Butcher Knife vs Cleaver

The Butcher knife and the cleaver have long been favorites of professional and amateur chefs alike. While the butcher knife is synonymous with the meat processing trade, hefty in stature and capable of cutting, stripping, and splitting meat, the cleaver offers similar capabilities, but with a more refined, lighter, and thinner blade, ideal for precise cuts.

Let’s dive right in and explain the differences between Butcher Knife vs Cleaver.

Meat Cleaver Vs Butcher Knife: Quick Summary

SubjectCleaverButcher Knife
Blade size (not including handle)6-8”6-14”
Ability to cut the boneModerate (good for smaller cuts & thinner bones. Offers a more delicate and precise cut)High (ideal for dressing full carcasses and working in the meat trades/butcher)
Weight*Corresponds to knife size*
Can weigh up to 2.5 lbs
*Corresponds to knife size*
Can weigh up to 2.5 lbs
Blade Thickness*varies*
Often around .2 centimeters thick
Often around 0.2-0.25 centimeters thick

What is a Butcher Knife?

This knife, unsurprisingly, is the go-to tool for your friendly neighborhood butcher and is used for trimming and dressing meat. Its heavy, curved blade is designed to make short work of any section of meat that might arrive on your cutting board. If you love a good roast, steak, or BBQ and you’ve got a few hungry mouths to feed, this is one weapon you definitely need in your arsenal. The butcher knives break down large pieces of meat with ease and slice off any unwanted fat or gristle for a leaner cut.

Butcher Knife Best Uses:

  • Best for those who work in the meat trades.
  • Best for butchering animal carcasses.
  • Ideal for chefs who dress and prep their own raw meat.
  • Great for thick, tough cuts, and in-bone cuts.
  • Perfect for cleaving meat from the bone.

What is a Cleaver?

Meat cleaver is one of the most useful and versatile knives you can have in your kitchen. It’s also the biggest, a proper heavyweight. With a thick, soft steel blade it’s designed to chop right through thick pieces of meat, cartilage, and bone without losing its edge. The heavy side of the knife can be used for tenderizing the flesh or even crushing garlic if you fancy a little more delicate work after rending your dinner limb from limb.

In this video chef, Eric Arrouzé explained how to hold and use cleaver perfectly.

Cleaver Best Uses:

  • Ideal for the carnivorous chef
  • Perfect companion for preparing most meats
  • Offers more precision and a cleaner, gentler cut
  • Not ideal for a full carcass of meat

Butcher Knife Vs Cleaver: Which One Should You Use?

If you’re a meat lover, you’re going to want both of these knives in your kitchen. But, if you are having to make the truly heart-breaking choice to pick one implement to slice, dice, and chop your dinner, this should give you some pointers on whether you should go for a butcher knife or a cleaver.

Blade Size

Both of these tools use thicker blades than your other kitchen knives. They’re heavy-duty pieces of kit, designed to tackle the pieces of meat and fat that other, flimsier blades would struggle to cut. Both come in a range of sizes, so you can pick one to suit you. It’ll depend on how you want the knife to feel in your hand and what you’re wanting to do with it.

  • Most butcher knives come in a range of 6 to 14 inches and the smaller the knife, the smaller the piece of meat you’ll want to be working on. These are great for chops or fillets and can get around bone really well. If you’ve got a bigger hunk of flesh to take care of, go for a bigger knife. They’re perfect for skinning and, if you know your meat, you can use them to break down your animal into as many juicy steaks as you can handle. Your typical home chef tends to have one in the middle, around 8 to 10 inches, but you know better than anyone what you want to do with it, so you can buy accordingly.  
  • Your cleaver should be built to give and take a serious pounding. With a classic rectangular shape and thick blade, they also come in a range of sizes, typically between 6 and 8 inches. This is helpful because everyone’s arms are also different lengths and when you’re using this tool, you want it to feel comfortable in your hand and not go flying off into the wall. You’re also looking for a balanced but tough blade made of carbon steel that will cut through meat, sinew, and bone again and again. It doesn’t need to be razor-sharp, as blunt force is your main weapon here but it should be keen enough to slice through without tearing the food.

Bone Cutting Ability

No bones about it (sorry), both the butcher knife and the cleaver can tackle your animal’s skeleton, but only one is specifically designed for the task. Butcher knives with less flexible blades will be able to break through small bones, like those in poultry, but for anything larger, that’s where your sturdy cleaver comes into its own. If you are looking for a good-quality boning knife, we have a buying guide here.

  • Your butcher knife is a wonderful tool but is more useful for separating flesh from bones than smashing through them. If you have a less flexible butcher’s blade you should be able to chop through small bones without much fuss but it’s not your butcher knife’s primary job. If you have a curved blade it will help you get around the bones much more easily.
  • This is where the one-punch KO (knockout) power of your heavyweight cleaver comes into its own. If you’ve got a heavy-duty, sturdy cleaver with a soft-steel blunt edge and you can control it comfortably, those bones stand no chance. You’ll bust straight through them. The amount of force required to do this though means you should make sure your cleaver is a great fit for your hand.

Weight of the Knife

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these are the heavyweights of your kitchen cutting tools, although there is a fair weight difference between the two. Think of your butcher’s knife as Mike Tyson and your cleaver as George Foreman. Both are very big lads, but one is a fair bit bigger than the other.

