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Bold and brawny, the meat cleaver (also known as a bone chopper) is the largest and heaviest of kitchen knives.
It’s designed to break down meat, with the purpose of hewing through small to medium bones and gristly connective tissue.
It’s also the tool of choice for chopping through large melons, tough-skinned squash, and extra-large tubers. And they have a nice sideline business of scaring the pants off horror movie fans as well!
Bottom Line Up Front: Our Three Top Recommended Meat Cleavers
We spent close to a thousand bucks gathering up and testing those models which we felt that we could recommend to our readers, and here they are:
Best Heavy Duty Model: Wusthof Classic
We found the Wusthof Classic 7 1/2-Inch Heavy Cleaver to be the best heavy duty model. The thick, 3/16-inch spine, along with German made medium hardness stainless steel, ensures this blade stays relatively sharp while protecting against chips and cracks. You can also baton on the top without fear of damage.
Best Medium Duty Model: Zelite Infinity
The Zelite Infinity is a very well crafted and designed blade made from high carbon X50 Cr MoV5 stainless steel. The high polished metal coupled with the G10 scales on the handle scream quality. The flatter blade profile along with a curved tip means this design can serve double duty as a heavy duty chef’s knife in a pinch.
Best Light Duty Model: Zwilling Pro
This German made product is perfect for light chores such as quickly quartering chickens and dismembering chunks of protein at the joint. But this surprisingly sharp and slightly thinner blade, along with the slight curve to the profile, allows this model to excel at rock chopping – making it a great all-around tool that you’ll be reaching for quite often.
Built to deliver a powerful chop with one well-aimed strike, the meat cleaver uses weight and momentum to sunder dense foods with blunt force. The cutting edge is sharpened, but doesn’t have the ultra-keen edge of other kitchen knives, and good aim is as important as technique.
Not the prettiest knife in the drawer, these bone choppers are big, blunt, and heavy for good reason – they can give, and take, a pounding.
With considerable weight and size, these brutish blades are ideal for jobs that could impart horrific damage to your favorite chef’s knife, like chopping through whole chicken or lobster shells, breaking down ribs, or lopping off the top of a coconut.
But brute force isn’t the only factor that makes these knives effective. The weight needs to be balanced for control, the steel must be tough enough to endure a beating, and the cutting edge needs to slice cleanly without tearing or crushing foods.
A Little Guidance
In this buying guide, you’ll find comprehensive reviews of our top meat cleaver picks, thoroughly tested just for you:
- Wusthof Classic
- Zelite Infinity
- Zwilling Pro
- Dexter-Russell Traditional
- J.A. Henckels International Classic
- Spevorix Stainless Steel
- Global G-12
- Dalstrong Ravager
And we finish with an in-depth look at the most important factors to consider, such as:
Our Top Rated Meat Cleavers
The Wusthof Classic is a good choice for a large, batoning cleaver ideally suited for big bones and tough tasks, and comes in as Our Top Choice For Heavy-Duty Performance.
Forged from a single billet of high-carbon, German stainless steel, the 7.5-inch blade and tang are built for durability, with plenty of weight and thickness behind the cutting edge to power through dense foods with ease.
The upward swoop along the spine is built for batoning – the practice of placing the cutting edge where you want to cut, then striking the highest point with a heavy mallet or hammer – which is the most accurate way to cut through dense bone.
Laser technology produces a precise, 14-degree straight cutting edge for long-lasting sharpness, and this angle also reduces drag and resistance for fast, clean cuts.
Built for heavy use, the high-carbon stainless steel has been tempered to a hardness of 58 HRC to withstand striking hard, dense bone without breaking, buckling, or chipping.
Well-balanced with a thick profile, the full tang provides a counterweight to the large blade and adds controlled stability and heft.
The synthetic polyoxymethylene (POM) handle is strong and resilient for longevity, and lightly shaped for a comfortable, safe, and non-slip grip. Three stainless steel rivets are used to securely attach it to the tang.
The Classic has a straight cutting edge and a hole for convenient storage from a hook or peg.
