If you are looking to make a clean and precise cut out of your meat, then a Japanese cleaver is definitely going to help you achieve that. It comes with a thin straight edge which enables you to achieve precise and controlled cutting.
Another reason many people want to include it in their set is because it is lighter and more agile compared to other styles of cleaver. This makes it easier to handle and maneuver, reducing fatigue during long cutting tasks.
But then, if you are just an enthusiast who appreciates the cultural heritage and traditional aspects associated with this knife and wants to have one, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
We’ve revealed in this post the best 5 Japanese meat cleavers as revealed by experts and experienced chefs. But before we get to them, let’s look at some background information.
What is a Japanese cleaver?
A Japanese cleaver which is commonly known as “nakiri” or “usaba” is a specialized kitchen knife traditional to the Japanese. It is primarily used for vegetable preparation.
These cleavers usually come with a thin, rectangular blade with a straight edge and are made of high-carbon steel, which offers excellent sharpness and edge retention. They also feature a D-shaped or octagonal handle made from Mongolia or ho wood.
While some Japanese cleavers may feature a granton edge to reduce friction and sticking of foods, others come plain.
NOTE: Japanese cleavers are not designed for heavy-duty purposes like cleaving bones and frozen foods. Their thin razor-sharp blades are most suitable for slicing vegetables and dicing thawed meat.
Factors to consider when looking for a Japanese meat cleaver
Whether you are looking to buy a Japanese meat cleaver online or in the nearest Asian market, you need to pay attention to these factors if you want to get the best based on your needs:
1. Blade Construction
Traditional Japanese cleavers have single-bevel which means that one side is angled while the other side is flat. There is also the double-beveled model which has symmetrical edges and is most suitable for both right and left-hand uses.
2. Blade Length
Japanese cleavers come in various lengths, usually between 6.5 inches to 9 inches. The one you choose will be determined by the length of your hand and the size of what you will be cutting. The longer ones offer more surface for cutting while the shorter ones allow for more maneuverability.
3. Blade Thickness and Weight
The weight of the cleaver would affect balance and use. For precise cuts, a thinner blade will do a better job than the thicker one. However, they are less durable.
4. Blade Material
If you are a beginner with Japanese knives, we would advise you to begin with blades made from VG10, molybdenum, and Inox steel. Although they are not the hardest available, they have relatively good edge retention, are stainless, easy to sharpen, and affordable.
But if you have more budget, you can settle for ones made with tougher steels like high carbon white steel and blue steel. They offer the best edge retention. However, they are not so easy to sharpen and would require more care.
5. Handle Design
A traditional Japanese cleaver would come with a classic-looking wooden handle for a comfortable grip. You might also find models with ergonomic handles made with synthetic materials such as Pakkawood and composite materials. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
Your goal is to get the best for your budget, right? High-quality Japanese meat cleavers can come at different prices which is majorly determined by the blade quality, construction, and brand. If you have one on sight, look at the reviews before adding it to your cart.
5 Top-Rated Japanese Meat Cleavers
Ready to find out the best Japanese meat cleavers? Let’s dive right in!
1. Zhen 3-Layer Forged Cleaver
Best as under $100 Japanese meat cleaver
Built with 3-layer forged steel, this cleaver by Zhen is a must-have for anyone looking for the best Japanese meat cleaver.
It features a single bevel VG10 blade with an HRC of 60–62 which provides exceptional sharpness, edge retention, and durability. This blade is about 6.5 inches in size and weighs about 0.58 pounds. This makes it a stable knife that can cut through a lump of regular-sized meat.
This Zhen cleaver also comes in a full tang design with a soft and grip-tight TPR handle that ensures you slice accurately. Unlike the chunky cleavers, this one is lightweight and much easier to handle.
Why We Like It
- Excellent sharpness and good edge retention.
- Lightweight and easy to handle.
- Perfect for vegetables and boneless meat.
- Well-balanced Japanese cleaver.
- If you’re looking for a double bevel, this definitely isn’t for you.
