Last Updated Feb 2023 – Expensive chef’s knives are fantastic kitchen tools. Your fancy Wusthof or Shun will make quick work of almost all food prep, from chopping vegetables to filleting meat to precisely slicing herbs. When it comes to cutting bones, however, you want to keep your expensive knives in your knife block.
This is because bones are hard. While you can get through a bone with plenty of pressure and a moderately sharp blade, you’ll almost invariably do some damage to a sharp cutting edge. Modern chef knives are often made of delicate steel. This is perfect for retaining an extra sharp edge. When you try to cut bones with these edges, however, you’ll get chips, scratches, and other damage.
Meat cleavers are designed specifically to get around this. They’re made of soft steel and have fairly blunt cutting edges, meaning that it’s pretty hard to damage them permanently. Most chefs deliberately choose to buy cheap cleavers, too, meaning that they’re not fussed when a chicken spine or a pork rib leaves a dent in their cleaver. If it’s a small dent, they’ll simply keep using the cleaver. If it’s a big one, they’re not too expensive to replace.
If you’re in the market for a cleaver, check out our reviews below. We’ve picked out four of the best choices available today for chopping bones, meat, and tough vegetables. Our knife selections span the range from cheap, replaceable cleavers to fancy expensive knives that you don’t really want to use on the bone. Read on to find out more about meat cleavers, how to cut bone properly, and what qualities you should look for in your cleaver.
* Dexter-Russell Cleaver
This 2.5 lb cleaver offers high quality, great durability, and a reasonable price. It’s not likely to be the sharpest knife in your collection, but it more than makes up for that with how well the metal maintains an edge after cutting bones.
While I’m convinced that this is one of the best bone cleavers on the market, it’s definitely on the big side. You might find the 8″ blade a bit long, especially if you’re only chopping up the occasional chicken. If this is the case, consider the 6″ or 7″ cleavers made by Dexter-Russell. You’ll get the same quality in a slightly more sane package.
That said, there’s definitely something nice about just how monstrously big this cleaver is. You can cut bones by simply dropping this knife down from a few inches. The weight alone provides most of the force you need. When it’s time for precise cuts, simply place the blade on the joint you want to separate and hammer down on the back with a rod, paddle, or mallet.
This isn’t some fancy German knife with a super sharp edge. You’ll have some trouble cutting a tomato with this knife without squishing the tomato. Luckily, this doesn’t matter too much for cutting meat. The edge is more than sharp enough to cut a rough fillet or two. Most importantly, however, the blade won’t be damaged at all by smaller bones. You’ll hardly ever have to sharpen this cleaver, even if you use it a lot.
If you want a powerful cleaver that’s virtually guaranteed to be overkill for home use, this Dexter-Russel behemoth is a perfect choice. It’s big, durable, and incredibly effective at cutting through bones.
* Wusthof Heavy Cleaver
I said before that you usually want to avoid using fancy, expensive cleavers for cutting bone. This Wusthof cleaver doesn’t quite break that rule. It’s an incredibly high-quality German knife that’s thick enough and durable enough to work with bone occasionally. In order to avoid damaging your expensive knife, however, you may want to keep it away from thick bones.
This isn’t to say that you can’t cut bones without damaging this knife. In fact, it’s made from soft metal and has a fairly blunt edge, so it’s perfect for processing whole chickens and working around bones in pork or beef. You will, however, have to sharpen it after using it to cut bone. It’s not going to keep its pristine factory condition forever.
There are some pretty nice advantages to choosing a reputable brand like Wusthof over a cheaper brand. For one, you get access to incredible customer service if anything happens to your knife. Another big factor is appearance. If you want your knives to match, you’ll definitely want to choose a cleaver from the same brand as the rest of your knives. This Wusthof cleaver will fit right in with your high-end German knife set.
Even though you might not want to let this expensive knife get dinged up, it’s a great choice for cutting chicken bones. The quality German construction sets it apart from cheaper cleavers, while soft metal and a blunt edge ensure that it won’t be damaged when you cut through bones. If you’re not too concerned with appearances, however, I’d recommend getting a cheaper knife. Your cleaver will definitely get banged up with use, and this Wusthof is far more beautiful and expensive than some of the other choices here.
* Sato Chopping Butcher Knife
This Japanese butcher cleaver is a bit lighter than the Dexter-Russel we reviewed earlier. While it’s not as heavy, it’s pretty similar in a number of other ways. This knife is durable, strong, and cheap, making it an ideal choice for tough kitchen tasks.
Weighing in at 1.6 lbs, this cleaver sports a unique aesthetic that will help set your kitchen apart. It’s got a slightly curved tip and an elegant wooden handle that give it an air of dangerous sophistication. You’ll enjoy how it looks when you hang it from the customary hole in the front of the blade.
