Bureau of Labor Statistics


butchers and meat cutters image
Butchers cut meat to customers’ orders.
Quick Facts: Butchers
2020 Median Pay $32,900 per year
$15.82 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education No formal educational credential
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2019 137,500
Job Outlook, 2019-29 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 2,300


What Butchers Do

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

Work Environment

Most butchers work in grocery stores and specialty meat shops. The work can be physically demanding and may include exposure to repetitive motions, dangerous equipment, and cold temperatures.

How to Become a Butcher

Butchers typically need no formal educational credential. They learn their skills on the job.


The median annual wage for butchers was $32,900 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Employment of butchers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. Many job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation each year.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for butchers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of butchers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about butchers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Butchers Do

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

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

Butchers held about 137,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of butchers were as follows:

Food and beverage stores 79%
Animal slaughtering and processing 7
General merchandise stores 6

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

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.



Median annual wages, May 2020

Total, all occupations




Food processing workers



The median annual wage for butchers was $32,900 in May 2020. 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 $22,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,440.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for butchers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

General merchandise stores $37,750
Animal slaughtering and processing 32,940
Food and beverage stores 32,360

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

Job Outlook


Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Total, all occupations


Food processing workers





Employment of butchers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.

The popularity of various meat products, such as sausages, cured meats, and specialty cuts, is expected to drive employment growth of butchers in retail stores, such as grocery and specialty food stores.

Job Prospects

Despite limited employment growth, about 14,900 openings for butchers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment projections data for butchers, 2019-29

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

Occupational Title

Butchers and meat cutters

SOC Code51-3021
Employment, 2019137,500
Projected Employment, 2029139,800
Percent Change, 2019-292
Numeric Change, 2019-292,300
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.


CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of butchers.

Chefs and head cooks Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee the daily food preparation at restaurants and other places where food is served.

High school diploma or equivalent $53,380
Food and tobacco processing workers Food and Tobacco Processing Workers

Food and tobacco processing workers operate equipment that mixes, cooks, or processes ingredients used in the manufacture of food and tobacco products.

See How to Become One $31,950
Food preparation workers Food Preparation Workers

Food preparation workers perform many routine tasks under the direction of cooks, chefs, or food service managers.

No formal educational credential $26,070

Contacts for More Info

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 Apprenticeship.gov to search for apprenticeship opportunities.

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

North American Meat Institute


For a career video on butchers, visit

Butchers and meat cutters


Butchers and Meat Cutters

Last Modified Date: Monday, June 7, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Butchers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/butchers-and-meat-cutters.htm (visited July 19, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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