butcher knife vs cleaver

Butcher Knife vs. Cleaver: Is There a Difference?

By Bobby B.  |  February 20, 2021  | Knife Blog

It’s not at all uncommon for most to associate a meat cleaver with the term “butcher’s knife”.  In fact, if you just search Amazon for butcher knife, most of the results shown will be a cleaver of some sort.  Truth is, people often use this as a generic term for any kind of knife that might be used to cut meat by a butcher.  We’ve seen anything from a chef’s knife to a cleaver be called a butcher knife.  They’re each technically right since there are all types of butcher knives, but let’s delve deeper into the butcher knife vs cleaver discussion to explain it in more detail.

The Traditional Butcher Knife

There is actually style of knife called a butcher knife.  It looks a bit like the one shown below.  It’s the more traditional butcher knife that was designed over one hundred years ago.

butcher knife

A Traditional Butcher Knife

This is clearly different than the shape of a typical meat cleaver that’s much taller and has a shorter, rectangular-shaped blade.  The shape of a butcher knife is no accident however.  It has a wide blade and curved tip both of which make it easier to use when trimming and slicing raw meat.  It was also originally designed for skinning.  Today, there are better skinning knives available. 

The length and shape of the butcher knife also make it a great utility knife for hunting and camping.  It’s perfect for all-purpose uses while outdoors, including skinning, butchering, portioning, and food prep. 

Our Favorite Butcher Knife

best butcher knife - Dalstrong Butcher and Breaking Knife (Gladiator Series)

This 14″ bull nose butcher & breaking knife from Dalstrong uses a thick, German stainless steel, perfect for butchering raw meat.  This powerhouse is great at breaking, sectioning, and portioning whatever large game you throw at it.  The granton divots help reduce friction and allow the meat to effortlessly fall away from the blade.  In additonal to the high-quality knife steel, the pakkawood handle also gives this knife a luxury feel.

The Meat Cleaver

Yes, cleavers are also use used by butchers around the world.  Althought perhaps not at first appearance, the cleaver is actually quite similar to the traditional butcher’s knife.  It’s a large knife with substantial steel in the blade.  The blade’s shape also changes some between knife manufacturers, but it’s almost rectangular and much wider than any other type of kitchen knife.


Meat Cleaver

A cleaver’s blade must have a tough edge as it’s designed to repeatedly cut into meat, cartilage, and even small bones.  However, it’s the the momentum, not the blade sharpness, that gives the cleaver most of it’s power to get through bone and cartilage.  

When using a cleaver on something hard, the butcher will typically use a towel and even use their other hand to crush down on the top of the thick blade, providing the additional momentum needed.

Like most knives, there are Western-style meat cleavers and Japanese meat cleavers.  Most butchers in the United States would strongly prefer the heavy-duty, thicker-bladed Western type that you see below. 

Our Favorite Cleaver

best cleaver - Dexter Russel

This Dexter-Russell cleaver is both heavy-duty and uses traditional styling.  One of our favorite things about it is that it’s an American made kitchen knife.  They’re not as easy to find as you might think, but you’ll quickly notice that their quality to cost ratio is higher than you’re used to in knives.  

This cleaver has an amazing rosewood handle and stainless steel blade.  It’s heavy (roughly 4lbs) and has an ultra-thick blade.  You can’t go wrong with this awesome knife! 

Butcher Knife vs. Cleaver Summary

So what have we learned?  A cleaver is a butcher knife, but a butcher’s knife is not neccessarily a cleaver.  Said in another way, “butcher knife” is typcially a  generic term used ot refer to the profession’s tools.  Included in this set of tools is the meat cleaver, along with several other types of butcher knives.  

The confusion comes along when you learn that there’s actually also a traditional knife called the butcher knife.  It’s been around for many years and it’s going anywhere.  If you’re a butcher, it should be one tool in your arsenal of butcher knives.