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Interview with a ...
Butcher

| June 2021

BLS Fast Facts: Butchers. 2019 employment: 137,500. 2019–29 projected growth: 2% (slower the average).Typical entry-level education and training: No formal educational credential; long-term on-the-job training. 2019 employment distribution: Food and beverage stores 79%; Animal slaughtering and processing 7%; General merchandise stores 6%. May 2020 median annual wage: $32,900

Learn more about this occupation in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Matt Levere

What do you do?

I’m a part-time butcher for an Argentinian restaurant, and I run a small business where I sell meats that I prepare, such as bacon, sausages, and roasts. I also consult for farmers, butchers, and chefs in the food industry. 

Let’s start with the restaurant: Tell me about your work there.

I talk with the chefs and kitchen managers about their menu plans for the coming week, and I check on what was sold the previous week to decide on the meats I’ll need. Then, I work on preparations for that day and the next day. For example, I might cut and grind meat, along with weighing out spices, one day and then make sausage the next day.

I also have to manage the meat inventory for the restaurant and report the numbers to management at the end of the month. It’s a huge responsibility, because there’s very little margin of error when it comes to restaurant profitability.

Next, your meat business…

I have a small meat freezer at an Italian market that I stock with meats I prepare. I work on a small prep table in the back of the market. Similar to my work in the restaurant, I’ll look at what has sold well recently and determine what I should make for the upcoming week. I also have a website where I sell merchandise, and customers can place special orders for cuts of meat or for charcuterie boards.

And finally, what about your consulting work?

It covers different things. I do yield tests for farmers. For example, if a farmer wants to know what their expected yield is from a flock of lambs, I’ll process a lamb (cut it up). And, based on what the yield is from that single lamb, I’ll let them know what the estimated yield is for the whole flock.

I also do recipe development for chefs from other restaurants, creating a new dish and the steps for preparing it. I’ll either send them a sample or they can come in when I’m at the market and observe how it’s made.

Additionally, I help other small-business owners—for example, food truck owners—get up and running. I assist them in filling out the forms they need for their food license, getting a menu approved, and doing a walk-through with the health department inspector. It’s a lot of work, especially the paperwork.

What drew you to this occupation?

I was working in a restaurant as a dishwasher and a prep cook, and being a chef didn’t appeal to me, but I knew I wanted to be in the food business. I liked the environment and working with the people. I was looking at becoming a pastry chef or bartender.

Then, one of the other prep cooks who was in a butcher’s apprenticeship program told me about it. I shadowed him and then decided to enter the program.

How involved was the apprenticeship?

It was a 6-month, 600-hour program. It was a fascinating experience. I’d never seen meat processing equipment, been in a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) facility, or been that close to a cow or pig before. I learned everything from slaughtering an animal to cutting a perfect T-bone steak. Apprentices really need to apply themselves to learn every step of the process.

At the end of the program, I had to take a two-part final exam. For one part, a master butcher oversaw my slaughtering and processing of an animal from start to finish. The other part was a written food-safety exam covering biological, chemical, and physical hazards. I passed both parts and was certified as a whole-animal butcher.

What was your first job after completing the apprenticeship?

My first job ended up being a combination of several jobs. I went to work as a butcher’s assistant at a restaurant at a national park in Wyoming. A friend of mine worked as a cook at the restaurant, and we lived in a dorm on the campus. The restaurant was open 6 months of the year: during the tourist season. In the off season, I’d go home to Arizona and work as a butcher or meat clerk at a grocery store. This was basically my version of a college experience.

I spent three seasons at the restaurant in Wyoming. About 2 months into my first season, the meat cutter quit, and I was promoted to that position. Two months later, the head butcher quit. I spent my final 2 months of the season in training, and for the next two seasons I worked as the head butcher. This is not the normal timeline for someone who wants to become a butcher. Usually, this progression takes several years.

Where did you go after getting that experience?

I bought a one-way ticket to London. I wanted to study under a butcher in Europe, anywhere in Europe. And when I sent out emails, I got a response from one in England. I spent a week observing him at work.

I also did butchering work and farm labor in exchange for room and board on a farm in Northwest Italy. The farmer would go out hunting every morning, and I would process whatever he hunted. After that, I studied for a week under a famous Italian butcher in Tuscany.

Then, I flew back to England and spent a week studying under another butcher at a shop in Coventry. After that and some traveling, I flew back to the United States.

What did you do when you returned?

I got a job as a butcher in a cured meat facility, where I was trained in charcuterie. After about 8 months, I got a job as head butcher of a restaurant.

I started my consulting business last year as a way to diversify my income when the pandemic struck and restaurants were closed.

What do you like best about your career?

I love eating meat and working with meat. I’m exactly where I want to be and doing exactly what I want to do. I feel like I’ll be happy to be a butcher for the rest of my life. It’s a nice skill set that I’ve been able to feed and support myself with.

What’s the most challenging part of your work?

Managing people as a head butcher. Being a manger can be a difficult job. There are a lot of different personalities to deal with.

Any advice for someone interested in becoming a butcher?

Work for different butchers and learn about their day-to-day operations. Then, take initiative and try to learn on your own. Try new recipes, learn from videos on YouTube, and experiment with different seasonings, casings, or other products.

Plan to spend at least a year at each job, unless it’s seasonal work. If you don’t see an opportunity to move up after a year, find another job and get more experience in that one.

And if you have the courage and ability to travel, do it!

Ryan Farrell is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS.

Suggested citation:

Ryan Farrell, "Butcher," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2021.

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              Matt Levere