of the blade because it adds weight around its center.
A lot of cooks like this feature because it provides a grip between the thumb and the forefinger.Since the stamped cleaver is just a cut off from a sheet of steel, you will not find a bolster in it. It’s usually just a straight-through piece of metal down to the handle.
Regardless of whether it’s forged or stamped, a cleaver can either have a full tang or a partial tang. Since it’s going to be used for heavy cutting, a full tang is always better than a partial tang.
It used to be that forging is always the better way to produce a blade. The process is time-consuming and labor-intensive and that’s why forged blade is usually more expensive.
Nowadays, though, you can find quality stamped knives and cleavers and you can also find low quality forged knives and cleavers so it’s really difficult to judges based on these two manufacturing techniques. Furthermore, there are blades that are considered as hybrid between the two. That is, they are manufactured by both forging and stamping.
The best way to choose a cleaver is to try how it feels in your hand. A forged cleaver is usually heavier and is good for cutting hard stuff like bones. But it might be too heavy for you, so a stamped cleaver with a lighter feel might be a better choice.
Another criterion would be edge retention. I believe forged cleaver has this nailed down. Forged blades are usually better at retaining the edge for longer periods compared to stamped ones.
Choosing a blade from well-respected brands is also a good way to narrow down your choices. You have to be careful though, even quality brands are not being imitated and you can always pick a poor copy.
Why Would You Need a Meat Cleaver?
As a cook, how many times did you find yourself cutting through huge chunks of tuna with just a small size knife? Did you wish you had a cleaver? How many times did you find yourself cutting hard meat into smaller portions and wished you had a cleaver?
While professional cooks may need to hack on huge carcasses, would a home cook need a cleaver? The answer is a definite yes. You might not always find the need to use this humongous tool, but when you do, you should have one. That is the primary reason to need a cleaver at home.
Like I said, if you have spent your share of time in the kitchen, you definitely used a cleaver at one time or another.
Some cook would even go on to say that the cleaver is the only knife that you need in the kitchen. While this is a bit extreme, I would rather be left with a cleaver than a regular knife if I have no other cutting tool.
With a cleaver, not only can I cut huge chunks of meat into smaller portions, I can mince spices with it as well. It can be an all-around, cutting, mincing, hacking and chopping tool because it won’t hiccup when any of these jobs are thrown its way.
So do you think you need a cleaver? I believe you already want one right now.
Last update on 2018-02-23 PST - Details
My Top 7 Best Meat Cleavers
If you have been looking for a meat cleaver to add to your kitchen implements, you might find yourself in a quandary because there’s just too many to choose from. Not only do you need to weed out the low-quality items, you also have to choose wisely among the good brands. To make your life easier, here are my 7 best meat cleaver picks.
Sato Forged Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver
If you want to cut through tough meat and bones with minimal effort, the Sato Forged Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver is what you’re looking for. With its 1.6lbs weight, you don’t need to add too much of your strength just to cut through those pork ribs that you want to grill.
This cleaver is made of forged stainless-steel guaranteed to hold the edge longer and does not require constant sharpening. The walnut wood full tang handle fits the hands well, it’s like an extension of it. The blade’s entire dimension is 8" x 4" x 3.5 mm, big enough for all cutting and hacking purposes. While this cleaver is so good at the job it is designed for, it also looks great just sitting on your kitchen rack.
- Weight is perfect for all cutting jobs
- Great for both household and professional use
- Aesthetics is also great
- Might be too heavy for leaner people
Vegetable Cleaver, Chinese Cleaver
Chinese cleavers are very popular for those who want a cleaver that is lighter than the usual one you find. This cleaver only weighs 1.1 lbs and is ideal for a majority of chopping and hacking work. Made from stainless steel, this stamped cleaver is a good addition to your collection of kitchen cutlery. This heavy duty chopper is razor sharp, it can cut through bones and meat easily.
It has a full tang and its handle is triple riveted for strength. It’s easy to clean and since it’s tarnish resistant, the possibility of bacterias contaminating your food is greatly reduced.
- Heavy duty and tarnish resistant
- Full tang and triple riveted to the handle
- Made from stainless steel
- Highly affordable compared to other cleavers of the same quality
- Since it’s lightweight, you will need a little more effort when cutting through larger bones
Imarku 7-Inch Stainless Steel Chopper Cleaver
Known for its long history of manufacturing knives, the Imarku 7-Inch Stainless Steel Chopper Cleaver is one of the flagship product of the Imarku brand. Made from 7Cr17Mov steel, this forged cleaver comes with a bolster for balance and a full tang that is attached to a Pakka handle.
