A butcher is a person who may slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat, or participate within any combination of these three tasks. They may prepare standard cuts of meat and poultry for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments. A butcher may be employed by supermarkets, grocery stores, butcher shops and fish markets, slaughter houses, or may be self-employed.
Butchery is an ancient trade, whose duties may date back to the domestication of livestock; its practitioners formed guilds in England as far back as 1272. Since the 20th century, many countries and local jurisdictions offer trade certifications for butchers in order to ensure quality, safety, and health standards but not all butchers have formal certification or training. Trade qualification in English speaking countries is often earned through an apprenticeship although some training organisations also certify their students. In Canada, once a butcher is trade qualified, they can learn to become a master butcher (Fleishmaster).
Standards and practices of butchery differ between countries, regions and ethnic groups. Variation with respect to the types of animals that are butchered as well as the cuts and parts of the animal that are sold depends on the types of foods that are prepared by the butcher’s customers.
Butchery is a traditional line of work. In the industrialized world, slaughterhouses use butchers to slaughter the animals, performing one or a few of the steps repeatedly as specialists on a semi automated disassembly line. The steps include stunning (rendering the animal incapacitated), exsanguination (severing the carotid or brachial arteries to facilitate blood removal), skinning (removing the hide or pelt) or scalding and dehairing (pork), evisceration (removing the viscera) and splitting (dividing the carcass in half longitudinally).
After the carcasses are chilled (unless “hot-boned”), primary butchery consists of selecting carcasses, sides, or quarters from which primal cuts can be produced with the minimum of wastage; separating the primal cuts from the carcass; trimming primal cuts and preparing them for secondary butchery or sale; and storing cut meats. Secondary butchery involves boning, trimming and value-adding of primal cuts, in preparation for sale. Historically, primary and secondary butchery were performed in the same establishment, but the advent of methods of preservation (vacuum packing) and low cost transportation has largely separated them.
In parts of the world, it is common for butchers to perform many or all of the butcher’s duties. Where refrigeration is less common, these skills are required to sell the meat of slaughtered animals.