The Wusthof Classic has the following measurements:
- Overall length is 13 inches
- The blade length is 7.5 inches
- Handle length measures 5.5 inches
- The blade height is 4 inches
- A thick spine measures 3/16 inches
- It weighs 1 pound 11 ounces
Made in Germany, it comes with a lifetime warranty against material and manufacturer defects. Hand washing is recommended.
Solid construction and materials make the large Wusthof Classic tough and durable, but the cutting edge and balance offer nimble dexterity for one of the cleanest, easiest cuts in the market – a great choice for big tasks.
A relative newcomer in the knife manufacturing world, the Zelite brand looks to give the established companies a serious run for their money, and is one of our favorite overall choices for most folks.
The 7-inch blade is forged from German high carbon X50 Cr MoV5 stainless steel that provides excellent rust, corrosion, and stain resistance, as well as rugged performance.
The blade is hand polished with a satin finish to reduce drag and cutting resistance for a smooth, efficient cutting action. Engineered with a blade-heavy balance, the Infinity affords a perfect chopping motion for power and precision.
With a rating of 56 HRC, the blade is tough and hard, and has been sharpened with a traditional three-stage process to provide a keen cutting edge and long-lasting sharpness. Honed to 18 degrees on each side, the cutting edge is durable, sharp, easy to sharpen, and delivers a precise, tidy cut with a slight curve for rocking when needed.
It also features a unique tapered bolster that naturally encourages a professional pinch grip, and provides a sanitary surface to prevent food from getting trapped.
The comfortable, ergonomic handle is constructed of G-10 glass/fabric reinforced epoxy resin that has extreme strength and stability, and the handle scales are securely molded to the full tang.
The Zelite Infinity measurements are:
- An overall length of 12 inches
- Blade measures 7 inches
- Handle with bolster measures 5 inches
- The spine measures 0.25 inches
- It weighs a fraction over 14 ounces
Made in China, it comes with a 15-year warranty, and arrives in a handsome gift box for storage or gifting.
The Zelite Infinity is a sound choice for heavy-duty performance, but also has the design, well-distributed balance, and easy weight for deft handling and total control. Solid value for the demands of discerning cooks.
Our choice for the Best Lightweight Selection for Smaller Jobs, top end materials and manufacturing highlight the Zwilling Pro series of knives, and this 6-inch cleaver is built for long-lasting durability.
With an advanced blade design, it has the perfect geometry and strength to hack through small to medium bones, cartilage, and joints with minimal effort.
This knife is forged from a single billet of high-carbon stainless steel which is then tempered to 57 HRC for tough, resilient performance without any buckling or chipping.
The wedge-shaped blade features a cutting edge that’s hand sharpened with laser-controlled technology and ground to 15 degrees on each side. This ensures accuracy and the best angle for severing dense material, and also helps to retain a durable, sharp edge.
The cutting edge has a slight belly, and the robust spine can be used to crack open hollow bones.
A smooth, curved transition from blade to bolster gives a precision grip and superb control, ensures safety, and is also easy to clean.
The sturdy full tang runs the full length of the handle, and the durable, engineered thermoplastic POM handle provides a comfortable, secure grip, and is securely fastened in place with three stainless steel rivets.
The blade profile has a slight upward sweep for batoning, and a hole punched in the corner for hanging from a rack or hook.
Dimensions for the Zwilling Pro are:
- An overall length of 11.5 inches
- The blade measures 6 inches
- The handle is 4.5 inches
- Blade height is 3 inches
- The spine is 0.2 inches thick
- It weighs 1.1 pounds
Made in Germany, it comes with a lifetime warranty. Hand washing is recommended.
Solid, deft, and reliable, the Zwilling Pro is a dependable choice for lightweight tasks. The blade isn’t made for prepping big, dense foods, but it has the build and durability that make this knife a good choice for everyday chores.
Dexter-Russell Heavy Duty
From Dexter-Russell’s Traditional line, this 8-inch cleaver is another XL knife suited to heavy-duty tasks, with the build and heft necessary to whack through thicker bones and dense connective tissue.
