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Cleaver vs Butcher Knife: Which One Chops Better?

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A common question that surrounds the home cook universe is what is the difference between a Cleaver vs Butcher knife? Both these knives are used in butcher stores everywhere, but they serve entirely different purposes. This article will cover everything you’ll ever need to know about these meat-chopping monsters so you can prepare meat dishes like a gourmet restaurant!

 

What is a Cleaver Knife?

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A cleaver knife is a large rectangular blade with a flat hammer-head. Its first primary use was as a combat weapon and hunting tool in Medieval times (1). Despite not containing the word “butcher” in its name, the cleaver knife is the knife most people associate with butcher shops.

For this reason, it is often mistakenly called a butcher’s knife, though an actual butcher knife is an entirely different tool.

The intended use of a cleaver knife is to cut through meat and bones in a vertical motion, much like the way you hammer in a nail. Therefore, they often come with a small hole somewhere on the blade. This prevents the knife from getting stuck and allowing you to hang the cleaver on a wall.

This is especially useful considering they can take up a lot of draw space due to the large surface area of the blade. Unfortunately, they also don’t work well with knife blocks.

 

What is a Butcher Knife?

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Contrary to popular belief, a butcher knife is not the classic square-shaped blade we’ve just defined as the cleaver. Rather, a butcher knife is a long, sharp blade with a curved tip roughly 10-inches in length. An intimidating knife at first glance, you can describe the butcher knife as resembling a small sword.

The thing about butcher knives is they offer a more versatile range of cutting options than a cleaver.

They can also cut down large chunks of meat, as they often come with a sharp edge and a blade length long enough to conquer the meat’s surface area. In addition, the butcher knife is the more versatile knife. It offers some uses outside of meat and vegetable chopping, such as cutting through breads and pastries.

 

How are they different?

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The main difference between a cleaver and butcher knife is the blade design. The cleaver features a rectangular blade with a straight or curved back, ideal for big chopping motions. These break down bones and thick meat.

Contrastingly, they design butcher knives with a curved blade. This makes it easier to deal with larger pieces of meat due to its longer blade length and razor-sharp knife blade.

Typically, you sharpen cleaver knives to an angle of around 20-25 degrees. In contrast, they give butcher knives a much sharper angle of about 15 degrees. You will need to apply more force with a butcher knife to cut meat in a single motion, much like an axe on a wood block.

A butcher knife is more like a saw, requiring a “forward-and-backward” motion to slice away at a thick piece of meat using its sharp cutting edge.

Another interesting difference is that butcher knives are often more expensive than cleaver knives, though there is a fair reason for this. By nature, there is more that you can do with a butcher knife than a cleaver knife. Its use is not restricted to just meats and vegetables.

Furthermore, you can do more complex tasks, such as using it as a boning knife.

 

How are they similar?

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Regarding basic meat chopping tasks, butcher knives and meat cleavers are quite interchangeable. They are used for chopping meat and usually made of premium materials such as Japanese or German stainless steel. Furthermore, these two knives typically come with a wooden or plastic riveted handle designed for ergonomics and safety.

Both the cleaver and butcher knife have multipurpose facets outside of chopping meats, much like a chef’s knife. While butcher knives and meat cleavers differ significantly in size nowadays. A traditional butcher knife is around the same length as a cleaver knife.

In these instances, you may even find specific butcher knives to be the same length as specific meat cleavers. 

 

What’s better about a Cleaver Knife?

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Ultimately, a cleaver works well for big chopping motions to break down a strong bone or thick piece of meat. In addition, they also work well for chopping and mincing vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, and coriander.

Since meat cleavers are designed for strong chopping motions and have a large blade surface to support their cutting strength. They don’t need to be as sharp, so less maintenance is required.

 

What’s better about a Butcher Knife?

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Overall, a butcher knife is the preferred choice. It’s a multipurpose knife that does more than chop meat. This versatile tool can tackle anything from large pieces of turkey and ribs to delicate tasks like removing fat and boning.

Indeed, the butcher knife takes on some characteristics of a slicing knife, carving knife, and paring knife in a single solution. However, it can be quite long for some tasks.

 

Who should get a Cleaver Knife and why?

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Cleaver knives are suitable for those focusing on smaller poultry, protein tasks, and vegetables. This is because the blade is shorter but strong in density, making it ideal for tackling small but thick meats. This includes meats such as chicken breasts, whole fish, and minced beef.

Furthermore, cleavers are significantly more affordable than butcher knives, and can tackle many of the tasks that a butcher blade can.

 

Who should get a Butcher Knife and why?

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Unless you are running a butcher shop of some sort, it’s unlikely you’ll need the prowess of a full-length butcher knife. However, if you find yourself dealing with whole animal carcasses, you’ll find plenty of butcher knife usage with this long and versatile tool.

