Butchers are responsible for preparing various types of meat for consumption. They are skilled at slaughtering animals, slicing the carcasses into portions, preparing those portions for retail sale, and storing them to ensure they’re safe to eat at a later time. On a typical day, you might find a butcher at work in any number of settings. They might be working in a small neighborhood grocery store or at a large nationwide meat-packing plant.
Their job is physically demanding and can be risky if not done properly. It also requires extensive knowledge of various types of meat—how to properly cut them, how to prepare them for consumption, etc.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a butcher and what it takes to become one yourself.
Butcher Job Duties
Butcher duties and responsibilities include the following:
- Cutting meat from large carcasses or small primal cuts into smaller portions, using a variety of hand tools such as a knife or cleaver
- Preparing chickens for cooking by removing feathers and plucking their skins
- Trimming fat and gristle from the meat and preparing it for packaging
- Storing meats for later use in a freezer or refrigerated case, and labeling packages to indicate type of meat, cut, weight, and price
- Operating processing equipment such as grinders, slicers, and saws to cut meat
- Maintaining quality control to ensure food safety guidelines are me
- Preparing orders for special cuts or unusual items that are requested by customers
Butcher Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for butchers is $36,790. The top earners make over $75,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work in food and meat processing plants.
Opportunities for butchers are expected to decline over the next decade. This decline is due to the growing automation of the industry.
Butcher Job Requirements
Butchers must possess the following requirements:
Education: Butchers usually begin their career with a high school diploma or a GED. Butcher apprenticeships are available for individuals who want to learn the skills of the profession. Apprenticeship programs often last between one and two years, allowing candidates to earn real-world experience and earn certifications at the same time. Applicants must be at least 18 years old.
Training: Many butchers receive most of their on-the-job training while working in a commercial kitchen. They can learn how to properly slaughter animals and then cut and prepare meat for consumers. Some butchers may also work under a more experienced butcher who guides them through the process of working in a commercial kitchen.
Certifications: While no certification is required for butchers, some culinary organizations offer certifications for meat cutters and meat processors. For example, the Range Academy offers the Meat Cutter certificate, and the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) offers certification programs. Some states also require butchers to be formally licensed.
Butchers need the following skills:
Physical stamina: Butchers must be able to lift equipment and tools as well as carcasses. They stand on their feet for long periods of time and work with their hands throughout the day, so they need to be physically fit.
Safety procedure skills: Butchers must know how to follow safety procedures in order to avoid accidents on the job site. A butcher’s job requires the use of sharp knives, and he or she must know how to handle them safely.
Customer service skills: Because butchers must communicate with customers, they need good customer service skills and communication skills.
Food safety skills: Because butchers handle raw meat, they must follow strict rules about food safely. The ability to recognize unsafe practices can help prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Time management skills: In order to keep up with orders from customers, a butcher must work quickly and efficiently.
Teamwork: In large butcheries, teamwork is crucial to the success of the store, and butchers must be able to cooperate with their managers and teammates.
Butcher Work Environment
Butchers work at meat-packing and processing plants, grocery stores, and restaurants. They cut and prepare beef, pork, poultry, and other meats, and may also process and package seafood or dairy products.
The smell of the meat—blood, fat, and animal tissue—can be strong. In addition, butchers need to move heavy equipment and must bend repeatedly as they use knives on carcasses. Butchers often stand for long periods of time, and their jobs can become physically demanding if they have to pack large quantities of meat.
Butcher Career Path
The work is hard, and most entry-level butchers are not union members. They may be required to work split shifts, weekends, and holidays. Butchers usually learn on the job by watching more experienced workers; they must be willing to start at the bottom of the pay scale. Their average starting wages are low, but many butchers enjoy an increase in wages when they become proficient at their jobs.
Five Years On The Job
Butchers with five years of experience can advance to journeyman status. Seniority in the field is important; in most shops, butchers who have reached journeyman rank in their craft are paid better than other workers. A few butchers begin working in management positions at this time. Many choose to leave the field altogether for related fields such as meat processing (where they can make more money), food service, or food distribution. Those who remain are satisfied with their jobs because they enjoy the physical labor involved.
Ten Years On The Job
At ten years, most butchers have gained a reputation for being able to perform well under pressure. Their experience makes them valuable assets to any establishment that employs them. They may have moved up into management positions or begun their own business enterprises dealing with meat products.
Here are three trends influencing how butchers work. Butchers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increased Awareness of Sustainable Food Practices
Over the past few years, more people have become interested in sustainable food practices and the use of meat as a luxury product rather than a dietary staple.
This has led to increased demand for butchers who can not only offer advice on the selection of meat products, but also explain how they were raised and slaughtered.
Increase in demand for meat alternatives
Many consumers are concerned about the impact of meat consumption on their health and the environment, and this has led to an increase in demand for meat alternatives.
These alternatives include vegan proteins, such as tofu and seitan, which can be prepared to taste like popular meats such as chicken or beef.
Although these products can be time-consuming to prepare, their popularity suggests that butchers will need to add alternative protein options to their menus in order to stay relevant.
Decreasing Value of Physical Skills
Although butchers are not expected to disappear any time soon, the changing nature of the meat industry means that new hires will likely have less physical labor to do.
This is because more meat is being sold pre-packaged and pre-prepared, which requires less time spent preparing individual cuts of meat. In addition, supermarkets are shifting towards self-service butcher counters, where customers can place their own orders at automated machines instead of having an employee prepare each cut.
How to Become a Butcher
1. Planning Your Career
Butchering is a physically demanding job that requires long hours and consistent physical activity. Therefore, people who aren’t comfortable in these conditions should think twice before pursuing this career path. It’s also important to know that most butchers start their careers as an apprentice and then work their way up through the ranks. There may be a period of time when you make less money than your peers.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for butchers emphasize their meat preparation and cutting skills. It is important to list the type of meat you cut and sold as well as your ability to grind, debone, and prepare meats.
In addition to detailing your work history, be sure to highlight any achievements such as having won awards or completing a specific certification.
If you have any training or certifications in food safety be sure to mention them in your resume as this demonstrates your knowledge of safe food handling practices, which is essential for this type of job.
3. Applying for Jobs
Once you’re ready to begin the search, look for openings at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and other meat-selling establishments. Your first step should be finding the right company to work for—when considering potential employers, ask yourself what type of environment you’d be most comfortable in. Think about the other people you’d be working with, how much support you’ll receive from your employer, and what kind of perks are available to employees.
4. Ace the Interview
When preparing for an interview for a meat cutting job, you will want to highlight your experience in the field.
When discussing your experience, be sure to include the different types of meat you have worked with—beef, lamb, pork, poultry—as well as any special certifications you may have earned. Be prepared to discuss safety procedures in detail, including hygiene during the slaughtering process, sanitizing knives after each animal is killed, using sharp knives throughout the process, etc.
It’s also important to highlight your communication skills. You will be communicating with co-workers frequently regarding workflow and inventory tracking. Be prepared to discuss how effectively you can communicate with others to achieve your goals. You should also be ready to give examples of when you were not able to meet customer requests, and how you handled the situation. If there were any problems leading up to this experience, explain how you addressed them so they don’t happen again in the future.