The blade and tang are constructed of Dexter’s proprietary steel, a stain-resistant, high carbon blend with a 54-56 HRC rating for resilient performance – sturdy enough for repeated contact with hard materials without bending or breaking, but still easy to sharpen.
Each knife is individually ground and honed for a sharp, durable cutting edge. The knife has a roll grind of 15 degrees on each edge that supports the bulk of the blade behind the cutting edge, and the wedge-like geometry ensures a powerful chop and long blade life.
A slight curve along the cutting edge allows the user to rock the knife when needed, and the thick spine is robust enough to easily crack big bones.
The wood handle is constructed of polished rosewood and shaped for a comfortable, secure grip. It is attached to the full tang with three brass compression rivets.
The blade profile also has a hole in the top corner to accommodate hanging from a rack or peg.
Measurements for the Dexter-Russell Traditional are:
- Overall length is 14 inches
- The big blade measures 8 inches
- The handle is 6 inches
- The blade height is 4.5 inches
- A thick spine is close to 0.25 inches
- It weighs 2.5 pounds
Made in the USA, it comes with a lifetime warranty. Hand washing is recommended.
The Traditional is a big workhorse that will easily chop through chicken and larger bones such as pork or lamb, and hew clean through frozen meat. Plus, the big heavy blade can be pounded with a mallet to finish off a cut if needed.
This model is well-balanced for a big knife, but be prepared for the weight – the heft can quickly cause hand, wrist, and forearm fatigue.
J.A. Henckels International Classic
The International Classic from J. A. Henckels is another lightweight cleaver with a short blade that makes it agile and easy to handle.
Forged from a single billet of high-quality German stainless steel, it features a polished satin finish that reduces resistance and drag. It also boasts the Henckels precision cutting edge, which is ground to 15 degrees on each side for long-lasting sharpness and an efficient, clean cut.
The blade has a nice curve to the belly for rocking when needed, and transitions into a full tang that adds stability, heft, and balance for accuracy and fatigue-free use. Plus, there’s a hole for convenient storage on a peg or hook.
The thermoplastic POM handle is ergonomically designed to offer a comfortable, non-slip grip and is securely attached to the tang with three stainless steel rivets for longevity and safety.
The Classic measurements are:
- An overall length of 10.5 inches
- Blade length is 6 inches
- Blade height is 3 inches
- The handle measures 4.5 inches
- It weighs slightly under 1 pound
Made in Spain, it comes with a lifetime warranty against material and manufacturer’s defects. Hand washing with a mild detergent is recommended.
We found the International Classic to be a small, nimble knife constructed with reliable Henckels craftsmanship and materials. Well suited for small bones and joints, its light weight makes it easy to maneuver without undue strain or fatigue.
This model offers a good value for those looking for a small cleaver that’s suited for everyday use. It does have a tendency to stain a bit but some liquid Barkeeper’s friend can polish back up in a jiffy.
Spevorix Stainless Steel
For those who prefer a powerful, mid-sized cleaver, the Spevorix bone cutter handles light to medium-weight foods with ease.
Constructed of hot-forged, high-quality stainless steel with a 58 HRC rating, the blade is tough, durable, easy to sharpen, and will withstand repeated strikes into thick cuts of meat, bone, and gristly cartilage.
And with a wide 25-degree angle on each edge and a tapered profile, it muscles through poultry, beef and pork bones, and vegetables with a single chop.
The ergonomic handle is FDA approved and made of black Pakka wood that resists splintering or deformation, and provides a comfortable grip.
The handle is securely attached to the full tang with three stainless steel rivets, which adds to the effective balance for extended use.
There’s a convenient hole in the blade’s top corner for hanging, or it can be stored in the included, attractive gift box – which also makes it a great gift for cooking enthusiasts!
The Spevorix cleaver dimensions are:
- Overall length is 12 inches
- The cutting edge is 7 inches
- Blade height is 4 inches
- The spine measures 0.25 inches
- Weighs 1.6 pounds
Made in China, it comes with a 100 percent satisfaction, money-back guarantee. Hand washing is recommended.