Most butcher knives are made with a strong carbon steel material and are long and sharp enough to slice through large portions of meat.

 

Features

 

Blade

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The blade is where the key difference lies in the comparison of the butcher knife vs cleaver kitchen knife. The long butcher knife comes with a thinner blade suitable for cutting up thin slices of meat off a significant portion. It is also quite versatile, like a chef knife, allowing you to skin meat off the bone and remove fat for a leaner cut.

On the other hand, the meat cleaver is designed for smaller portions of meat, sporting a larger circumference and a thick blade. With more strength behind each chop, this knife is ideal for piercing through bones and thick meat with high density.

Furthermore, if you opt for a Chinese cleaver knife, you’ll have a more multipurpose tool that can work as both a meat cleaver and a vegetable cleaver.

People often ask, are butcher knives and meat cleavers interchangeable? The answer to that is yes, but not entirely. There are many tasks that the cleaver knife can accomplish just as well, if not better, than the butcher knife. Such tasks include chopping thick meats, breaking down bones, and mincing vegetables.

Where the butcher knife comes into fruition is its ability to tear down large pieces of meat, and I mean really large. Obviously, not everyone will tackle a whole animal in the kitchen. We usually leave this task to butchers and farmers.

For that reason, most homeowners will benefit more from the cleaver’s blade than the butcher’s, making it the clear winner in this debate.

Winner: Cleaver knife

 

Handle

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The handles of cleavers and butcher knives are more or less the same and come in various designs and styles. However, while the cleaver typically comes with a wooden riveted handle and the butcher knife often comes in plastic, this is not always the case.

You can find any type of handle material and design with any butcher knife and cleaver. They typically design them to be as ergonomically friendly as possible.

Winner: Tie

Learn about all the parts of a knife here

Weight

By nature, the meat cleaver is significantly heavier than the butcher knife, despite the latter sporting a longer blade design. But, of course, the differences in weight complement each blade’s intended use, as you get the most cleaver usage by cutting meat quickly in a single motion.

Likewise, the butcher knife’s lightweight nature makes achieving more complex meat processing tasks easier. Some of these include things like skinning, removing fat, and breaking down whole animals.

The broad blade of cleaver knives also makes it easier to smash garlic, and small bones as heavier, denser, thicker blades accompany them. However, the slight curve on the butcher knives and the thinner blades allow for more precise food preparation tasks like skinning fish and dressing animal carcasses.

Overall, the butcher knife is easier to use because of its lightweight design and flexible blades. They enable multipurpose facets much like a Western chef’s knife or Japanese santoku knife.

Winner: Butcher knife

 

Price

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The cleaver knife is the clear winner in price, but that is not simply because of its face value cost compared to the butcher knife. Instead, it comes down to “bang per buck,” as I like to call it. As a result, the cleaver offers more utility for most home cooks than the large, industrial-sized butcher knives.

From chopping thick meats to mincing vegetables and even allowing you to tenderize meat for a softer, juicier taste, there is little that the cleaver cannot accomplish.

While not all butcher knives are priced higher than cleavers, this remains true for most products and brands. Of course, there is always a small minority that would require the advantage of the butcher’s big knife. However, for the rest of us, the tough edge of the Chinese cleaver works wonders for your kitchen’s cutting board.

As such, you are likely to get more value for what you pay with the cleaver knife than the butcher knife, making it the clear winner in price.

Winner: Cleaver knife

 

Cleaver vs Butcher Knife FAQ

 

Is a butcher knife the same as a cleaver?

Not at all. The butcher knife is a large knife with a curved tip that resembles a sword. The cleaver’s blade is completely different, sporting a square-shaped design with a flat head that resembles a kind of axe, something many people mistakenly refer to as the butcher knife.

 

Do butchers use meat cleaver?

Butchers typically use meat cleavers and butcher knives (among other knives) to perform all kinds of meat cutting tasks. The cleavers allow them to chop thick and dense meat, while the butcher’s knife allows them to slice through, break down large animal carcasses, and produce boneless meat for customers.

 

What is a cleaver knife best used for?

The best use of a cleaver knife is for chopping through thick cuts of meat such as chicken breast, whole fish, or beef rumps. They are also exceptional for chopping, slicing, and dicing vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, and celery sticks.

 

Is a cleaver a good knife?

A cleaver is an excellent knife for tackling various tasks surrounding meat and vegetables. They often build Western-style meat cleavers with high carbon stainless steel and a hole on the blade that reduces friction for a more seamless cut.

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(1) – https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/early-europe-and-colonial-americas/medieval-europe-islamic-world/a/introduction-to-the-middle-ages

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