What is a Butcher?

A butcher is a professional meat cutter who prepares tasty cuts of meat and products that consumers can cook and enjoy. They are part of the food processing occupation and are responsible for ensuring proper storage and presentation and cutting of all types of meat, poultry, and fish. The services of a butcher are necessary for that tasty steak for the barbecue, a preferred quality of ground beef, or the right filet of fish. They know how to cut meat properly so that it can be cooked and served for maximum tenderness and taste quality. Often they are also enlisted in the preparation of wild game, so that hunters can enjoy the fruits of their hunt without having to do all the dirty work.

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What does a Butcher do?

Duties may depend to a degree on place of employment. In most retail establishments, a butcher is responsible for receiving and storing meat products in accordance with sanitary and health regulations to maintain meat quality. They package and price meat items after cutting, and prepare meat displays. Butchers know how to roll and tie roasts, prepare sausage, and cure meat. They are usually experts in how to cook each cut of meat for maximum flavor, quality and taste.

Often in a retail environment the job includes customer service, negotiation with suppliers, special order cuts, record-keeping and inventory. A meat-cutter in a processing plant has a more comprehensive set of tasks. He or she must use special equipment to slaughter, break, cut, bone and trim meats into cuts that will then be processed and sold in both domestic and international markets. Animal carcasses must be broken down into larger pieces or prepared for processing. Processing plants may involve the production of products like sausage and processed meats, and many times custom orders must be prepared to specifications for restaurants, hotels, or institutions.

What does it take to be a Butcher?

There are no formal educational requirements for butchers and many learn on the job. Most employers prefer workers who have at least high school or some postsecondary training. There are specific courses offered in some countries, and most countries have regulations that must be followed in the meat cutting industry. In Canada there are Retail Meat Cutting certificate programs, and Meat Management programs. In the U.S. certification agencies set certain standards that must be met. A butcher with postsecondary education such as a bachelor or master's degree can advance into management and administration roles. Related education is also helpful, for example, a degree in dairy science. There are also related degree programs that allow the transfer of skills into other occupations, such as meat merchandising or marketing.

Learning through experience can involve a short period or a longer one, depending on the type of job being done. Butchers often start out as meat cutters in a processing facility and advance to greater skill levels. Training as a retail butcher can take one or two years to learn the skills needed. Butchers often enter the occupation after becoming experienced in a related one, such as a line worker.

Continuing education is also important in this profession, as meat cutters need to learn new ways of managing evolving meat preferences and food trends. Ongoing scientific knowledge regarding food-borne pathogens and contaminants make these types of seminars and training courses very important.

Butchers may also specialize. Certain religious groups require their meat cut to specific standards, and workers in this field may require a lengthy apprenticeship and certification process.

Among the skills required to be a butcher:

  • understanding of good hygiene practices

  • good vision and depth perception

  • hand-eye coordination

  • concentration and the ability to pay close attention to tasks

  • good health - a physical exam may be an employment prerequisite

  • stamina and strength to stand for long hours and physically work with heavy pieces of meat

  • ability to work independently and in a team

  • able to communicate with customers, supervisors, and coworkers

What is the workplace of a Butcher like?

Working conditions are usually indoors and in temperature-controlled conditions. Meat cutters are on their feet all day and must lift heavy items routinely. They work with sharp instruments like saws and knives, and must adhere to safety precautions, since there is a higher rate of injury in this profession. Shift work is often involved.

Butchers can work in meat processing plants or in retail businesses that can include delicatessens, supermarkets, and meat markets. In specialty shops the butcher often interacts with customers, providing information and education about how to use specific cuts of meat.

In a processing plant meat cutters often work on an assembly line, doing routine cutting work until they have learned more advanced skills. In these environments workers may be exposed to high temperatures and loud noise. They require the use of dangerous tools and machinery, and workers must observe safety and sanitation regulations.

There is opportunity for advancement into supervisory or management positions, and some meat cutters go on to open their own markets or delicatessens. Related industries also provide opportunities for sales, quality assurance, or meat inspection careers.

How much does a Butcher earn?

Meat cutters can earn an average of $15 to $20 an hour in Canada, although industrial butchers are at the lower end of the wage scale. In the U.S. the 2010 median wage was about $24,000. In the UK wages average about £20,000 a year

Learn more about being a Butcher