Education and Training On-the-job training or apprenticeship
Salary Median—$27,030 per year
Employment Outlook Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Retail butchers prepare meat, fish, and poultry to sell to customers in stores. Some butchers work in supermarkets; others work in butcher shops. Many butchers own their shops and employ assistants. Butchers are sometimes called meat cutters, unless they deal only in fish. Fish specialists may be referred to as fish mongers or fish cleaners.
Butchers unload meat carcasses from delivery trucks and then cut the carcasses into small pieces that can be sold to customers. They use several kinds of equipment to prepare the meat: power machines such as band saws are used to cut through heavy bones, and other special knives such as slicers, cleavers, and even handsaws are used on the smaller pieces.
Retail butchers begin their task by sawing the carcass in half and then cutting it into quarters. Those quarters are divided up into various "cuts" of meat such as steaks, chops, or roasts. Next, butchers remove fragments of bone from the meat with a knife or a machine that brushes off the bone chips. Meat trimmings are ground into hamburger. Retail butchers also prepare sausages and cured meats (such as corned beef) and clean and cut fish and poultry before it is sold.
Some butchers wait on customers. In small stores butchers cut meat portions to each customer's request, weigh and wrap them, and process the customer's payment. In supermarkets butchers work behind the scenes. Meat is packaged and placed in display cases from which customers make selections. Butchers may be asked to prepare special orders for customers in supermarkets.
Education and Training Requirements
Any person interested in becoming a butcher can learn the trade through on-the-job training or through a union apprenticeship. Employers prefer to hire high school graduates. Beginners learn by watching and helping experienced butchers. Those interested may attend classes to supplement their training.
Getting the Job
Candidates can apply directly to the butchers and supermarkets for which they would like to work. Openings are often listed with the state employment office. Jobs are also listed in the classified ads of local newspapers or on the Internet.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Some butchers become meat buyers for supermarkets. Some become store or department managers. Experienced butchers may open their own retail shops. To do so, they must come up with considerable sums of money to get their businesses started.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of butchers was expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations between 2004 and 2014. New automated equipment allows less skilled meat processing workers to precut and package the meat shipped directly to supermarkets, thereby lowering the need for skilled retail butchers. The increase in population in the United States, however, will increase the demand for meat. A limited number of openings will occur as experienced workers retire or leave their jobs for other reasons.
Because meat, fish, and poultry must be refrigerated, butchers work in cold rooms. They need physical strength to lift, carry, and handle heavy carcasses. The floors in meat-cutting rooms are slick with blood and fat and the instruments butchers use are sharp. To avoid cuts and amputations, they must use care and know how to handle their tools. Butchers usually work forty hours a week. They generally have secure jobs.
Where to Go for More Information
American Meat Institute
1150 Connecticut Ave. NW, 12th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, CLC
1775 K St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Earnings and Benefits
Retail butchers who are union members receive wages set by union-employer negotiations. The median annual income for butchers employed by grocery stores was $27,030 in 2004, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits usually include health insurance, paid holidays and vacations, and retirement plans.