What You Need to Butcher a Large Animal

Get a good meat cleaver

Meat cleaver

I had a talk with a friend of mine who has been a butcher for many years.  The discussion was on butchering large animals.  Something most of us have very little experience at.  He said that the tools you needed were a good bone saw and a good sharp 8-inch knife.  A saw from a miter box will work.  Most of us can get these easy enough. I see them every week in garage sales.  A third tool that he suggested was a meat cleaver.  A cleaver is a large knife that varies in its shape but usually resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet.

In learning about cleavers, I found out there are two types, vegetable and meat cleavers.  Vegetable cleavers are smaller and sharper.  They are used for chopping up vegetables.  The meat cleaver is used mostly for hacking through bones its broad side can also be used for crushing, such as using it to crush garlic.

A good heavy-duty meat cleaver can weigh two-pounds, have a full-tang with an 8-inch-bladed.  It can be used for taking apart chickens, hacking through animal bones, mincing beef or pork for hand-chopped burgers or dumplings, and cleaving hearty vegetables.

Vegetable cleaver

In contrast to other kitchen knives, the meat cleaver has a tough edge meant to withstand repeated blows directly into thick meat, bone and dense cartilage.  This is accomplished by using softer steel and a thicker blade.  Harder steel and a thinner blade will fracture more readily.  I have seen meat cleaver in which the back of the blade can be a ¼-inch thick.  A meat cleaver is designed to be swung like a hammer.

The edge of a meat cleaver does not need to be extremely sharp, because the knife’s design, like that of a hatchet or an axe, relies on sheer momentum to cut efficiently.  The momentum depends on how hard you swing, and how heavy the cleaver is.

I have seen someone who is experienced with a meat cleaver, cut up a chicken in way under a minute.

A meat cleaver is one of these items that are not necessary to your survival in an emergency, but may make your life a bit easier.


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4 Responses to What You Need to Butcher a Large Animal

  1. David says:

    If you need anything more than a 6-8″ chef knife to cut up a chicken, and just as fast, you’re doing it wrong. All the cuts are at the joints, except if you want to cut each breast into 2 pieces which the chef knife can easily do. For butchering larger animals a cleaver is probably a good tool.

  2. Robert says:


    I got a veggie cleaver a few years ago for something like 8 bucks new at an Asian Supermarket in California. I love using it, and once in a while I use it to cut up a chicken just for the fun of it. Mostly I use an 8″ chef knife, though. I know that if I want to butcher my pigs at home (I plan to someday far off in the future) then I’ll need a heavy duty meat cleaver. I’m on the lookout.


  3. Matt in Oklahoma says:

    hmmm, its a good tool dont get me wrong but outside of base camp/home meh maybe not so much, and i’ve not used one. I work my meat just like i’m gonna after SHTF so hear me out for a minute.
    As a hunter, I butcher around 7 deer a year as well as other animals like hogs, cows, antelope etc. and have no need for a cleaver. IMO if you are trying to obtain store cuts then yes you might need this and even a mechanical saw but, for the purposes of survival, boning the meat is a much better option. Something to consider is after you have succesfully downed an animal or caught fish post SHTF then you have to do something with the meat. IMO post SHTF we will not have the luxery of refridgeration so you have to do something with this meat. That means canning, brining, curing or drying. In canning and drying you certanly do not want bones and canning post SHTF without electricty, a possibility, is difficult but doable but resource and labor intensive. You go back to the not so far of days of Pioneers and Mt Men and look to the history of what are now called Native Americans they dried alot of their meat for LTS. Tsalagi
    Think about this too after the power goes whatcha gonna do with all that stuff in the freezer? Maybe you need a clever for that to quickly chop that meat up in thinner slices and get it drying on a firepit, you do have a firepit/grill and wood/charcoal stored right?
    There things that need to be done with something heavier than a filet knife for for sure like seperating a rib cage to clean the lung material out of the animal, which is done in the field, and i’m not gonna carry a heavy tool in my pack for just that. The knife can be placed against the rib and while pushing forward give it a twist which helps the blade dig in and the rib will break. Ribs are not a strong bone and any quality knife can handle this without chipping the blade.
    If i’m quartering an animal, like a deer or elk, to pack it out of the field then the pelvic needs to be seperated but I have found that by placing both hand on the corners and giving a sharp downward thrust, as in cpr, the pelvic will break and no tool is needed. The pelvic is strong standing up but not lying down which is why you cant get run over by a car without the damage but can hold you weight and someone elses standing, make sense?
    I read the chicken posts above and 1 chicken is easy enough but if you do alot well maybe this is where the clever shines. I used to cook a bit for a large operation and well we did alot of them, fed 1k a meal, and it had to be quick so the cuts were fast n furious but again for our purposes where ya gonna get alot of chickens post SHTF?
    Dunno just my 2 cents as someone who works with meat outside the butcher shop and practices for bad days. I do use a machete to remove the heads as a time saver but the knife will do just fine too. Hunting, the only way to get long term meat post SHTF, will take on a whole new meaning and the neighbors cat is more likely to be on the menu than a deer and i sure dont need a clever for that LOL

    • admin says:

      This is an excellent reply, you have more experience with this than I have. I think under the my circumstances, I probably think a little more about bugging in than bugging out, so i don’t always worry about the weight as much as I should. If you get a chance I would like to hear more about how you are drying your meat over a firepit/grill. There is always something else to learn and I have learned a lot from you.
      Thanks Howard

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