Japanese Meat Cleavers 101: Types, Factors, and Purchase Options

Japanese meat cleavers come in traditional and Chinese styles, each with unique benefits; choose based on your cooking needs and budget from reputable sellers like Korin and MTC Kitchen.

Meat Cleaver

The knives available to a Japanese chef are enviable not only for their incredible craftsmanship, but for their specific utility in the kitchen.

For every job, there is a knife that’s designed to handle the task in the most efficient and effective way possible.

So when it comes to finding the right Japanese meat cleaver for your home kitchen, you’ll need to get a little bit more specific about what exactly you intend to use the cleaver for.

Shizuo Tsuji’s seminal tome on Japanese cuisine, titled Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art (published by Kodansha International Ltd. in 1980) has been indispensable in providing the context found in this guide.

In it, you’ll learn both the traditional role of a deba-bocho cleaver in the Japanese kitchen, as well as how some chefs use a larger, heavier knife style borrowed from Chinese cuisine to do the job.

And of course, we’ll cover what you should be looking for when it comes to buying a Japanese meat cleaver, as well as the best online outlets to purchase one from.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, this site earns from qualifying purchases. Thank you!

What Is A Japanese Meat Cleaver?

Following Tsuji’s classification in his chapter on knives, the deba-bocho or Japanese cleaver can come in a variety of sizes. Saying that it is “basically a fish knife”, he goes on to describe its use in cutting chicken and meat as well.

Most importantly, he clarifies which sizes of Japanese cleavers are appropriate for chopping through bone:

The medium and large sizes with blades from 7 to 12 inches long are for average or heavy work.”

Tsuji then goes on to add that “this knife seems thick and heavy to most Westerners at first, but in fact it is very versatile and can do delicate work.”

It just so happens that this is where there may be confusion about what exactly constitutes a Japanese meat cleaver.

Simply put, there is no hard and fast distinction in a traditional Japanese kitchen between a chef’s knife, and a cleaver; it’s only a matter of size, weight, and how the knife is used.

Furthermore, the deba-bocho cleaver does not much resemble the common image of a meat cleaver; its tapered blade and pointed end will remind most American cooks of a French chef’s knife, not of a cleaver used for separating bones and meat.

It’s worth noting, however, that the deba-bocho differs from a Japanese chef’s knife or gyuto knife in its handle design and the thickness of the steel used to make it.

To clear this up, we’ll have to look at a second type of cleaver sometimes grouped with Japanese knives: The chuka-bocho, or Chinese cleaver, covered in the next section.

Types of Japanese Meat Cleavers

Essentially, then, you’ll need to make a choice between two types of Japanese meat cleavers:

  1. A long and heavy version of the deba-bocho, or traditional Japanese cleaver.
  2. The large, heavy, and rectangular chuka-bocho, borrowed from the Chinese chef’s knife arsenal.

Of the two, the traditional Japanese cleaver will be lighter and more versatile, allowing the home cook to precisely debone chickens and other small fowl.

For pure chopping power, however, the Chinese cleaver may be a better choice; its exceptionally heavy blade will do most of the work of cutting through bones for you, preventing strain on the wrists and allowing for more efficient butchering.

Considerations for Choosing A Japanese Meat Cleaver

First of all, then, you’ll need to decide: Are you looking for a traditional Japanese cleaver (the deba-bocho), or a heftier Chinese cleaver (the chuka-bocho)?

If you’re looking primarily to cut fish and chicken, the Japanese cleaver is likely the better choice. For butchering beef and pork, the Chinese cleaver’s added weight makes it much easier to use.

And indeed, the price difference between the two knives may play a big factor in your decision. While even an entry-level deba-bocho may cost $100 or more, serviceable chuka-bocho may be found at your local Asian grocery store for around $20.

Though the level of craftsmanship of the former is undeniable, it will always be true that the cleaver is the knife that takes the most damage in your kitchen.

So unless you’re planning on cutting whole fish, the Chinese cleaver is a more user-friendly and economical option.

If your heart is set on owning an authentic Japanese cleaver, you’ll first need to consider what size – both blade thickness and blade length you’ll need.

From personal experience, a 7- to 8-inch blade is most appropriate for the widest variety of jobs; any larger and the weight can be cumbersome, while any smaller may have difficulty in cutting through chicken bones and thick meat, much less spare ribs.

And while a complete discussion of what specifications to look for is outside the scope of this introductory guide, suffice it to say that buying from a reputable supplier is the best way to ensure that your knife will be top quality.

You’ll also need to consider metal type (basic stainless steel, high carbon stainless steel, etc).