Well-constructed of quality materials, the wedge-like design of the Spevorix blade powers through light to medium-weight bones, dense connective tissue, and large vegetables. We found this powerful performer to be solid, accurate, and reliable.
From Japanese knife makers Global, we have a 6.5-inch meat cleaver built for butchering light to medium-weight foods.
Constructed of their own special mixture of high-chromium stainless steel hardened to 56-58 HRC, the steel is hard enough for a dramatically sharp cutting edge, but soft enough that it can be resharpened at home with just a whetstone. And, it also has excellent stain resistance.
Unlike the typical beveled cutting edge found on Western knives, the Global edge is hand ground to a steep point of 15 degrees on each side that extends up the blade for a full quarter inch. This sharp cutting edge provides the cleanest chopping action with minimal resistance, and provides consistently smooth cuts.
Constructed entirely of stainless steel, the bolster-less design is easy to clean and sanitary, while the hollow, sand-filled handle is beautifully weighted for superb balance, agility, and fatigue-free use.
The contoured handle is designed for ergonomic comfort, and the iconic Global dimples provide a safe, slip-free grip.
The cutting edge has a slight belly for rocking, and the blade also has a convenient hole for easy hanging storage.
The Global G-12 dimensions are:
- An overall length of 12 inches
- The blade measures 6.5 inches
- Handle is 5.5 inches
- The spine measures 0.25 inches
- Weighs just 15.5 ounces
Made in Japan, the G-12 comes with a lifetime warranty to be free from defects in materials and workmanship. Hand wash only.
Sharp, lightweight, and responsive, the Global G-12 also provides superb balance for complete control and fatigue-free chopping. We found the tight-angled Japanese cutting edge provides a superb, clean cut, making it a good choice for oversized vegetables and light to medium-weight bones.
For a versatile, medium to heavy-duty option, the Dalstrong Ravager is a worthy choice for your consideration.
From their Gladiator series, it features a unique profile among meat cleavers. The Ravager’s 9-inch blade is engineered with a pointed tip, designed to assist with skin removal and to access tight, deep spots that a square tip can’t.
Constructed of high-carbon German steel with 55 HRC for premium toughness, the blade has a long-lasting edge and optimal durability. Hand polished to a satin finish for reduced drag, the high-quality steel also has excellent stain resistance.
Hand ground to 16-18 degrees per side, the cutting edge provides clean, efficient cuts with minimal effort, and makes honing and re-sharpening quick and easy.
The oblique bolster provides a safe, secure purchase when using a pinch grip, and transitions into a full tang for satisfying heft and well-distributed weight.
A handsome black Pakka wood handle ensures a powerful, comfortable grip, and is securely attached to the tang with three stainless steel rivets. Polished and laminated, it also provides a sanitary surface.
Included is a BPA-free polymer sheath for safe drawer storage that provides protection for the tip, cutting edge, and searching fingers.
The Ravager’s measurements are:
- Overall length is 13.5 inches
- The blade measures 9 inches
- Blade height is just over 4 inches
- The handle and bolster are 4.5 inches
- The spine measures 3/16 inches
- It weighs 1.3 pounds
Made in China. It comes with a 120-day money back guarantee, and a lifetime warranty against defects. Hand wash only.
The Dalstrong Ravager is a powerful, tough tool that quickly breaks down large cuts of meat and poultry, and is equally adept at hewing through oversized or hard vegetables and fruit.
Thoughtfully designed and constructed of quality materials, it provides plenty of knuckle clearance. And its light weight and distinctive profile make this large blade agile and maneuverable.
Is a Meat Cleaver Right for You?
You may be wondering if a meat cleaver is even necessary for the home cook.
While most of us don’t do our own butchering, this large knife is a worthwhile investment for several reasons:
For starters, they’re economical and can assist with the grocery budget.
As you’ve probably noticed, meat and poultry that’s processed and dressed by a butcher is more expensive than undressed selections.
With a cleaver, you can break down whole poultry, separate a rack of ribs, chop through bone-in cuts for individual servings, or crack bones for more flavorful stock.
