How Can I Become a Butcher?

Research what it takes to become a butcher. Learn about training requirements, salary and employment outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Butcher?

Butchers cut meat into portions like steaks and chops. Many prospective butchers typically begin as trainees under an experienced butcher, though there are formal college training programs and apprenticeships available. During this training period, they learn to cut, trim, prepare and package meat that is to be sold to restaurants, institutions, organizations or the general public. They become knowledgeable regarding the different nature of various meats and how to prepare specific cuts of meat. You can review some of the skills needed to work as a butcher and see the potential salary by reading the table below.

Training Required On-the-job training
Key Skills Physical strength, dexterity, customer service
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5%*
Median Salary (2015) $29,130 (for butchers and meat cutters)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Butcher?

As a butcher, you are the last person in the process of preparing meats to be sold to consumers. Your job is to cut animal carcasses and large chunks of meat into pieces to be sold. Besides butcher shops, butchers are also employed by grocery stores and warehouses where meat is prepared for wholesale to restaurants. Duties include weighing, labeling, wrapping and pricing meat cuts.

In the process of cutting meat, you have to cut off excess fat, remove bones and prepare it for customers by tying, grinding or adding rubs. Your job also includes inspecting the meat when it is delivered to ensure quality, as well as suggesting various types of meats or cuts to fit customers' dietary needs.

What Training Is Required?

If you wish to be a butcher, you must have knowledge of different types of meat and understand the various cutting methods used. Training is usually done on the job. You learn how to use the cutting tools and processing equipment, divide carcasses and create cuts. College training programs or apprenticeships can be an option for learning the necessary job skills.

Training may last 1-2 years and is done under the supervision of experienced butchers. At the beginning, you learn simple cuts and other easy tasks, such as bone removal. As training progresses, you learn more complex cuts and tasks, such as making sausage and curing meat. Apprenticeship programs may include some classroom training.

What Kind of Working Conditions Can I Expect?

Butchers work in a fairly high risk environment in terms of possible injury to hands and fingers given constant use of various sharp instruments, including saws, knives and grinding machines; as a professional, it's important to always use caution in carrying out your duties. Certain types of protective guards are usually available.

Additionally, you will be asked to remain on your feet for much of the time while working. You may also need to work within various temperature ranges during the course of a day since the meat you will be cutting is stored in refrigerated coolers. Stamina, strength and agility are all essential for the job.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers that are directly related to butchering include working as a chef or head cook in commercial establishments. Culinary schools, technical schools, community colleges and the military offer training programs for chefs and cooks, though a high school diploma is the minimum education needed. Apprenticeships are also available. Starting as a line cook, through work experience and on-the-job training, you may be able to advance to become a head cook or a chef. Tasked with supervising the kitchen staff, head cooks and chefs are ultimately responsible for the acquisition of ingredients and the efficient preparation and presentation of meals.

In many cases, food and tobacco products need to be mixed and prepared in a certain way before they can be presented for further processing and public consumption. This is the responsibility of food and tobacco processing workers. They prepare specialized mixing equipment and weigh and apportion the required ingredients according to a set recipe. They set the controls on the machines and then monitor the operation to see that the product is prepared properly and safely. A high school diploma may or may not be needed for jobs in this field, and on-the-job training is common.

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