Where to Buy a Japanese Meat Cleaver

Thanks to the popularity of cooking competitions like Iron Chef, it’s easier now than ever before to buy a high-quality Japanese knife online.

By avoiding big-box online retailers and sticking with providers of specialty Japanese products, you’ll be much more likely to get the best quality knife at the most reasonable price.

Two online purveyors of Japanese knives stand out above the rest: Korin and MTC Kitchen.

The more recently founded of the two companies, Korin has been crafting and selling fine Japanese knives, kitchenwares, and barware since 1982. If you’re totally new to the world of Japanese knives, their highly informative educational materials will get you up to speed on the specifics of all their wares.

Founded in 1926, MTC Kitchen provides the full range of supplies necessary to run a Japanese kitchen. From knives to cookware, plates and bowls to rice cookers, they do a fine job of making real Japanese equipment available to American consumers.

Check out their page on deba knives to browse through a full selection of Japanese meat cleavers.

SaleBestseller No. 1
imarku Cleaver Knife 7 Inch Meat Cleaver - SUS440A Japan High Carbon Stainless Steel Butcher Knife with Ergonomic Handle, Ultra Sharp, Useful Kitchen Gadgets for Home and Restaurant
  • Multi-purpose Cleaver: The classic 7" Chinese kitchen knife easily handles your everyday kitchen needs such as chopping, mincing, slicing, boning, cutting meat, vegetables and fruits, and flattening garlic or ginger. Easy resharpening, cleaning and maintenance. Designed and made for the everyday needs at home and restaurants’ kitchens. Nice kitchen essentials for new home.
  • Professionally Ground Sharp Blades: Hand sharpened by experienced artisans. The kitchen knife has an 18° angle on both sides of the blade and a very thin, ultra-sharp blade thickness of 2.3mm. The wide blade of this chopper knife allows the chef's fingers to work perfectly away from the cutting surface. Durable and strong, it cuts into large pieces of food with great ease.
  • Extremely HC Outstanding Stainless Steel from Japan: This imarku Meat Cleaver is forged from excellent Japan imported high carbon stainless steel SUS440A for high quality, easy maintenance, edge retention and long lasting sharpness. It has extremely strong rust and corrosion resistance.
  • Ergonomic Pakkawood Handle: The wooden handle of the imarku Chef’s Cleaver knife is made of Pakka wood for excellent corrosion resistance, durability and easy maintain. Its handle is ergonomic and provides a comfortable grip and high maneuverability. Prevent slippage, sturdy and effortless. For left-handed users, it is also of great performance.
  • 100% Lifetime Warranty: We guarantee lifetime free replacement, so you don’t have to wonder if you are risking your money. Please feel free to contact us with any questions, our professional customer support is always here for you! Comes with a luxury gift box, which makes it a wise choice for Christmas gifts, mothers day gifts and fathers day gifts to culinary students, home cooks, professional chefs, etc.
SaleBestseller No. 2
PAUDIN Nakiri Knife - 7" Razor Sharp Meat Cleaver and Vegetable Kitchen Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Multipurpose Asian Chef Knife for Home and Kitchen with Ergonomic Handle
  • ALL-PURPOSE NAKIRI KNIFE: The classic 7 inch kitchen knife is flexible for all kinds of heavy duty preps, like slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing. A truly all-around cooking knife, is easy to re-sharpen, clean and maintain.
  • ULTRA SHARP EDGE: The blade of PAUDIN cleavers is made of 5Cr15Mov stainless steel (not real Damascus) with 56+ hardness. The razor sharp cutting edge allows you to cut foods effortlessly. All the world-renowned cutlery brands adopt the same steel, which is rust -proof and durable for long time use.
  • ERGONOMIC HANDLE: The ergonomics shape perfect balances the handle and the thin blade at the pinch point, ensures the ease of movement. The soft pakkawood handle is integrated with the Japanese nakiri knife's blade, creating comfortable grip.
  • WAVE PATTERN: The special waved pattern is strikingly beautiful like a Damascus knife. It decreases food friction and makes the vegetable cleaver easy to clean and maintain.
  • ELEGANT GIFT: This meat vetetable chef knife is a best gift with beautiful packing for Christmas, Weddings, Birthdays, Father's Day, Mother's Day! We Offer 100% SATISFACTION OR MONEY BACK policy. PAUDIN provides a lifetime against defects in material and workmanship.
Bestseller No. 3
KYOKU Samurai Series - 7" Cleaver Knife - Full Tang - Japanese High Carbon Steel Kitchen Knives - Pakkawood Handle with Mosaic Pin - with Sheath & Case
  • SUPERIOR STEEL - Manufactured with an ultra-sharp, cobalt-added, and cryogenically treated steel cutting core, this 7 in. Japanese cleaver boasts unrivaled performance and incredible edge retention.
  • ERGONOMIC & WELL-BALANCED - The ergonomically designed blade helps alleviate fatigue and finger pains from long periods of slicing or chopping, perfectly blending performance and comfort.
  • DURABLE HANDLE - The meticulously constructed, triple-riveted Pakkawood handle has gone through special treatment, making it extremely impervious to heat, cold, and moisture; accented with a mosaic pin.
  • EXTREME SHARPNESS - The ruthlessly sharp edge is handcrafted by seasoned artisans to a mirror polish at 13-15° per sided using the traditional 3-step Honbazuke method; cryogenically treated for incredible hardness, flexibility, and corrosion resistance.
  • LIFETIME WARRANTY - Our knives come with a lifetime warranty, and we offer free exchange or return if the item is defective.
Bestseller No. 4
SYOKAMI Meat Cleaver Chef Knife, 7.7 Inch Multifunction Butcher Knife With Herb Stripper And Sheath, Chinese Cleaver Heavy Duty Bone Chopper, Meat Cutting, Damascus Pattern Full Tang Wood Handle
  • 2-in-1 blade design: SYOKAMI pioneered the combination of a vegetable knife and a meat cleaver. The front half of the blade is hand-sharpened to 15° per side, which can handle various vegetables and meats; the back half of the edge is 30° per side and can easily chop bones. You only need to buy this one knife, and you can have the functions of two knives.
  • Comes with 3 hole herb stripper to help you speed up meal preparation, quickly and effectively peel the leaves from the stems, such as the leaves of herbs, kale, beet, basil, thyme, rosemary, and other plants. No more hassle of switching tools, this kitchen knife will help you prepare meals faster.
  • Humanized shock-absorbing hole design: Using an ordinary big knife often causes hand pain due to the excessive reaction force of chopping, resulting in losing control of the blade. The designers of SYOKAMI are aware of this danger, the added shock-absorbing holes' design can disperse the chopping reaction force; this way, even difficult tasks can be tackled easily.
  • For non-slip consideration, we have added a contemporary gear teeth element to this cleaver chef knife. Combined with the overall classic shape, it is both beautiful and practical - ensuring a stable grip even when wet and ensuring your safety while handling your food.
  • Premium materials, outstanding craftsmanship, cutting-edge technology, stunning design elements, and exquisite gift packaging make for an ideal gift - birthday, wedding, anniversary, mom, dad, wife, husband, and those who cook in your life. We stand behind our knives with a 100% SATISFACTION and LIFETIME WARRANTY. Try it risk-free. We know you'll love it!