Price: $92 on Amazon
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2. Kyoku Cleaver Shogun Series
Best for Sharp Damascus blade for cutting chicken and meat
This is a medium-duty cleaver that belongs to the Kyoku Shogun series. They are made with VG10 Japanese steel core and 67–layer Damascus steel which makes them durable, razor-sharp, and beautiful.
It features a double bevel 7 inches long blade, with HRC 50–60 hardness. As such, it boasts of high performance and good edge retention.
This Kyoku cleaver also comes with a full tang design and an ergonomic composite handle that makes it easy to handle and balance. In case you find yourself cutting for a long time, the ergonomic design would help by alleviating the stress.
Why We Like It
- Unparalleled sharpness and performance
- Quality craftsmanship and well-balanced
- Comfortable ergonomic handle
- Easier-to-use double bevel blade
- Also comes with a sheath
- Not sure we saw any
Price: $83 on Amazon
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3. Shun Handcrafted Cleaver
Best for precise cutting with excellent sharpness
Although styled as a Chinese cleaver, the Shun cleaver is handcrafted in Japan. It is made with a VG-max Japanese cutting core and 69 layers of stainless Damascus cladding with 60–62 HRC. This makes it strong, and razor-sharp, with a top-notch edge retention.
With a 16-degree edge, it easily glides through meats and vegetables under it. The blade length is 7 inches and it features a single bevel. However, it is suitable for both left and right-hand users.
This is possible due to its D-shaped styled handle made from ebony-finished Pakkawood. If you’re settling for this, you must resolve to follow the cleaning instructions.
Why We Like It
- Highly sharp quality blade with sound edge retention.
- Beautifully designed and retains the classic Japanese look.
- Fairly balanced but won’t have problems with grip and handling
- Relatively lightweight and easy to use.
- The price is on the high side
Price: $269 on Amazon
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4. Dalstrong Shogun Series Hybrid Cleaver
Best as a stylish and high-performance Japanese meat cleaver
The Dalstrong shogun series cleaver is made of AUS-10V Japanese steel which is characterised by high carbon content. As such, it can be easily sharpened but relatively more brittle than other materials.
It features a double bevel blade that is 8 inches long and a blade angle of about 8–12 degrees on both sides. This makes it ruthlessly sharp and can slice foods with precision.
This full-tang knife also comes with an ergonomic G10 handle which ensures the knife is comfortable and stays in your hand while in use. This Japanese meat cleaver would be an interesting addition to your kitchen if you prepare something more stylish than the classic styles.
Why We Like It
- Ruthlessly sharp and easy to sharpen.
- Stylish design and ergonomic handle.
- Features high-quality real Damascus blades.
- Has a well-balanced design.
- Are you skeptical about Japanese cleavers made in China?
Price: $197 on Amazon
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5. Global Stainless Steel Japanese Cleaver
Best as a unique and durable Japanese meat cleaver
This cleaver by Global Knives is made of Cromova 18 which is simply a steel composed of carbon, chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum. It has a fine-grain structure and can be sharpened razor-sharp.
The cleaver blade is 7 inches long with double bevel edges which makes it a great choice for both left and right hand users.
As you can see from the image above, the whole of this cleaver is entirely built of the same material. However, the chunky handle is designed ergonomically to improve comfort and grip. It weighs about 0.3lbs and is well-balanced on both ends.
Why We Like It
- Very sharp with commendable edge retention.
- Although it’s a bit heavy, it is a well-balanced cleaver.
- Unique. Classic style.
- Suitable for both right and left-handed users.
- If you’ve small hands, you might want to look away from this one.
Price: $200 on Amazon
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Types of Japanese cleavers
There are basically two types of traditional Japanese cleaver:
- Nakiri: Has a tall blade profile, straight edge, and versatile.
- Usaba: Has a single bevel blade and is less versatile.
Both of them are primarily used for cutting vegetables. They’re not designed for heavy-duty tasks. But you can use them to cut boneless meat and fish.
Learn more about the different types of Japanese kitchen knives.
What’s your next step?
Ideally, Japanese cleavers are not designed for heavy-duty purposes like cleaving bony meats. However, you can use them to cut boneless meat, chicken, and fish. Any of the above Japanese meat cleavers reviewed in this article can help you achieve that.