For much of America’s culinary history, the humble butcher was rarely seen, and heard from even less. This was blue-collar work for stocky men—historically speaking, always men—with Popeye forearms and blood-splattered aprons, keeping quietly to themselves behind a glass case or in a back room out of sight while loudly hacking apart a cow’s hindquarters.

These days, of course, butchers have become the new rock stars—they are name brands of both sexes charging big bucks for public demonstrations while writing acclaimed books. Forget the dumpy Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch; now, it's not uncommon for this generation to appear on reality shows or take part in glitzy magazine photo shoots (all the better to show off those “meat muscles”). Of course, the celebrated rise of the butcher also means more face time with their often well-heeled clientele—have you seen the cost of beef these days?—in order to make the sale. 

Unfortunately, most of us are still shy about ordering from these meat choppers, unsure of how to navigate the unfamiliar vocabulary that they seem to toss around so casually. What exactly is that cut called? Prime or strip? Chump or chuck? Is Boston butt really what it implies? A "six-inch boner" refers to a knife? 

It would be easy to think these butchers are, ahem, butchering the language to make things more confusing and fleece us at the register. But shorthand and other nicknames can be crucial when working with pounds and pounds of animal flesh. At their core, butchers are professors of anatomy (albeit ones with a great sense of humor), so to help understand their unique vernacular, we reached out to a handful of pros for help:


  • Heather Sanford, butcher at The Piggery (Ithaca, NY)
  • Greg Brockman, lead butcher at Foragers Market in (New York, NY)
  • Craig Jackson, butcher at Harts Local Grocer (Rochester, NY)
  • Larry McMillan, CEO of Critchfield Meats (Lexington, KY)

Boston butt

“This cut’s name causes great confusion. It’s actually not the ‘butt’ of the pig, but rather a section of the shoulder. Back when we were a colony, England used to raise a lot of their pork here and ship it overseas. The shoulders were a prized cut that would be heavily salted and packed in barrels called ‘butts.’”—Sanford


An acronym for “boned, rolled, and tied,” a common method for securing meat. Typically used on roast cuts of poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, the meat is completely boned, all the internal fat and excess outer fat is removed or trimmed, and then it is tied into a cylindrical shape.—Jackson


A pig’s small intestines.—McMillan

Chuck eye

The Complexus muscle of cattle. Known as “poor-man’s ribeye,” the chuck eye is cut off the fifth rib (while the rib eye comes from the sixth to 12th rib). “My chuck eye is so small it cannot see.”—McMillan


Lamb sirloin.—Brockman

Drunk chicken/ribs

Chicken or ribs that are marinated in beer or wine.—Brockman

Flat iron

A steak that comes from the Infraspinatus muscle, located adjacent to the heart of the shoulder clod, under the shoulder blade or scapula. It's called this because the cut should be flat like an old cast iron skillet.—McMillan & Jackson


Beef bottom round roast.—McMillan


Someone who is not a very good meat cutter.—Jackson

Illustration by Louie Chin

Meat muscles

The seriously-ripped upper body you get from lugging around meat all day.—Sanford

Meat needle

A tool used to shape and tie the roast.—Jackson


A retail term for odds-and-end pieces like pigs feet, pork neck, turkey tails, and smoked turkey wings.—Jackson


The best little nugget of chicken or any poultry found on the back of the bird near the thigh, in the hollow on the dorsal side of the ilium bone. This dark meat is super small, tasty, moist, and incredibly flavorful.—Brockman

Oyster steak

A super small and tasty beef steak cut off the aitchbone (some people call the flat iron this, but don’t).—Brockman

Petite tender

A steak that comes from the Teres Major from the shoulder blade. It is one of the most tender beef muscles and takes significant butchery skill to extract.—McMillan


The most coveted cut in Brazil, though lesser known in the U.S. where it’s called the rump cover or rump cap. A triangular cut from the top of the cow’s rump region of the cow which comes with a beautiful layer of fat.—Brockman


Rotisserie chickens.—Brockman

Illustration by Louie Chin

Selling itself

"An industry saying that means, no matter how good any particular butcher is, if the meat itself isn’t good, there’s not much a butcher can do to improve it."—Jackson

Shell steak

Also known as a strip steak, or New York strip, ironically it is sometimes just called a shell steak in NYC. The cut comes from the short loin and is particularly tender.—Jackson

Short line

When you leave the bone and tenderloin in for a porterhouse or T-Bone. (A porterhouse has a larger filet while the T-bone has a smaller filet.)—Jackson

Sloppy seconds

The fresh ground sausage that's left in the bottom of the sausage stuffing machine.—Sanford

Six inch boner

A prized knife for boning out meat from a carcass.—Sanford

Strip line

When you take the bone and tenderloin out for a strip steak.—Jackson


A pig’s stomach.—McMillan

Illustration by Louie Chin