Butchers cut, trim, and package meat for retail sale.

Duties

Butchers typically do the following:

  • Sharpen and adjust knives and cutting equipment
  • Receive, inspect, and store meat upon delivery
  • Cut, debone, or grind pieces of meat
  • Weigh, wrap, and display meat or meat products
  • Cut or prepare meats to specification or customers’ orders
  • Store meats in refrigerators or freezers at the required temperature
  • Clean equipment and work areas to maintain health and sanitation standards

Butchers cut and trim meat from larger, wholesale portions into steaks, chops, roasts, and other cuts. They then prepare meat for sale by performing various duties, such as weighing meat, wrapping it, and putting it out for display. In retail stores, they also wait on customers and prepare special cuts of meat upon request.

Butchers in meat-processing plants are also known as meatcutters. They may have a more limited range of duties than those working in a grocery store or specialty meat shop. Because they typically work on an assembly line, those in processing plants usually perform one specific function—a single type of cut—during their shift.

Butchers use knives, grinders, or meat saws. They follow sanitation standards while working and when cleaning equipment, countertops, and working areas in order to prevent meat contamination.

Butchers who run their own retail store also track inventory, order supplies, and perform other recordkeeping duties.

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Work Environment

Butchers held about 135,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of butchers were as follows:

Food and beverage stores 79%
Animal slaughtering and processing                                      6
General merchandise stores 5

The work can be physically demanding, particularly for butchers who make repetitive cuts in processing plants. Butchers typically stand while cutting meat and often lift and move heavy carcasses or boxes of meat supplies.

Because meat must be kept at cool temperatures, butchers commonly work in cold rooms—typically around 40 degrees Fahrenheit—for extended periods.

Butchers must keep their hands and working areas clean to prevent contamination, and those working in retail settings must remain presentable for customers.

Injuries and Illnesses

Butchers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers use tools that can be dangerous, such as sharp knives and meat saws, and work in areas with slippery floors and surfaces. To reduce the risk of cuts and falls, workers wear protective clothing, such as cut-resistant gloves, heavy aprons, and nonslip footwear.

Work Schedules

Most butchers work full time. Butchers who work in grocery or retail stores may work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Workers in animal slaughtering and processing facilities may work shifts that start in the early morning or in the afternoon or evening.

Education and Training

Most butchers learn their skills through on-the-job training lasting more than a year. No formal education is required.

Education

There are no formal education requirements for becoming a butcher.

Training

Butchers typically learn their skills on the job, and the length of training varies considerably. Training for simple cutting may take only a few weeks. However, more complicated cutting tasks generally require training that may last from several months to more than a year.

Training for entry-level workers often begins by having the worker learn less difficult tasks, such as making simple cuts, removing bones, or dividing wholesale cuts into retail portions. Under the guidance of more experienced workers, trainees learn the proper use and care of tools and equipment. For example, they learn how to sharpen their knives and clean working areas and equipment.

Trainees also may learn how to shape, roll, and tie roasts; prepare sausage; and cure meat. Employees also receive training in food safety to minimize the risk of foodborne pathogens in meats.

Butchers who follow religious dietary guidelines for food preparation may be required to undergo more specialized training and certification before becoming endorsed by a religious organization to prepare meat.

Personality and Interests

Butchers and meat cutters typically have an interest in the Building, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a butcher and meat cutter, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Butchers and meat cutters should also possess the following specific qualities:

Concentration. Butchers and meat cutters must pay close attention to what they are doing to avoid injury and waste of product.

Customer-service skills. Those who work in retail stores should be courteous, be able to answer customers’ questions, and fill orders to the customers’ satisfaction.

Manual dexterity. Butchers and meat cutters use sharp knives and meat cutting equipment as part of their duties. Therefore, they must have good hand control in order to make proper cuts of meat that are the right size.

Physical stamina. Butchers and meat cutters spend hours on their feet while cutting, packaging, or storing meat.

Physical strength. Butchers and meat cutters should be strong enough to lift and carry heavy boxes of meat, which often weigh up to 50 pounds.

Pay

The median annual wage for butchers was $32,500 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,630.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for butchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

General merchandise stores $36,300
Animal slaughtering and processing                                         32,770
Food and beverage stores 32,020

Most butchers work full time. Butchers who work in grocery or retail stores may work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Workers in animal slaughtering and processing facilities may work shifts that start in the early morning or in the afternoon or evening.

Job Outlook

Employment of butchers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations.

The popularity of various meat products, such as sausages, cured meats, and specialty cuts, is expected to drive employment growth of butchers in retail stores, such as grocery and specialty food stores.

Job Prospects

Many butcher and meatcutter jobs, particularly those in processing plants, are physically demanding. As a result, job opportunities are expected to be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

For More Information

For information about the meat-processing industry and related trends, visit

North American Meat Institute

 

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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