Japanese Meat Cleaver FAQs

Here are a few common questions about Japanese meat cleavers.

What are Deba knives for?

This is a Japanese-style knife that is mainly used for cutting fish. There are some rare exceptions when it may be used for cutting other meats as well, but it is primarily used on seafood of some variety or another.

What is a Usuba knife?

This is a traditional Japanese knife that is used specifically to cut vegetables. You are likely to see this type of knife come out at Japanese Hibacchi-themed restaurants in particular.

Do Japanese use cleavers?

There are multiple types of cleavers used by the Japanese including the deba-bocho cleaver that is traditional and has deep roots in Japanese culture.

What is a chuka bocho cleaver?

These are Chinese-based knives that are often used as a primary kitchen knife for nearly every type of kitchen task imaginable. Someone in China would view this knife as one of their primary tools for use in any means of cooking that they take up in a given day.

What is a Bunka knife?

This is a knife that is used for general purpose cooking needs in the kitchen. It is one of the most popular types of knives out there, and it was once as popular as the famed Santoku knives, though the popularity of any given knife tends to ebb and flow with time.

Why do Asian chefs use cleavers?

Cleavers make it easier to slice, dice, and move meat and vegetables around wherever they need to go. It is quite common for Asian chefs to use cleavers as part of their cooking process at this time, and it is something that people are likely to see if they go to a Japanese or Chinese restaurant.

What are cleavers best used for?

They can move through food very rapidly and effectively. When dealing with a large quantity of food, it is very common for chefs to use cleavers so they can move the food around at will and serve it to those who have ordered it. They are also great for cutting through the food effectively.

What is the difference between a butcher knife and cleaver?

A cleaver and a butcher knife are very similar to one another, but the cleaver weighs a bit less, and it is more agile at cutting through meat than its counterpart, the butcher knife. Given this, chefs have moved more in favor of cleavers as compared to butcher knives for cooking. Also, they have quirks like holes that call back to the past of butchering.

Similar Posts