The Best Japanese Meat Cleavers Explained
By Bobby B. | Updated Feb. 2022 | Blog
Cleavers are an oddly versatile type of knife. They typically look like something out of a scary movie where someone’s trying to come after you. The reality is that you can do quiet a lot with this weirdly shaped knife. And specific to the topic of this article, Japanese meat cleavers are no different. Perfect for chopping meat as their name touts, but capable of performing several other tasks as well.
Why Japanese? Well, many of our readers are fans of Japanese knives and they’re looking for a meat cleaver to match their style. You need to be careful when buying one however. In Asian culture, it’s more common that cleavers are used more like a chef’s knife for chopping vegetables than meat. “Chuka Bocho” cleavers that originated in China were intended specifically for this purpose, even though they look a lot like a meat cleaver with the large, balanced blade.
Nonetheless, you can find Japanese meat cleavers, and we’re here to help. First, a quick education on something important…
Japanese Meat Cleaver vs. Vegetable Cleaver
Just in case you’re not familiar with the differences between the two (vegetable cleaver vs meat cleaver), meat cleavers use thicker, more robust blades for tougher jobs like cutting and de-boning meat. This is the common use of a Western-style meat cleaver. Their job is to crush right through some of the toughest cuts you’ll ever see and obliterate anything in its way.
While it is possible to find a Japanese-style meat cleaver, it’s actually a very rare find. Mostly because Japanese-style knives are not typically that big, thick blade that can fight through anything you throw at it. Most would be ruined the first time it nicked a bone because they have very hard, yet brittle blades.
Japanese-style vegetable cleavers, often called a “Chuka Bocho” cleaver, are much more delicate knives. They use high-end steels with a thin, lightweight blade, and even incorporate beautiful Damascus patterns. Of course, all that sounds great and it’s perfect for slicing, chopping, and mincing vegetables. But, they’re often much to wimpy for cutting large chunks of meat, especially if you encounter any bones. It’s not worth ruining your expensive vegetable knife by taking a chance you hit a bone.
To make sure you understand what your knife can and cannot do, we always suggest following the manufacturer’s recommendations and warnings. They know best what it’s capable of after all the factory testing they likely do before releasing a new knife model. This is especially true when you’re considering cutting through bone.
In either case, the cleaver stands alone is it’s large surface area. It’s perfect for crushing garlic or ginger. You just lay the blade length-wise, flat on the garlic with the blade facing away. Then, with your free hand, hit the top side of the blade to crush it, making sure to stay towards the blunt end of the blade rather than the sharp side so you don’t cut yourself.
The 5 Best Japanese Meat Cleavers
As mentioned above, it’s actually really difficult to find a Japanese meat cleaver at all, let alone a good one. We’ve done the digging and researched this topic for several hours to help you find the best one to fit any budget. Here are the top choices available today:
1. Dalstrong Phantom Series Cleaver, 7″
This is one of the very few Japanese cleavers that I’d use in any situation. It’s big, bold, heavy duty, and made to take on just about anything. Using the softer Japanese AUS8 high-carbon steel with a much thicker blade, makes it perfect for chopping up large chunks of meat, separating ribs, and even boning chicken.
It’s not easy to find a good , full-tang cleaver knife that has such a thick, wide blade that’s cryogenically treated for ultimate performance. This knife set comes with an amazing sheath to protect your investment, and it has all the things we look for in a good kitchen knife.
2. Global Meat Cleaver – G12 (Model 812445)
Like all Global-brand knives, their G12 traditional Japanese cleaver is actually made in Japan. It’s a true butcher’s knife and is made to cut through all kinds of meat and proteins and even bones. The G12 is made entirely of Cromova 18 stainless steel and has great balance, weight, and quality. It’s widely loved by its users and gets great reviews on Amazon.
Smaller than most cleavers, the Global meat cleaver has dimensions of roughly 3.5″ x 6.5″. While most Global knives are very thin-bladed and lightweight, this cleaver is more substantial and heavy-duty as you might expect.