And the flat of the blade and spine can be used to tenderize cutlets or flatten chicken thighs and less expensive cuts for roulade or stuffing.
Some folks will even mince fresh meat with a cleaver, although this can be tiring if the knife is heavy.
And using a cleaver doesn’t require a delicate technique – these big boys are swung like a hammer or hatchet, producing force with momentum.
And yes, even vegetarians can benefit from this behemoth blade! A good cleaver can quickly hew large melons, hard squash, and jumbo tubers, chop whole coconuts, or quickly crush large amounts of garlic, ginger, and nuts.
If you have one of these, you’ll never struggle to cut a butternut or acorn squash in half again (just be careful where you’re aiming that thing).
And while most won’t be used every day, they’re invaluable for surmounting challenging kitchen tasks.
Now, let’s look at those features that give them so much value:
The Cutting Edge
As with all knives, one of the most important factors to consider is blade design.
To withstand the punishment of repeated impact with cartilage, thick cuts of meat, bone, and the cutting board, a tough, resilient steel is needed for the blade and cutting edge. (And a wood butcher block is definitely the best choice when using a bone chopper!)
To achieve this tough resilience, the steel needs to be tempered in a range of 54-58 HRC (hardness on the Rockwell Scale) so that it will hold a cutting edge without buckling, rolling, or chipping. This range produces a tough, soft steel that can still be sharpened, but isn’t so hard as to be brittle.
The most common edge for meat cleavers is the flat grind or “V” edge – with tough steel, it gives a durable edge well suited to chopping and batoning.
Cutting edges can be straight or have a slightly curved belly. It’s a matter of personal preference, but we found that a lightly curved blade also gives the option of rocking to finish chops that didn’t travel clean through foods.
The blade profile comes in various shapes that range from a thick, wedge-like shape typical of Western blades, to thinner, tapered blades more like that of a Chinese vegetable cleaver.
A Western design is thick from the spine right down to the cutting edge, with cutting edges that range from a thin 13 degrees to a wide 25 degrees.
These hatchet-like blades are undoubtedly the most durable, and deliver considerable striking force. The bulk of the blade is right behind the cutting edge, so damage is negligible, and they’ll power through most foods – but this is sometimes at the cost of control and a clean cutting action.
And a wedge-shaped blade often feels dull when chopping, with the result being foods that are torn or smashed rather than smoothly sliced.
At the other end of the spectrum are cleavers that look more like a Chinese chef’s knife, with thinner blades and cutting edges ground to a tighter angle.
These cleavers are more agile, cut cleaner, and give greater control. But due to the thinner construction, they can wear quickly with nicks along the cutting edge being a likely occurrence.
From the many we tried in our test kitchen, our preference is for a blend of the two extremes – a cleaver with a thick blade, but with a more acute cutting edge ground to 15-17 degrees on each side. We find that this combination offers the best in durability as well as a smooth, thorough, and clean cut.
A hefty, thick spine is also a handy blade feature. Ones that measure at least 1/4 to 3/16 inches are best for cracking soup bones with a good wallop, and for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.
On some blades you’ll see the forward top edge swooping up to a rounded peak.
This is to facilitate batoning, which is the practice of smacking the peak with a metal rod to sunder thick bones and big joints. This is not something most home cooks will need to do, as a bone saw is more practical for those who do their own butchering.
However, batoning is an accurate way to chop through even small bones, and it can be used to good effect by those who may lack the accuracy or strength to swing a heavy cleaver. And a metal rod isn’t necessary either – a dead-end hammer or rubber mallet will suffice, provided the knife spine is thick enough.
Blade Size – Length and Height
Blade length and height are other important factors, as they affect dexterity and overall efficacy.
The length is important for cleaving large items. Adequate height is needed to keep the knife cutting on a straight plane, and for adequate knuckle clearance.
We found that our ideal measurements range between 7 and 7.75 inches in length, with a minimum of 3.25 inches in height.
Blades that are too short in length tend to get stuck in big items, and ones that are too long may become unwieldly, with a clumsy feel and noticeable loss of accuracy.
