A meat shop is typically called a butcher shop or butcher’s shop. It is a retail store that specializes in selling raw meat and poultry. The people who work in a butcher shop are called butchers. Their job is to cut, trim, bone, slice, and prepare fresh cuts of meat for customers.
Types of Meat Shops
There are several different types of meat shops:
- Traditional butcher shop – This is a small, local business that sells fresh cuts of meat. The butcher works on-site cutting and preparing meats.
- Meat market – A larger meat shop that sells many types of fresh, packaged, and prepared meats. May have multiple butchers on staff.
- Specialty butcher shop – Focuses on higher end, specialty meats like organic, grass-fed, aged, or exotic meats.
- Ethnic butcher shop – Specializes in meats for specific ethnic cuisines like a halal butcher shop or kosher butcher.
- Farm butcher shop – Located on a farm and sells meats raised on-site.
What Types of Meat are Sold at a Butcher Shop?
Butcher shops sell a variety of fresh raw meats:
- Beef – cuts like steak, roasts, brisket, ribs, ground beef
- Pork – chops, ham, bacon, sausages, ribs
- Chicken – whole chickens, breasts, thighs, wings, ground chicken
- Lamb – chops, leg of lamb, rack, ground lamb
- Goat – ground, chops, leg
- Bison – ground meat, steaks
- Veal – chops, loin, shanks
- Turkey – whole turkey, breasts, thighs, wings, ground turkey
- Duck – whole duck, breasts
- Rabbit – whole, portioned cuts
- Game meats – venison, boar, elk, etc.
- Sausages and cured meats – salami, hot dogs, sausages, bacon
- Organ meats – liver, kidneys, heart, tongue
In addition to raw meats, many butcher shops also sell marinated and seasoned meats, prepared entrees, side dishes, sandwiches, salads, and other ready-to-eat items.
Services Offered at a Butcher Shop
In addition to selling fresh and prepared meats, a full-service butcher shop provides the following services:
- Butchering whole carcasses into primal and retail cuts
- Cutting and trimming steaks, chops, roasts to order
- Grinding meat for burgers and sausages
- Making fresh sausages, cured meats, jerky
- Marinating meats
- Smoking meats
- Aging beef to increase tenderness
- Special ordering exotic meats and custom cuts
- Delivering products to restaurants and businesses
Having an in-house butcher allows the shop to provide customized cuts, portions, and meats that meet customers’ unique needs and preferences. The butcher is skilled with different cuts of meat and can offer advice on the best uses for each cut.
Buying Tips for Butcher Shops
Here are some tips for buying meat at a butcher shop:
- Ask questions – talk to the butcher to get advice on the best cuts for your desired use and cooking method.
- Choose based on appearance – look for meat that has good marbling and a bright red color for beef and lamb, and pink to white color for pork, veal, and poultry.
- Feel the meat – it should have a firm, springy texture when raw.
- Look for proper aging – well-aged beef will have darker red, almost purple hues.
- Know your cuts – research basic primal and retail cuts so you can buy exactly what you need.
- Specify thickness – request steaks and chops cut to your preferred thickness.
- Buy in bulk when possible – buying bulk or portioned primals can save money.
- Speak up about fat – request meats trimmed or untrimmed based on your preferences.
- Read the labels – understand the difference between labels like organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, etc.
Developing a relationship with a local butcher can lead to getting better quality meat recommendations. The butcher will learn your preferences over time.
Benefits of Buying Meat from a Butcher Shop
There are several advantages to purchasing meat from a butcher shop rather than a large grocery store:
- Higher quality – meat is typically fresher and hasn’t been sitting in transit or storage
- Better selection – butcher shops offer more cuts, varietals, and types beyond standard grocery options
- Custom orders – butchers can cut or prepare meat to your exact specifications
- Knowledge and advice – experienced butchers are experts on different cuts and uses of meat
- Support local business – community butcher shops rely on patronage from locals
- Try new things – butcher shops make it easy to experiment with different meats and cuts
- Transparency – local butchers are able to source ingredients and tell you exact origin
- Specialty items – butcher shops carry harder-to-find meats like aged beef, venison, rabbit etc.
While butcher shop prices are sometimes higher than supermarkets, many feel the quality and service justify the premium. Buying the right cuts alone can save money compared to buying standard grocery options.
Famous Historic Butcher Shops
Butcher shops have a long, rich history, with some butcher businesses being in operation for over a century. Here are some of the oldest, most famous historic butcher shops still operating today:
- McBryan’s Market – Established in 1835 in Detroit, MI. Historic Eastern Market butcher shop supplies restaurants around Detroit.
- A. Litteri – Opened in 1893 in Chicago, IL. Italian butcher shop makes award-winning sausages and Italian meats.
- Kowalski’s Market – Started as a butcher shop in St. Paul, MN in 1946. Family-owned chain now has 11 supermarkets.
- Fatted Calf – Opened in Napa, CA in 2004. Artisan butcher focused on humanely raised meats for high-end restaurants.