Of course, this knife isn’t just pretty. It’s also fantastically effective at cutting through bone. While it’s lighter than some other cleavers, it’s still heavy enough to add plenty of force to each downward chop. The 8″ blade is perfectly sized for working on a larger home cutting board.
Like the Dexter-Russel above, this cleaver is cheap enough that you won’t mind when it gets banged up by an especially tough cutting job. It’s a veritable monster that will make short work of any tough task you set before it. You’ll feel its power each time you break it out to cut bones, meat, or even vegetables.
* Stainless Steel Utopia Kitchen Cleaver
This incredibly inexpensive cleaver is marketed towards professional chefs. It’s far lighter than the other options here (it weighs under 1 lb), but it’s also a bit shorter in terms of blade length. This makes it ideal for use on a smaller cutting board in a cramped home kitchen.
While this cleaver is very inexpensive, it’s been plagued by some quality control issues in the past. User reports indicate that many of these knives are shipped with cracked handles. Utopia Kitchen does a pretty good job of replacing these defective knives, but it’s worth noting that you may wind up having to contact them should you receive one of these defective units.
Other than the handle, however, this is a pretty nice knife. You’ll miss the heft provided by the other cleavers a little bit, of course, but you’ll still be able to crunch chicken bones without too much trouble. Besides, a lot of cleaver work involves you placing the blade down and then hitting the back of the blade with a different instrument. Your knife doesn’t need to be super heavy for that.
Unlike the other knives here, this blade is technically dishwasher safe. It comes with the normal knife caveat of “hand wash recommended,” of course, but you can always throw it in the dishwasher when you’re feeling lazy. Best of all, the incredibly low cost means that you won’t feel bad about replacing it should something go wrong.
If you want a super cheap cleaver that can still cut bone, this Utopia Kitchen knife is a pretty solid choice. Some handle issues notwithstanding, it’s a fantastic cleaver that you can use for pretty much any tough task. You’ll save quite a bit of money when you choose this knife instead of one of the more expensive options above.
What Is A Meat Cleaver?
Cleavers are tall, flat knives that are used for a variety of tasks. Kitchen cleavers come in more than one style, including very thin, sharp vegetable cleavers and thicker, duller cleavers that are used for cutting bone. Chefs often use all parts of their cleavers, not just the blade. They’ll crush garlic with the flat sides, cut meat with the sharp edge, and they’ll even use the spine of the blade as a hammer to crack nuts and perform other tasks.
How Do I Cut Bone With A Cleaver?
Bone cleavers aren’t very sharp. Instead, they’re thick, heavy, and designed to take a beating. The typical way to cut through bone involves simply coming down with the cleaver with a lot of force. In other words, try to crush the bone with the cleaver. Don’t slice it.
If you find that this technique isn’t precise enough for you, try using two tools instead of one. Place your cleaver on top of your bones where you want them to be cut. Then, take another instrument (like a rolling pin, a kitchen mallet, or something else) and hammer down the cleaver until it breaks through the bone. Pretend you’re driving a nail. The whole point of a cleaver is to be durable and tough, so don’t worry about whacking it too hard.
To be clear, you do NOT want to perform either of these techniques with a thin vegetable cleaver. Bone cleavers are incredibly thick and designed to take lots of abuse. Vegetable cleavers are very thin and designed to slice through vegetables with ease. Don’t get the two confused.
Top Qualities To Look For In A Bone Cleaver
When you’re shopping for a meat cleaver, here are a few of the most important things to look for:
It’s normally pretty important to keep things within your budget. With cleavers, however, it’s usually an extra good idea to keep things on the cheap end. This is because normal cleaver use can bang up a cleaver pretty badly. If you’re too scared to scuff up your expensive tool, you won’t be able to use it correctly.
Cleavers should be thick, strong, and made of high-quality metal. They have to be able to withstand you banging them against tough bones on top of a cutting board. If your cleaver can’t stand up to a little bit of abuse, it’s simply not going to be useful.
Bone cleavers come in a few different sizes and styles. Be sure to get one that fits your kitchen and ideal use patterns. If you’re just cutting chicken on a small cutting board, a big 8″ cleaver that weighs nearly 3 lbs might not be ideal. Conversely, if you use your cleaver a lot on bigger animals, make sure you get a larger knife that weighs more than a pound.
The Best Meat Cleaver To Chop Bones
The cleavers above are some of the best knives on the market when it comes to cutting through bone. You can go fancy with the Wusthof cleaver, choose one of the more moderately priced 8″ behemoths, or go with the ultra-budget Utopia Kitchen.
No matter which cleaver you choose, you’ll be able to cut through bones with ease without any fear of damaging your knife. Properly cared for, these cleavers can stay in your kitchen for decades.