Meat Cleavers | Cook's Illustrated

Meat Cleavers

Published January 2004

How we tested

Every good cook has a favorite knife. For some it is an impeccably honed chef's knife that can reduce an onion to confetti in a matter of seconds. For others, it is a paring knife so beloved that they do not even own a vegetable peeler. For many of us in the test kitchen, it is a perfectly balanced meat cleaver possessing a blade as sharp as a Lady Bic and as strong as a woodman's axe. But does it matter which brand?

We tested five meat cleavers for their comfort, balance, and performance while cutting through meat and bone. The tests were conducted with chicken parts and were performed by five different members of our test kitchen, possessing various hand sizes and arm strengths.

A cleaver comes in especially handy when chopping up meat and bones for a stock. It's also great when dealing with lobster. Capitalizing on the opportunity to release some stress, the testers chopped chicken wings, breasts, legs, and thighs with each cleaver and recorded their conclusions. The best of the lot featured a razor-sharp blade and perfectly balanced design that easily finished hacking jobs none of the other cleavers could tackle. For a more reasonable price, our Best Buy model offered a comfortable handle, a sharp blade, and a comparatively light weight, which made it popular among testers with less arm strength.

Of the other models tested, two provided good control, though some testers felt the squared-off handles on these models did not provide a secure grip. Bringing up the rear was a model which had two major strikes against it: It featured a wooden handle whose porous construction could cause cross-contamination, and its thick blade was not sharp enough for many testers, requiring the use of a sawing motion rather than a quick chop.

Although the meat cleaver may not be the go-to knife for carving a turkey or peeling an apple, it is certainly an invaluable tool in the kitchen. Its formidable size and weight make it a formidable adversary to even the toughest bone or shell.

Try Free for 14 Days

Included in your trial membership

  • 20+ years of Cook's Illustrated foolproof recipes
  • In-depth videos of recipes and cooking techniques
  • SAVE all your Favorites for easy access
  • Up-to-Date reviews and product buying guides

Get everything Cook's Illustrated — become the Smartest Cook you know, guaranteed.

Email is required
How we use your email address

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.