It’s not as heavy as I would like, but this cleaver can deal with any cutting job that you throw its way. The blade is 7 inches in length and the handle is 5 inches, giving you a total length of 12 inches. This size is big enough to deal with vegetables and meat if you want to reduce them to smaller sizes.
The Pakka wood is known to have some anti-bacterial effect, and the blade is made of stainless steel, you can be sure that no bacteria will contaminate your food through your cleaver.
- Forged steel so it holds the edge longer
- Easy to clean
- Very nice to look at
- The Pakka wood tends to break when cutting very hard materials like bones
Professional Stainless Steel Butcher Knife
If you want a meat cleaver that can serve all the double role that you want from a regular knife, the Professional Stainless Steel Butcher Knife is what you’re looking for. It is made of stainless steel all throughout and it gives an impression that it’s forged because the bolster is well bonded and polished. But this is a stamped meat cleaver and the handle is welded to the blade very well that it seems to have no disconnect from it.
But even if this is a stamped cleaver, it’s capable of holding the edge for a long time and you don’t need to sharpen it often. With its blade at 7 inches, you can hack away at anything and this cleaver won’t hiccup.Unlike other cleavers, this one is dishwasher safe. You don’t have to wash it by hands and potentially cut your hands while doing it.
- Holds the edge like forged blade
- The weight is just right for heavy duty work
- Dishwasher safe and easy to clean
- Unbelievably affordable
- The cleaver came dull so you have to sharpen it yourself
Dexter-Russell (S5288) 8" Heavy-Duty Cleaver
Another quality stamped meat cleaver is the Dexter-Russell (S5288) 8". It has a full tang which is as thick as its spine and by the looks of it, you can already tell that the blade is strong.
If you are looking at heavy duty hacking, this cleaver has enough heft to cut through bones and meat without too much effort on your part. The 8-inch long blade is heavy enough for some serious cutting and its made from high-carbon stainless steel.
Pork, beef and tuna are no match for this blade, you don’t have to avoid them in your next grilling schedule.
The handle is so comfortable to hold and it’s made from Rosewood which it’s triple riveted to ensure strong attachment to the tang.
- Designed for professional use
- The weight is perfect for some serious hacking
- This is a really strong full tang blade
- To big and heavy for home use.
Chicago Cutlery Belmont 6 1/2-Inch Cleaver Knife
Made by the popular Chicago Cutlery, the Chicago Cutlery Belmont 6 1/2-Inch Cleaver Knife is capable of cutting through soft bones, thick meat cuts and firm vegetables. This forged cleaver knife is sharpened to precision and is capable of holding the edge like a true forged blade.
It has a full tang that provides strength and a bolster that provides better balance for precision cutting. The polymer handle is a bit slippery to hold especially when your hand is oily. But on the plus side, this handle reduces bacterial contamination to the food.
You can keep the blade clean with a little hand washing since it’s made from stainless steel.
- Full tang and bolster ensures good balance and strength
- Forged blade and made from high carbon stainless steel
- Polymer handle may break
Kiwi #504 3" Mini Cleaver
If you have smaller hands and the regular cleaver is too heavy for you, the Kiwi #504 3" Mini Cleaver might just be what you’re looking for. This meat cleaver is an authentic Kom-Kom knife that is imported all the way from Thailand. It’s made from authentic stainless steel and is ideal for cutting mid-size meat carcasses like chicken and turkey. You might find this cleaver too small for heavy-duty use.
If you are only looking at cutting smaller meat sizes, this is the best blade for the job. But if you’re looking at taking down bigger carcasses, you would do well to look for the real deal.
Despite its smaller form factor, this cleaver is well balanced and its handle is double riveted to the tang.
- Nice piece for decoration
- Small form factor for smaller hands and lighter work load
- Not as useful as larger cleavers
All the meat cleavers that I’ve reviewed here are good but my clear winner is the Sato Forged Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver. It can serve both home and professional use and the fact that it’s a forged blade, are really the deciding factor for me. I have already mentioned at the start of this review that I tend to gravitate towards forged blade against stamped ones.
That being said, the stamped blades that I have reviewed here are also good. If I would be looking at professional cutting and hacking purposes, I would go for the Dexter-Russell (S5288) 8" Heavy-Duty Cleaver. This thing is one serious blade. It is a bit of an overkill for home use and you might even find it too heavy for cutting smaller meat sizes typical of home dining.
If you’re are only looking for some light hacking and cutting, the Kiwi #504 3" Mini Cleaver would be sufficient. The only reason I rated it the lowest here is that it’s too small for most of my purposes. But if you’re the kind who has small hands and you have no plan of using a cleaver professionally, this one is perfect.
What kind of meat cleaver do you use professionally or at home? Do you use any of the ones reviewed here? Why not share your thoughts in the comment section below