3. Dalstrong “Crixus” Chef & Cleaver Hybrid
This is a cool-looking SWORD knife for sure. Dalstrong has gone above and beyond to make a Japanese-style knife that looks like nothing else available on the market. I’m sure I’ll get the standard notes that this is not a Japanese knife, but rather a Chinese cleaver. It’s true. It is made in China, but it’s designed with Japanese styling, materials, and design. Besides, there are very few Japanese meat cleavers and I wanted to give you guys as many options to choose from as possible.
This knife is a hybrid between a butcher knife and a traditional Japanese cleaver. As far as cleavers go, this one is kind of middle-of-the-road. It’s not wimpy, but it’s not as heavy duty as the Shun is either. It has the thin, hardened steel blade that most Japanese knives have, along with the awesome Damascus steel pattern. But Dalstrong claims “poultry, beef, pork, fish, wild game and even fruits and veggies easily fall prey to this blade.” They do offer a lifetime warranty, but I still wouldn’t go trying to cut through bone with it.
4. Sato Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver
The SATO Heavy-Duty Meat Cleaver is just that, heavy-duty. It is said to be of a Japanese design, but it’s actually manufactured in Taiwan. The SATO uses a forged stainless steel blade which will stay sharper longer, even when cutting through bone. Weighing in at 1.6 pounds, this cleaver is heavy, yet comfortable in your hands.
This 8″ meat cleaver is priced right too! As the lowest price option on our list, it’s a great value for any home chef. If you’re looking for a great price on a good knife, look no further. If aesthetics or principles are more your style, go back up to click over and shell out the big bucks to buy the Shun at Amazon. If all you care about is a hard-working cleaver knife with a hole for hanging, check this one out.
Considerations When Shopping Cleavers
When shopping, make sure you’re looking at all the same basic principles we always use when buying kitchen knives. The things that really matter are the quality and type of steel, size of the blade, handle material, name brand, and of course, the price!
Quality and Type of Steel
The type of steel used plays a big role in how good your knife will perform and how long it lasts. For Japanese knives, look for one made with stainless steel or carbon steel. Carbon steel is a very hard material (on the Rockwell Scale of hardness), and therefore has incredible edge retention and a razor sharp blade. The downside is that it can rust if not taken care of properly. Stainless steel, more specifically Japanese Super Steel (i.e. VG-1, VG-10, or VG-Max), doesn’t require as much maintenance but won’t hold its sharpness as long either.
Make sure you pick a cleaver that fits comfortably in your hand. It’s important that you find a knife that has a well-balanced, comfortable handle. The material matters too. G10 and Pakkawood both make a good, ergonomic handle that even professional chefs can appreciate.
This goes hand-in-hand with the handle (no PUN intended). You don’t want something too big or too small, rather something that is well-balanced for your hands. Six to 7-inches seems to be a pretty good starting point for finding just the right size to make precise cuts.
If you’ve bounced around BladeAdvisor.com much, you’ll get tired of us talking about how much well-known knife brands matter. The difference in the quality of materials and manufacturing process is staggering between a cheap ktichen knife and one that’s hand-made by skilled artisans in Japan. Spend the extra money, it’s worth it!
If you’re looking for the best japanese meat cleavers, make sure you consider price as well. You’ll find japanese knives to be more expensive than most other options so prepare to spend a bit extra money when purchasing one. That doesn’t mean you can’t find one at a reasonable price though. You just have to know where to buy them. We like the deals that can be found at Amazon.
Hopefully the difference between the FINESSE of a Chuka Bocho and the BRUTE of a meat cleaver is clear at this point. It’s probably not the best tool for the job, but you can safely use a meat cleaver to cut vegetables. We’d of course recommend that you NOT use a Chuka Bocho to cut through any bone. It will likely break or chip the fine blade edge.
That’s not to say the vegetable cleaver cannot cut through meat. it can. It would be fine to chop, mince, or even tenderize pieces of meat without bones. Scaling fish is another task that their shape makes them a good tool for. It’s just very important not to cut near bone as that would damage it.