Traditional meat cleavers are built like medieval weapons. Could we find one fit for modern life?
Last Updated Feb. 8, 2023. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 19: Chinese Favorites
Our former favorite meat cleaver by Shun has been discontinued. In its place, we now recommend the Masui AUS8 Stainless Meat Cleaver 180mm.
Historically, the meat cleaver was a brutish tool. Designed to hew through bone and sinew with a single well-placed cut, the traditional meat cleaver derived its chopping power more from blunt force than from razor-sharp precision and required some strength and experience to be wielded successfully. These days, even professional butchers don’t use cleavers; for hacking through ribs and other dense bones, the three prominent Boston-area butcher shops we consulted (Savenor’s, T.F. Kinnealey & Co., and M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats) instead use handsaws or band saws, which cut more cleanly and with far less effort.
If butchers don’t need these archaic knives, do home cooks? For most people, the answer is no. That’s because there are relatively few tasks for which a cleaver is a better choice than a chef’s knife. But for those few tasks, there’s no more perfect tool. A cleaver can be considered an abuse knife—its heft and size make it ideal for jobs that might otherwise damage or wear down your chef’s knife, allowing you to chop through whole chickens, whole lobsters, or large squashes with impunity. If you make a lot of stock, for example, a cleaver is a solid investment, as it allows you to expose more of the bone and meat to the water for better flavor extraction. Once you have a cleaver, you might find it handy for other tasks, too: mincing raw meat, crushing garlic, bruising lemon grass, cracking open coconuts, and chopping cooked bone-in meat into bite-size pieces. The flat of the blade can even be used like a bench scraper to scoop up chopped items or to flatten and tenderize cutlets.
With these functions in mind, we set out to determine the best meat cleaver for home use, buying 13 cleavers priced from roughly $10.00 to roughly $180.00, including our former winner, the Global G-12 Meat Cleaver. These knives ran the gamut from heavy, ax-shaped Western-style cleavers to models that more closely resembled Chinese cleavers—lighter-weight knives with thinner, more rectangular blades—to hybrid styles that combined attributes from both. We used them to break down butternut squashes, hack up raw chicken legs and wings for stock, and chop whole roast ducks for serving. Cooks with different hand sizes, dominant hands, and levels of butchering experience took the knives for a test drive, and we also had two professional butchers examine and use them.
Preferences emerged early on in our testing. While all the knives were capable of making neat cuts through the chicken parts, a host of factors made certain models easier and more comfortable to use. The cooks and butchers agreed: The more t...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.