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What Butchers Do About this section

butchers and meat cutters image
Butchers cut meat for display and retail sale.

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


Butchers typically do the following:

  • Receive, inspect, and store meat upon delivery
  • Sharpen knives and adjust cutting equipment
  • Cut, debone, or grind pieces of meat, including preparing orders to customers’ specifications
  • Weigh and wrap meat or meat products for display or to fulfill customers’ orders
  • Clean equipment and work areas to maintain health and sanitation standards
  • Store meats in refrigerators or freezers at the required temperature
  • Monitor inventory and sales trends and order meat

Butchers cut and trim meat from larger, wholesale portions into steaks, chops, roasts, and other cuts. They then prepare meat for sale by doing various tasks, 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 use equipment such as knives, grinders, and meat saws. They follow sanitation standards while working and when cleaning equipment, countertops, and working areas in order to prevent meat contamination.

Butchers also keep track of inventory and determine what to stock, especially in anticipation of seasonal demands such as grilling meats for summer and turkeys for Thanksgiving. Butchers must also track inventory and sales to limit waste by determining which items have not sold well. They also order supplies and have other duties, including maintaining records for purposes of federal safety and inspection.

Work Environment About this section

butchers and meat cutters image
Butchers often lift and move heavy carcasses.

Butchers held about 146,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of butchers were as follows:

Food and beverage stores 78%
General merchandise stores 8
Animal slaughtering and processing 8

The work may be physically demanding, particularly for butchers who make repetitive cuts. 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 to customers.

Injuries and Illnesses

Butchers have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. These workers use dangerous tools, 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. Some work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Butcher About this section

butchers and meat cutters image
Butchers typically learn their skills on the job.

Butchers typically need no formal educational credential to enter the occupation. They learn their skills through on-the-job training.


No formal education credential is typically required for becoming a butcher, although some employers may prefer to hire workers who have a high school diploma.


Butchers typically learn their skills on the job, and the length of training varies considerably. Training for simple meat cutting, such as for prepared food items, may take about a week. However, more complicated cutting tasks, such as for specialty cuts of meat from a large animal, 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. For example, they learn how to sharpen knives and clean working areas and equipment.

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

Workers typically enter the occupation as a meat clerk or meat cutter. After gaining experience as a meat cutter and demonstrating proficiency, they may become a butcher.

Some employers or unions may offer apprenticeship programs for butchers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states and localities require butchers to have a food handler’s certification. Requirements vary. For more information, contact your state or local licensing board.

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

Important Qualities

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

Dexterity. Butchers use sharp knives and meatcutting equipment as part of their duties. They must have good hand control in order to make proper cuts of meat that are the right size.

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

Physical strength. Butchers should be able to lift and carry heavy boxes of meat, which may weigh more than 50 pounds.

Pay About this section


Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations


Butchers and meat cutters


Food processing workers



The median annual wage for butchers was $36,050 in May 2021. 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 $23,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $47,770.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for butchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

General merchandise stores $37,920
Animal slaughtering and processing 36,770
Food and beverage stores 34,410

Most butchers work full time. Some work early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays.

Job Outlook About this section


Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Total, all occupations


Food processing workers


Butchers and meat cutters



Employment of butchers is projected to decline 3 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Despite declining employment, about 17,700 openings for butchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Long-term food purchasing patterns have trended towards more pre-made and pre-packaged meat products and cuts. This trend is expected to continue over the decade, leading to projected employment declines of butchers and meat cutters.

Employment projections data for butchers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Butchers and meat cutters

51-3021 146,900 142,000 -3 -4,900 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this occupation, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local unions, or firms that employ butchers. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program online or by phone at 877-872-5627. Visit to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

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

North American Meat Institute

Occupational Requirements Survey

For a profile highlighting selected BLS data on occupational requirements, see

Butchers and meat cutters (PDF)


For a career video on butchers, visit

Butchers and meat cutters


Butchers and Meat Cutters


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