- Fleishers Craft Butchery – Founded in Brooklyn in 2004, now has 7 locations in NY and CT. Focus on grassfed, organic, sustainable meat.
These historic shops helped define American butcher culture and preserve time-honored techniques. Many combine Old World meat making with modern sustainability practices. They offer a link to how butchers operated before supermarkets took over meat retailing.
Famous Fictional Butchers
Butchers have made their way into pop culture over the years through books, TV, and film:
- Bill the Butcher – Villain in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002)
- Mr. Ralph – Kindly butcher in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers (1836)
- Pennywise the Dancing Clown – Initially posed as a butcher in Stephen King’s It (1986)
- Edward Scissorhands – Creates ripped shrubs shaped as meat cuts in timber scene
- Freddy Krueger – Worked in a boiler room, but wears a butcher smock and gloves with razors
- Sweeney Todd – Murderous barber kills customers, bakes them into meat pies in musical
- The Butcher – Diablo II villain and Act I Boss, known for his bloody cleaver
These fictional examples help solidify the butcher archetype in the public imagination. The butcher’s familiar tools like meat cleavers, hooks, and bloody aprons make them effective horror villains. Their skill with knives translates easily to slasher motifs. Real life butchers focus more on perfecting their craft rather than eliminating their patrons of course.
Ancient and Medieval Butchering
Butchery emerged as an occupation out of necessity early in human prehistory. As hunter-gatherers began keeping livestock, skills for slaughtering animals and preserving meat developed. Some key milestones in ancient butchery include:
- 6000 BC – Earliest evidence of pigs being butchered in China
- 4500 BC – Sheep and goats domesticated in Mesopotamia for meat
- 2500 BC – Pig slaughterhouses and meat curing present in Egypt
- 100 AD – Roman guilds established for butchers to standardize practices
- 300 AD – Abbattoir building for large-scale slaughtering emerge in Roman cities
- 1485 – First book published on English butcher practices: The Boke of Nurture
In the Middle Ages, butcher guilds gained power in England. Young boys started apprenticing to learn the trade. Meat was sold at markets on carts outdoors or at indoor butcher stalls. Tools like the meat chopper and smokehouse were invented during this era to advance meat preservation.
The Modern Butcher Shop
Butchery advanced significantly during the 1800s and early 1900s:
- 1830-1860 – Gustavus Swift pioneers refrigerated rail cars and centralized meatpacking in Chicago.
- 1870-1900 – Refrigeration technology allows for cold storage and global export of meats.
- 1910-1920 – Gas/electric meat grinders, band saws, and mixers make butchering more efficient.
- 1970s – Supermarkets surpass butcher shops for retail meat sales using pre-cut, pre-packaged case-ready meat.
- 2000s – Trend of whole animal butchery and artisanal butcher shops gains popularity.
While supermarkets now have lower butcher shop market share, there has been a resurgence of local butcher businesses due to a demand for quality meats, custom cuts, and greater transparency over meat sourcing. Modern butcher training programs integrate traditional whole animal butchery with current trends like farm-to-table, ethical meat, and charcuterie.
Butcher Training and Education
There are several paths available to becoming a professional butcher today:
- Butcher apprenticeship – Work under a master butcher’s guidance, learning on the job.
- Butcher certification – Take a certification course focusing on retail butchering skills.
- Culinary school – Earn a general culinary arts degree with butcher training.
- Meat processing/science degree – Get an associate or bachelor’s degree tailored for the meat industry.
- Self-taught – Learn skills at home or online through books, videos, and personal practice.
Key skills taught include sanitation/food safety, knife handling, meat cutting identification/fabrication, equipment use, and merchandising. Combining traditional whole animal butchery with new technology and science delivers the best training. Ongoing hands-on training is vital for becoming an expert butcher.
Outlook for Butcher Careers
The job outlook for butchers is strong – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% growth in butcher and meat cutter roles between 2016 and 2026. Several factors contribute to increased demand:
- Higher meat consumption globally, especially in developing economies
- New opportunities at specialty butcher shops, niche meat startups, and grocery stores
- Aging workforce leads to need for new butchers to replace retirees
- Desire for cruelty-free, sustainably raised meat requires customized butchering
In addition to traditional butcher shops, butchers today work at:
- Meat wholesalers and distributors
- Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants
- Food manufacturing plants
- Grocery store butcher counters
- Farms raising and selling their own meats
There are diverse career paths beyond just retail butchering for those with the right skills and training.
Butcher shops have served communities for generations, providing full-service meat sourcing, cutting, and preparations. While grocery stores now dominate meat sales, the role of expert butchers remains invaluable. They possess in-depth knowledge of meat options to help customers make the best choices. Butcher shops excel at procuring specialty meats and custom orders that generic retailers can’t match. Supporting local butcher businesses sustains time-honored skills while getting unparalleled quality and service. Butcher culture continues to evolve in the modern era through sustainable meat initiatives, diverse education paths, and new opportunities at boutique butcher shops. The venerable butcher retains their essential place connecting farms and consumers.