  • As butcher knives come in a range of sizes, the weight will also vary. A butcher knife with an 8-inch blade is likely to weigh just over 3 ounces. You know yourself what you’re most likely to be cooking for dinner, so you can pick accordingly. A larger, heavier butcher knife will take on heavy-duty pieces of meat with ease, whereas a smaller one will slice you beautiful steaks or a cut for your roast.
  • The weight of your cleaver will correspond to its blade length and height. The more of that you have the heavier your cleaver is likely to be. Some behemoths can weigh up to 2.5 pounds with an 8-inch blade. Unsurprisingly, using one of these requires a fair bit of strength, and if you’re not planning to be chopping through whole cows regularly you can find much lighter versions that’ll do the business. Plenty weigh around 1 pound and should give you all the punch you need.

Thickness of the Blade

Again, heavy tool = thicker blade. A quality butcher knife and cleaver are designed to take on the largest cuts of meat with ease while still keeping its edge. Both will probably have the thickest blades of any other cutting tool in your kitchen.

  • Butcher knives have slightly thicker blades than other knives as they’re designed to cut through and separate large pieces of meat from the bone. Anything over 1/8 of an inch is probably overkill though. Today’s high-quality stainless steel means that blades remain sharper for longer and can take more punishment. So, all things being equal, if you’ve got a good steel blade you can go for one that’s slightly thinner which will slice more efficiently.
  • Your cleaver’s blade is THICK – from its cutting edge to its spine. A Western cleaver can range from a relatively slim 13 degrees to a wide 25 degrees. You’ll want to look out for a solid, chunky spine that’ll give you the solidity to chop through bones with less effort and won’t warp on impact. Something that measures between 0.25 and 0.75 inches should be ideal but again, it’s best to pick something that just feels right for your hand. You want to be in full control of it at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should a meat cleaver be sharp?

Because your cleaver is going to be using a great deal of blunt force, it doesn’t need to be razor-sharp. The momentum—generated by the weight and the striking force of the butcher—works as the main driving force. If it’s too thin it’ll end up folding and spoiling your chopping. It’s a perfect tool for precision cutting.

What knife can cut through bone?

Unlike a typical kitchen knife, both a cleaver and a butcher knife can cut through bone but your cleaver should be your go-to skeleton smasher.

Why does a butcher’s knife have that hole?

The hole helps to avoid a vacuum forming when the blade is cutting something, meaning you can pull it out more easily.

What is a good meat cleaver?

A good cleaver is sturdy, heavy-duty, and made of quality stainless steel material. But it’s a personal thing also. Some butchers may gravitate towards German stainless steel types while others may feel satisfied with any high carbon stainless steel. Also, some people may require a pakkawood handle while for others any wood handles will do. Anyway, a cleaver really needs to feel comfortable in the user’s hand.

Why is the cleaver so popular in Chinese cooking?

A Chinese cleaver has a much slimmer blade than the Western cleaver and is really more of a knife than a hatchet. It’s very versatile and great for slicing, dicing, and chopping but don’t use it to cut those bones!

What’s the best way to store a meat cleaver?

If it’s got a hole in the end you can hang it up for easy access for you in your kitchen. If not, make sure it’s somewhere secure where any curious little hands can’t get to it.

Or you can use this magnetic storage strip for any large and heavy cleaver.

What Does a Butcher Knife Look Like?

A butcher’s knife is one of the largest kitchen knives, often with a curved blade.

What is a cleaver knife used for?

A meat cleaver knife is used for cutting through tough cuts of meat, such as pork or beef. Cutting large chunks of meat, sinew, and bone. It is also used for chopping vegetables, herbs, and other ingredients. The wide, heavy blade of the meat cleaver is designed to easily cut through the tough connective tissue of the meat.

What is a butcher knife used for?

Mainly separating large chunks of meat from the bone and trimming them into steaks or restaurant-sized portions.

What is a utility knife?

Utility knives are mostly used for food prep activities like slicing fruits and vegetables. These offer the combined characteristics of both a slicing and a paring knife, thus coming really handy at finishing kitchen tasks.

Can I use a bread knife for cutting meat?

We would advise against it. The bread knives‘ serrated edges are equipped to slice bread and the crusts only. And while we are on the subject, chef knives are not a good alternative to a butcher’s knife either.

Do I really need a carving knife?

Yes! Along with meat cleavers, you need carving knives as well. Thanks to their scalloped blades, these are excellent at cutting thin slices of meat. You can’t achieve the same level of efficiency with a chef’s knife in your home kitchen.

So Which One is Better, the Butcher or the Cleaver?

Phew! What a slugfest, eh? The great thing about these two kitchen titans is that 12 rounds are nothing for them. They should still be going strong 12 years from now. 

Turns out, which knife is better depends on how you plan to use it, what you frequently cook, and whether or not you can afford to buy both.

If you’re a serious carnivore then both of them are essential additions to your culinary arsenal. The butcher knife will slice your steaks to die for while your cleaver will make quick work of the toughest cuts and bone-in pieces that come out of your freezer. Plus, there are numerous brands in the United States which produce these knives maintaining all the standards.

And if you can only have one? Hey, that’s up to you. I’m not saying no to either of these guys. Especially not to their faces.

Brian Casey
About Brian M. Casey

As a food lover, Brian M. Casey developed a fascination for cooking at an early age. He soon realized that not only the ingredients matter but also the knives and the accessories used to turn those ingredients into a delicious dish. This way, Brian began his journey on the magnificent world of kitchen knives, outdoor knives, knife accessories, and much more. After years of experience with many ups and downs, Brian now wants to share everything he’s learned during his journey as an avid knife collector, a well-seasoned knife maker, and an all-around knives enthusiast.

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