The word "butcher" dates back to the Norman English word "boucher," meaning "slaughterer of goats." Before the age of refrigeration, butchers slaughtered animals when the fresh meat was required. Some butcher shops sold cured meats such as bacon, salted pork and corned beef. Even then, a butcher required his tools of trade, such as a saw, knives, a sharpening steel and a solid cutting table. Today a wider range of equipment is used.
Knives, Cleavers and Saws
Sharp knives are still essential in a butcher shop. A typical butcher's knife set includes a 10-inch butcher knife, 6-inch beef skinner, 5-inch narrow boning knife, 6-inch curved blade boning knife, and 6-inch wide blade boning knife. Also, the butcher will need a bone ax, a 25-inch bone saw and a heavy-duty meat cleaver. Some butchers have replaced the traditional sharpening steel with an electric knife sharpener.
Modern butchers have replaced the meat tenderizing mallet with a stainless steel hand-operated cuber, which tenderizes tougher cuts of meat. There are a number of electric meat saws available. A floor model band saw efficiently cuts large segments of meat. Tabletop meat slicers and grinders can process different cuts to suit customer requirements. Some newer meat grinders can process fresh or frozen meat and even produce different sizes of minced meat.
Tables, Carts and Refrigerators
Many butchers still believe that the traditional butcher block made of hardwood (often rock maple) is essential, but others use a stainless steel table for cutting. Smaller butcher shops use carts, usually of metal construction, to move larger cuts of meat around the processing area. Larger shops may use conveyor belts and chains. A reliable refrigeration system is essential. Cold cabinets are necessary for customer display. The processing area will have refrigerators and perhaps a walk-in freezer or cold room.
Since butchers still use sharp knives, saws and other dangerous equipment, protective clothing is a requirement. Goggles, hard hats, Kevlar aprons, arm guards and gloves are all in use. The best gloves are made from high-tensile, corrosion-resistant stainless steel mesh. Though not all butcher's aprons are made of Kevlar, all aprons must be able to resist accidental knife strokes.
Brian Burhoe has been writing professionally since 1971. His stories have appeared in "World of If Magazine," "Fantastic Stories" and "Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year." He cooks in Atlantic Coast restaurants and he is a graduate of the Holland College Culinary Course and holds a Canadian Culinary Federation chef's certificate.