How to Become a Journeyman Meat Cutter

Three Parts:Meeting the RequirementsGetting the JobWorking Your Way Up

Working in the meat industry is a trade that requires a natural progression of training. Meat is an expensive product, and it is cut in order to minimize waste. With the increase in refrigerated food storage in the 20th century, the job of the butcher was divided into specialized jobs, such as the people who slaughter and start to process the carcass, the butcher, and people who cut the meat, meat cutters. In modern society, meat cutters work at large plants, in grocery stores and in delis. To start a career as a meat cutter, you will need to develop skill with knives, knowledge of animal anatomy and training to work in cold temperatures. This article will tell you the steps it takes to become a journeyman meat cutter.

Part 1
Meeting the Requirements

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    Have excellent personal hygiene. Because you'll be working with meat all day, which can serve as vectors for bacteria and other germs, it's really important that you're clean and have excellent hygiene habits. This includes:
    • Being aware of where you put your hands
    • Washing hands frequently
    • Minimizing cross-contamination when possible
    • Knowing the laws of the FDA and/or the USDA. Depending on where you work, the meat you cut will either be inspected by the FDA or the USDA. Knowing the rules of either body will give you a head start when it comes to hygiene.
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    Be able to lift at least 50 lbs. (22.7 kg). Meat cutting requires that you lift heavy carcasses regularly. You will need to be able to lift heavy slabs of meat onto hooks and tables. It might be a good idea to begin working out if you don't already.
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    Complete your high school education or pass the General Education Development (GED) examination. Most training programs and employers require that you complete this level of education before enrolling or applying.
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    Foster an ability to work with animal carcasses. In order to ensure that you have the desire and stomach to be a meat cutter, you may want to experiment with hunting or basic butchering tasks. Although this is not required, you cannot be squeamish about meat and animal by-products.

Part 2
Getting the Job

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    Be prepared to start low and work your way up. The work world usually has a pecking order, and the meat cutting industry is no different. Expect to start off as low as low goes and work your way up. Starting low will help you get your foot in the door. Here are some possible options for where you could start off:
    • Meat clerk. Meat clerks usually wrap and work lunch meat, as well as clean the meat shop at night.
    • Seafood helper. Similar to a meat clerk, except you'd be working with seafood instead.
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    Inquire about training programs from your local meat cutter's union. You can also contact your state's industrial relations or labor departments for information about apprenticeships. Look for employment/training programs that pay for your training and supply you with an apprenticeship job.
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    Apply for training or apprenticeship programs. In order to develop the knowledge about animals, cuts of meat and knife skills, you will need to be enrolled in a long-term, on the job training program.
    • An apprenticeship is good for both the meat cutter who's training you and for you. He gets someone on the cheap who is eager to learn and branch out on his own. You get someone to teach you the ins and outs of the meat cutting industry — real on-the-job training.
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    Complete an apprenticeship of at least 2 years. Before you can be hired as a journeyman meat cutter, you must first have the experience of working in the industry for a few years. Here are some of the things you'll learn in your apprenticeship:
    • First and foremost, cutting meat. What cuts of meat are there, and how do you master them? How does the architecture of different animals affect the cut?
    • Merchandising, presentation, inventory. What cuts perform the best regionally, as well as seasonally? How are the choicest cuts presented to stimulate sales? How are the cheapest? How much meat do you keep in inventory depending on the demand and business model? How do you keep enough in tow so that you never run out but that it also doesn't get lost to spoilage?
    • Making money cutting meat. At the dawn of automation, how do you make money as a meat cutter? Do you try to sell a lot of product with thin margins, or do you try to sell less product with higher margins?
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    Apply for journeyman meat cutter positions. After 2 years of experience, you will be qualified to move your career forward and receive a raiser or better position. You may need to go to another job to find an empty journeyman meat cutter position.

Part 3
Working Your Way Up

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    Be willing to work Sundays, holidays, and seasonal work. This is a good mantra for every worker who's dedicated to their craft, but it applies to meat cutters especially. In many cities, Sundays and holidays are extremely busy, necessitating more workers to accommodate demand. Here are some of the perks of working on days that others prefer not to:
    • You'll get paid more. Depending on your employer, you may get 2x pay on Sundays and 3x pay on holidays. You could earn a hefty amount for working the same amount as you usually do.
    • You'll develop a reputation as a hard worker. Doing the work that no one else wants to do will help you earn the reputation of the go-to-guy when work needs to get done. This is a great reputation to have.
    • You'll have more time to butter up management. Moving up the ranks as a meat cutter often means getting in the good graces of your supervisors. The harder and more often you work, the more likely your supervisors will groom you for a better position.
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    Develop a feel for customer service. Because most meat cutters have to interact with people in order to to their job successfully, developing a personal touch will go a long way in your career. Think about what the customer wants in their transaction, and constantly evaluate how you can improve their satisfaction:
    • Are there any questions about the cut of meat that you can help answer?
    • Are there any suggestions you can make about what meat is good today?
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    Consider applying for supervisory meat cutter positions. After a few more years of experience as a meat cutter, you may want to increase your salary and responsibilities by managing other employees or looking after a company's meat department. You will need to study USDA meat standards, safety procedures, inspection procedures and hazard analysis.
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    Look for a job as a meat manager. Many journeyman meat cutters advance their careers by taking on more administrative duties. You may be asked to manage the production side of the meat department.
    • If you are seeking employment as an upper level meat manager or food manager, consider applying for a food science bachelor's degree program. This is a highly specialized field, so you may need to research who offers these courses in your state extensively.


  • Although there is a difference between butchering and meat cutting, some meat cutting jobs are casually referred to as butcher jobs. If you are looking for a new job in meat cutting, you may also look under the term "butcher."

Things You'll Need

  • Training
  • Apprenticeship
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Knife skills
  • Animal anatomy knowledge
  • Supervisor/meat manager position (optional)
  • Food science bachelor degree (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Tradesman Occupations