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Butcher Knife vs. Cleaver: What’s the Difference?

If you’re ready to buy a new kitchen knife, you might be wondering:

What’s the difference between a butcher knife and a cleaver?

Butcher knives have a long, curved blade and a blunt or sharp point. Cleavers have heavier, shorter, and wider blades. Both break down meat and bone, but butcher knives are designed for slicing and sawing motions, while cleavers are best for splitting and chopping with an up-and-down motion.

That’s the high-level answer, but there’s much more to know before deciding which to buy.

In this butcher knife vs. cleaver comparison, you’ll learn how these knives differ in design, usage, versatility, price, and more.

By the end, you’ll be able to determine which type of knife you need (or if you need both).

Use the links below to navigate the comparison:

Butcher Knife vs. Cleaver: Comparison Chart

Check out this side-by-side comparison of butcher knives vs. cleavers to get a quick view of the differences.

 Butcher KnifeCleaver
Best UsesBreaking down meat, bones, and firm fruit or vegetablesBreaking down meat, bones, and firm fruit and vegetables
Cutting ActionChop, hack, saw, slice, trimChop, hack, smash, split
Blade DesignSharp upward curved blade, blunt or sharp pointShort, broad, resembles a small ax (vegetable cleavers are narrower)
Blade Length8-10 inches or longer4-8 inches long
SharpnessSharper with a total edge angle of 30 degreesBlunter with a total edge angle of 40-50 degrees (32 degrees for vegetable cleavers)
WeightMany options are lighter than a cleaverGenerally heavier than a butcher knife
PriceMore expensiveLess expensive

Difference 1: Blade Design

The first noticeable distinction between the two is the blade design and profile. Although shapes vary by brand, butcher knives and cleavers are aesthetically different.

A butcher knife is long and lean, whereas a cleaver is short and wide.

However, there are two types of cleavers: western-style meat cleavers like this option from Dalstrong and Chinese-inspired vegetable cleavers similar to this option from MAC Knives.

Meat cleaver blades are thicker and wider, while vegetable cleavers are thinner, narrower, and sharper.

Meat cleaver

While most cleavers have a rectangular shape, butcher knives come in many shapes and sizes. Some have a flat edge, while others feature a distinct curve towards the blade’s tip.

Butcher knives frequently include a point at the end, with some having more prominent points than others. The point assists in achieving precise cuts, piercing meat, and removing skin and fat.

Here are a few examples that show how much the design varies across brands.

The Dalstrong 14-inch butcher knife features a long blade with a Granton edge with small divots that help repel food while cutting. The curve of the blade curves into a sharp point.

Butcher Knife
Butcher Knife

This Wusthof Classic butcher knife has a pronounced, sharp upward curve and a straight spine. The thick bolster dips down below the knife’s belly.

WÜSTHOF Classic 8

By contrast, the Mercer Culinary BPX butcher knife has a straighter spine and a more pointed tip. The blade is mostly straight on the belly but ends with a gentle upward curve.

Mercer Culinary BPX, 12 Inch, Granton Edge Cimiter

Difference 2: Blade Length

Butcher knives vary from 6-14 inches, although the most frequent lengths are between 8-10 inches. The length is essential in cutting through large pieces of meat. The extra length gives the blade more precision and power, making clean cuts easy.

Butcher knife blade length
14-Inch Butcher Knife

Cleavers are typically shorter. Mini cleavers can be as small as 4 inches long, while standard-sized cleavers can be up to 8 inches long. Its short profile is well-suited for chopping through thick cuts of meat or bone.

Difference 3: Best Uses

While both are great options for breaking down meats, bones, and dense fruit and vegetables, there are other uses where each shines.

A cleaver is a workhorse knife and can easily break down meat, bones, and dense foods. Its broad blade and thick spine enable it to do things that butcher knives can’t.

Meat cleaver cutting beef
Meat cleaver cutting beef

For example, you can smash ingredients quickly by pressing the face of the blade down on them. And cleavers are expert meat tenderizers — the dull edge and thick spine can safely pound meat without tearing it apart.

Unlike butcher knives, which can handle large cuts of meat (including whole animal carcasses), meat cleavers are better suited for smaller proteins, like chicken, duck, steaks, and rabbit.

Vegetable cleavers are ideal for delicate tasks. With a slimmer profile, thinner blade, and sharper edge than a meat cleaver, you can finely chop and mince vegetables and cut boneless meat or fish. Vegetable cleavers’ edge is too thin to crack bones or cut through joints (you’ll chip the edge if you try).

The butcher knife, also called a cimeter or breaking knife, is ideal for slicing through and chopping large portions of meat and bone, but it is also well-suited for trimming fat and sinew.

Slicing beef with a butcher knife
Slicing beef with a butcher knife

The length is perfect for breaking down larger meats like a turkey or a rack of beef ribs. It’s also helpful when dealing with dense foods like pumpkin or butternut squash.

