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

Duties

Butchers and meat cutters typically do the following:

  • Sharpen and adjust cutting equipment
  • Receive, inspect, and store meat upon delivery
  • Cut, bone, or grind pieces of meat
  • Weigh, wrap, and display cuts of meat
  • Cut or prepare meats to specification or customer’s orders
  • Store meats in refrigerators or freezers at the required temperature
  • Keep inventory of meat sales and order meat supplies
  • Clean equipment and work areas to maintain health and sanitation standards

Butchers and meat cutters 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 may wait on customers and prepare special cuts of meat upon request.

Butchers and meat cutters in meat processing plants 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 cut—during their shift.

Butchers and meat cutters use sharp tools such as knives, grinders, or meat saws. They must follow sanitation standards when cleaning equipment, counter tops, and working areas in order to prevent meat contamination.

Some butchers run their own retail store. In these settings, they usually track inventory, order supplies, and perform other recordkeeping duties.

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Work Environment

Butchers and meat cutters held about 136,700 jobs in 2012. About 73 percent worked in grocery stores, and another 6 percent worked in animal slaughtering and processing plants in 2012.

The work can be physically demanding, particularly for those who make repetitive cuts in processing plants. In addition, butchers and meat cutters typically stand all day, and workers often must lift and move heavy carcasses or boxes of meat supplies.

Because meat must be kept at certain temperatures, working in cold rooms—below 40 degrees Fahrenheit—for extended periods is common.

Butchers and meat cutters, especially those who fill customer’s orders in grocery or specialty stores, must keep their hands and working areas clean to prevent meat contamination and to be presentable for customers.

Injuries and Illnesses

Butchers and meat cutters use sharp knives and meat saws, resulting in a rate of injuries and illnesses that is higher than the national average. 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 and meat cutters work full time. Butchers who work in grocery or retail stores may work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Meat cutters who work in animal slaughtering and processing facilities may work shifts that start in the early morning or in the afternoon or evening.

Butchers who run their own meat shops often work long hours.

Education and Training

Most butchers and meat cutters learn their skills through long-term on-the-job training. No formal education is required.

Education

There are no formal education requirements to become a butcher or meat cutter.

Training

Butchers and meat cutters typically learn their skills on the job and the length of training varies considerably. Training for simple cutting may take only a few days. However, more complicated cutting tasks generally require several months of training. The training period for butchers at the retail level may last 1 to 2 years.

Training for entry-level workers often begins by learning 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.

Trainees also may learn how to shape, roll, and tie roasts, prepare sausage, and cure meat. Those employed in retail stores are usually taught basic business operations, such as inventory control, meat buying, and recordkeeping. Because of the growing concern about foodborne pathogens in meats, employees also receive training in food safety.

Butchers who follow religious guidelines for food preparation may be required to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship, certification process, or both, before becoming completely qualified and endorsed by an 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 and meat cutters was $28,490 in May 2012. 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 $18,150, and the top 10 percent earned more than $45,300.

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

Butchers who run their own meat shops often work long hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of butchers and meat cutters is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

As more people demand pre-cut, partially prepared, and easy-to-cook meat products, butchers and meat cutters will be needed to prepare them. The popularity of various meat products such as sausages, cured meats, or specialty cuts is expected to result in demand for butchers and meat cutters in grocery and specialty stores.

However, meat processing plants continue to consolidate animal slaughtering and meat processing by preparing and packaging meat products simultaneously. As a result, employment growth should be limited as fewer workers will be needed to pre-cut, trim, or package meats.

Job Prospects

Many meat cutter jobs, particularly those in processing plants, are physically demanding with difficult working conditions. As a result, job opportunities are expected to be good because of the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

Meat cutters with several years of work experience, including training in various meat cutting techniques, should have the best job prospects as retail butchers.

For More Information

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

American Meat Institute

FAQ

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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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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).