Cleaver Vs Butcher Knife – What’s The Difference?

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When it comes to working with knives in the kitchen, there are several different types that you can use.

Some knives are hard to tell apart and many people actually think one knife might be something that it isn’t. Understanding the terminology could be important. 

Knives, like cleavers and butcher knives, often fall into this category. They can be confused with each other.

Some people think that these terms are actually referring to the same knives. However, you should know that a cleaver and a butcher’s knife are really very different by design. 

What is the difference between the cleaver and butcher knife? Their entire shape and design are different. They were really designed for different uses, although both are used to cut meat. There are times that you might be able to use them for the same thing but their initial purpose is different. 

In this guide, we will share with you the differences and similarities in the cleaver and butcher knife.

We will talk about each type of knife and cover the details as to how they are different and how they compare. By the end, you will know all of the details about these two knives. 

Keep reading to learn more about cleavers and butcher knives!


Let’s start with the cleaver. This is the giant square chopping knife that most people picture when they hear this term. It’s a common knife used by butchers.

These knives have a blade that is rectangular and wide. The length of that blade typically falls between 6-8 inches

Then, the cleaver has to have a sturdy handle that you can grip comfortably and not worry about it flying out of your hand. You use the cleaver to chop.

When people think of a cleaver, they often think it can cut anything. While it can certainly cut a lot, it does have its limitations.

This is used to chop meat but it’s actually not great for most bones. With that in mind, you can handle small bones or thin bones. 

The cleaver is designed to chop meat into precise cuts. This is considered to be the biggest knife in the kitchen. However, the description is not because of the length of the blade but rather the total blade size. 

Cleaver Usage

The cleaver is used to chop and prepare meats. It can easily be used for cutting quickly but it’s also used for precision. It might be used to hack several cuts in succession but those cuts are all clean. 

It’s the go-to knife for preparing meat, particularly if it is easy to slice through and doesn’t have a bone.

You will find that in comparison to a butcher knife, the cut from a cleaver is more precise and much more gentle. The result is a clean cut that is smooth

If you’re working through processing a full carcass of meat, the cleaver probably won’t do it for you. Remember that it’s not ideal for most bones.

However, it’s built to be sturdy. You might be able to cut through a bone if you have a really great swing and can get power behind it. 

Cleaver Design

Let’s talk about the blade and handle design. The cleaver has a shorter handle but is something that you can get a solid grip on.

Remember you’re swinging the cleaver up and down and hard. The last thing you want is to lose your grip and have the cleaver fly across the room. 

The blade is lightweight but will be made of a solid material that makes it sturdy as well. In most cases, the total size of a cleaver will weigh less than 3 pounds

The interesting thing about the cleaver design is that it actually doesn’t have to be super sharp.

Obviously, it does need some level of sharpness but it’s usually backed by a swing or some form with a chop. It’s the chopping motion paired with the blade that makes it so effective. 

Why Do Meat Cleavers Have A Hole? 

That hole in the corner of your cleaver is there on purpose. It’s not meant for hanging the cleaver up, either. This hole is actually designed to help reduce the friction caused by the force of cleaving into the meat

This little hole can help the cleaver not get stuck or make it easier to pull free when it does get stuck. It’s useful ultimately to remove the cleaver from the meat if there is anything holding it up when you make the chop. 

Butcher Knife

Now let’s take a look at the butcher knife. This knife is designed to trim meat and dress meat. It can cut through bone. It’s much longer than a cleaver and the blade can actually be up to 14 inches long

If a butcher is processing a full carcass of meat and working with bone, they are more likely to use a butcher knife because it can chop through the bone easier.

Where the cleaver is more short and rectangular, this blade is long and sturdy. It can also be curved. 

Butcher Knife Usage

When you compare the butcher knife to the cleaver, you find that the butcher knife is designed for the entire butchering job. It’s great for butchering an entire animal and that is what most butchers use this knife for. It’s long and it’s strong. 

The butcher knife is particularly useful for tough cuts or thick cuts that the cleaver might struggle through. This is probably not a knife you will just have sitting around in your kitchen unless you do some of your own meat processing. 

You can also use the butcher knife for skinning or cutting down fat and meat. The cuts on the butcher knife are not always used for delicate cuts or something that needs a really clean or gentle finish. The cleaver is better for that. 

What really stands out with this knife is the ability to chop through bone more easily. 

Butcher Knife Design

Now, when you compare the design of the butcher knife, you see a significant difference. This blade can be anywhere from 6-14 inches.

Most butchers that are processing large amounts of meat will use longer blades as it can do more. However, there are times that a shorter blade might make more sense. 

Despite the long blade, the handle is still about the size of any other type of kitchen knife. You’re using this more for slicing, although there might be some chopping for thick meat or bones.

The blade is long and typically has a curve that is similar to what a chef’s knife might look like. It’s just much longer than a chef’s knife

This knife is often considered to be an all-purpose knife when it comes to meat, utility needs, hunting, camping, and other uses. 

Most butcher knives weigh around 3 pounds. However, a long one might weigh a little bit more. The size that you need might depend on how you will use it. 

Related Questions

We hope this guide to cleaver vs. butcher knife is helpful to understand the differences. While they are similar in some ways they are very different at the same time. 

We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional details that might be helpful. 

Are butcher knives and meat cleavers interchangeable? 

While you might be able to use them for some things that are the same, they really were designed for different purposes.

Cleavers give you a clean and precise cut. Butcher knives were designed to handle all of the meat, including bone

How should you store a meat cleaver? 

This will depend on the storage options that you have available to you. Many people choose to safely hang them. This helps keep them out of reach and prevents accidentally hitting them in a drawer. 

Do I need a butcher knife and cleaver? 

Most likely, you can make do with one or the other. However, you might find that having both of them available serves more purposes.

It really depends on what you do in the kitchen and whether you will need to be able to cut through bone or tougher meats but also make precise cuts. Consider all of the factors to decide what you need. 

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