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A butcher is a professional meat cutter who prepares a variety of cuts of meat, poultry and fish for consumers to buy. The services of a butcher are needed to provide us with a steak for the barbecue, a preferred quality of ground beef for our hamburgers, or for the perfect filet of fish. They know how to cut meat, poultry and fish properly so that it can be cooked and served for maximum tenderness and taste quality.
Duties depend 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 very knowledgable in how to cook each cut of meat for maximum flavour, and can give helpful tips to their customers.
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 smaller 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.
Among the skills required to be a butcher:
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.
There are no formal educational requirements for butchers and many learn on the job. Most employers prefer workers who have at least a high school education or some post secondary 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 post secondary 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 or long period of time, depending on the type of job being done. Butchers often start out as meat cutters in a processing facility and advance to a higher level. Training as a retail butcher can take one to two years to learn the skills needed.
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 butchers in this field may require a lengthy apprenticeship and certification process.
When a butcher takes an animal to the butcher block and starts cutting away, it isn’t just a series of violent hacks at the animal in question. The butcher actually performs a very delicate procedure that is specifically designed to increase your enjoyment of the meat offered to you.
Butcher’s shops are an institution, providing fine cuts of meat and an expert service. While supermarket deli counters have eaten into the market in recent years, butcher’s shops are still popular among loyal customers that value the traditional experience.
The title Master Butcher carries weight in recognition of achieving the highest level of expertise in its field. With this in mind, I spoke with one of Buedel’s own Master Butchers, Peter Heflin, to share his insight.
Butchers are responsible for turning large pieces of meat into retail-ready portions that can be purchased by consumers and restaurants.
Mark Farquar: 'I knew as soon as I stepped into the shop that this was my life.'
Danny Catullo, owner of Catullo Prime Meats, explains why the job of butcher has become a whole lot hipper and more desirable than it used to be. And not just because it offers all the Turducken you can eat.