A butcher is a person who might slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat or do any combination of these three tasks. They might prepare standard cuts of meat and poultry for sale in retail or wholesale food establishments. A butcher might be employed by supermarkets, grocery stores, butcher shops and fish markets, slaughter house, or might be self-employed.

An ancient trade, whose duties might date back to the domestication of livestock, butchers formed guilds in England as far back as 1272. Today, a large number of jurisdictions offer trade certifications for butchers. Some areas expect a three-year apprenticeship followed by the option of fitting a master butcher.


Butchery is a traditional line of work. In the industrialised world, slaughterhouses use butchers to slaughter the animals, performing one or a few of the steps repeatedly as specialists on a semiautomated 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 and trimming primal cuts in preparation for sale. Historically, primary and secondary butchery were performed in the same establishment, but the advent of methods of preservation and low cost transportation has largely separated them.

In parts of the world, it is common for butchers to perform a large number of or all of the butcher's duties. Where refrigeration is less common, these skills are required to sell the meat of slaughtered animals.

Butcher shop

Boucherie du Bac, 82 Rue du Bac, Paris.
A butcher at work in Syria

Some butchers sell their goods in specialised stores, commonly termed a butcher shop (American English), butchery (South African English) or butcher's shop (British English). Butchers at a butcher shop might perform primary butchery, but will typically perform secondary butchery to prepare fresh cuts of meat for sale. These shops might additionally sell related products, such as food preparation supplies, baked goods and grocery items. Butcher shops can have a wider variety of animal types, meat cuts and quality of cuts. Additionally, butcher shops might focus on a particular culture, or nationality, of meat production. Some butcher shops, termed "meat delis", might additionally include a delicatessen.

In the United States and Canada, butcher shops are fitting less common because of the increasing popularity of supermarkets. Supermarkets employ butchers for secondary butchery, but in the United States even that role is diminished with the advent of "case-ready" meat, where the product is packaged for retail sale at the packinghouse or specialised central processing plants.

Primal cut

A primal cut is a piece of meat initially separated from the carcass throughout butchering. Different countries and cultures make these cuts in different ways, and primal cuts additionally differ between type of carcass. The British, American and French primal cuts all differ in a few respects. A notable example is fatback, which in Europe is an important primal cut of pork, but in North America is regarded as trimmings to be used in sausage or rendered into lard. The primal cuts might be sold complete or cut further.

(The quite distinct term "prime cut" is at times used to describe cuts considered to be of better quality; for example the USDA uses a beef grading system ranging from "prime" to "canner".)

Metaphorical use

See additionally Butcher (disambiguation)

In various periods and cultures, the term "butcher" has been applied to people who act cruelly to additional human beings or slaughter them. For example, Pompey, a prominent Roman general and politician of the first century BC, got the Latin nickname adulescentulus carnifex, translated as "The Teenage Butcher" or "The Butcher Boy", due to brutal treatment of political opponents in the early part of his career.