It’s too large for delicate tasks, but if you have a job that requires a longer blade, like cutting flatbreads or a pizza, it can handle it easily.

Difference 4: Cutting Action

To use a cleaver, wedge the knife on the area you want to split and press down quickly on the spine with your other hand. This quick video provides a great demonstration.

You can also use a cleaver to hack through bones with force utilizing a straight down motion using the blade edge or the spine like a hammer. If you need to smash something (like garlic), you can press the side of the blade against the food.

With a vegetable cleaver, you can use an up and down motion to chop or julienne ingredients with a pinch grip.

Using a butcher knife depends on the job — it’s more versatile than a cleaver.

You can use butcher knives to hack through a bone like a cleaver, but they are better suited to precision slicing and sawing. With a butcher knife, you can expertly slice a large beef tenderloin into smaller steaks. You can’t slice with a cleaver.

Difference 5: Sharpness

Sharpness varies across brands and is based on many factors, like the choice of steel alloy, blade hardness, and edge angle.

That said, butcher knives typically have a lower edge angle (lower angle = sharper) than cleavers because they need to be sharp enough to slice.

On average, butcher knives are sharpened to 15 degrees on each side of the blade (similar to a chef’s knife).

Meat cleavers are often sharpened to a 20-25 degree angle per side, and vegetable cleavers usually have a sharper angle — around 16 degrees per side.

Think of a meat cleaver like an ax and a butcher knife like a sword. Both are sharp, but a cleaver requires more force and a butcher knife requires more finesse — their edge angles reflect that.

Difference 6: Weight

Meat cleavers are heavier than butcher knives because they have thicker and heftier blades. Vegetable cleavers are usually lighter than meat cleavers of the same blade length due to thinner blade construction.

However, weights differ significantly across brands and collections.

The following table shows the weights of popular butcher knives and cleavers.

Wusthof Classic 8-inch butcher knife12 oz.
Dalstrong Shogun 8-inch butcher knife20 oz.
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 10-inch butcher knife8 oz.
Dalstrong Gladiator 14-inch butcher knife16 oz.
Wusthof Classic 6-inch meat cleaver20 oz.
Wusthof Classic 8-inch meat cleaver24 oz.
Global Classic 6-inch meat cleaver16 oz.
Zwilling Pro 7-inch vegetable cleaver19 oz.
Shun Classic 7-inch vegetable cleaver12 oz.

Difference 7: Price

Butcher knives are usually more expensive than cleavers, although some forged cleavers from brands like Zwilling and Wusthof can get pricey.

Pricing depends on the size of a knife, brand, and collection. For example, Japanese-style vegetable cleavers (nakiri knife) with hammered finishes or Damascus patterns tend to be more expensive than more straightforward western-style meat cleavers.

Refer to the following chart for current pricing on some of the best butcher knives and cleavers available. Click the price to see more details on Amazon.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Bottom Line: Do You Need a Butcher Knife, Cleaver, or Both?

Now that you’ve learned the key differences between butcher knives and cleavers, which one should you buy?

Before I give you my recommendation, let’s recap:

  • The butcher knife has a long, slim blade and often has an upward curve toward the point. The cleaver is a short and broad blade with a thick spine.
  • Butcher knives and cleavers can break down meat, but a butcher knife can also trim fat and skin, make precise cuts, or even portion a large pizza.
  • Butcher knives are sharper and lighter and offer more cutting options than a cleaver, such as slicing, chopping, hacking, sawing, and trimming. Cleavers are blunter due to the thickness of the edge angle. They’re best for hacking, chopping, smashing, and splitting motions.
  • Butcher knives are often more expensive than cleavers, but the exact pricing varies depending on the brand, materials, and collection.

Bottom line — a butcher knife is the best tool for breaking down large portions of meat that require a slicing or sawing motion. Cleavers are better for breaking bones and splitting smaller proteins like chicken or duck.

That said, butcher knives and meat cleavers are not essential unless you’re a butcher or regularly break down large portions of meat or whole animal carcasses at home.

For most home cooks, a quality chef knife is a better buy. A chef’s knife can do almost anything a butcher knife or cleaver can, but you can also use it for smaller tasks, like mincing, dicing, and peeling. This guide highlights the best affordable chef’s knives.

If you’re looking for a straight-edge knife to chop veggies, I recommend a nakiri knife. Nakiris have an identical blade profile as vegetable cleavers and feature a razor-sharp edge, but they’re smaller, lighter, more versatile, and easier to store.

If you’re still interested in butcher knives and cleavers, the brands I recommend are Wusthof, Dalstrong, Shun, and MAC.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He began his career in marketing, managing campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. In 2018, Andrew founded Prudent Reviews and has since reviewed 600+ products. When he’s not testing the latest cookware, kitchen knives, and appliances, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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