A cleaver’s weight will often correspond to blade length. Generally, the longer and taller the blade, the more it weighs. For instance, those with an 8-inch blade can weigh as much as 2.5 pounds!
While knives with this kind of weight will hew through just about anything, they can be fatiguing to use – and when your hand, wrist, or forearm becomes tired, a loss of accuracy can make for sloppy work.
Models with a short 6-inch blade can be too light, with some weighing only 10 ounces. These lighter ones are easier to maneuver, but they require extra effort to cut through even small bones – which is also tiring.
For our test purposes, we found those that weigh around 1 pound (+/- an ounce or two) provide the power needed to produce clean, one-swing cuts while they still afford accuracy, and aren’t excessively tiring or too unwieldy for the average user to manage.
Many cleavers are designed to be blade heavy. That is, the majority of their weight is located in the big blade area, which causes the knife to naturally fall forward.
However, too much weight in the blade can make for an awkward swing with poor control, and often results in only the forward section of the blade making contact – and this results in a loss of power due to the steep angle at impact.
We found that a knife that has some of the weight distributed towards the handle provides better aim and control, which results in cleaner, easier chopping.
To that end, a full tang will help with proper balance and control, and is needed for strength and knife longevity.
Like any well-made tool, the handle design plays a big part in the enjoyment and efficiency of these big knives, and is another area of personal choice. Some folks prefer a straight handle, while others like those with more ergonomic contours.
As can be the case with many of our favorite kitchen tools, this is a bit of a Goldilocks situation. Handles that are too short or too thick restrict the grip, and ones that are too long can be clumsy.
And due to the thumping these knives typically take, the handle material should have some resilience to it – materials that are overly rigid, like some plastics and wood, may have a tendency to work loose at the rivets or even crack.
Rubber and epoxy resins are good handle options. But whatever material you choose, it should provide a firm, comfortable, non-slip grip, and be easy to clean with hot, soapy water.
Meat cleavers are most effective with three different cutting actions: the power pinch grip, batoning, and the hammer swing.
With the power pinch grip, you simply align the cutting edge in place, say on the breast bone of a chicken, then apply pressure with your free hand to drive the blade straight down to make your cut.
This can be done with a steady push, or by tapping the spine with your fist (use a towel to protect your hand). This offers great accuracy but is only effective on light bones.
The second method is batoning. Again, the cutting edge is laid in place, then the spine is struck with a rubber mallet or a dead-end hammer to drive the blade straight down.
Batoning is great for accuracy, and can be used on light to medium bones, thick joints, and large veggies.
The third method is the hammer swing. This technique is not as accurate as the first two, but it provides the momentum needed to chop through thicker bones and dense foods.
With the hammer swing, the cleaver is aimed, drawn up and back to chest height, then released while keeping the wrist and forearm straight. This swing doesn’t require a lot of energy from the user, as the weight and momentum do the heavy work.
For safety, never raise or swing a cleaver above the chest or with an overhead motion – if you’re imagining the chef from The Little Mermaid on the hunt for Sebastian or someone with similar bloodlust in their eyes a la Looney Tunes, don’t do that.
If the hammer swing isn’t getting the job done, you most likely need a bone saw instead. Thoughts of Grey’s Anatomy aside, this is something that butchers actually use to do their work. You may consider investing in one somewhere during the span of time after you sign up for that half side of beef or pork at the local meat CSA, and before it’s delivered to your house (a dedicated chest freezer could come in handy as well).
The Big Knife
Whether you do a lot of home-butchering, or just need a tough knife to handle big veggies, there’s a meat cleaver suitable for the task.
Available for light, medium, and heavy duties, check the important details like size and weight before purchasing to ensure the one you choose will best suit your particular needs. We hope you’ll find your favorite among our top picks.
And don’t forget about storage. Most cleavers won’t fit into a standard knife block, and you don’t want these big blades banging around in a drawer. So, check out some of the alternatives in this article on storage solutions for kitchen knives, like a magnetic knife strip – perfect for big cleavers!
Do you folks have any questions about these big bone crushers? If so, drop us a line in the comments below!
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Photos by Mike Quinn, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.