Interview: James Smith – The Tattooed Butcher

by | Nov 3, 2022 | At Home

James Smith started his working life as a night-shift worker in a small butcher shop. Thirteen years later he’s won multiple awards, including the 2020 NZ Butcher of the Year, Beef + Lamb Ambassador and was selected for the New Zealand Sharp Blacks team – that’s right, there is such a thing. But it was during a butchery competition that he earned the title, The Tattooed Butcher, an identity he’s now fully embraced on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Vincent spoke to James for a few minutes between his busy schedule of filming and managing those spring orders for his online shop.


So James, you’re a butcher and you’ve got tattoos. But how did you become The Tattooed Butcher?

The story behind the name is basically that I competed in a butcher competition in Auckland four years ago and I got introduced as the tattooed butcher when I walked on stage. And the name kind of stuck and I turned it into a social media page.

The brand really was built through Instagram. It was a platform for me to showcase butchery on a different scale, I guess. How do I start to build something that people haven’t really done before? Not in the meat industry anyway.



You obviously really enjoy your craft. There’s always so much more to discover, rght?

I’m super passionate about what I do, really passionate about food in general. I’ve also worked really closely with chefs. I’ve had the opportunity to do voluntary work for some of the Beef and Lamb ambassador chefs to build my knowledge on cooking. As a butcher it just makes me better, learning that cooking side. So I consider myself almost a chef/butcher now. I spend a lot of my weekends creating cooking content, recipe writing, doing pastries, all sorts of different stuff.


Is meat becoming more premium?

Yes, people are getting smarter with it. Obviously, the price of meat isn’t getting any cheaper. But I think people are also balancing their diets more and they might cut two days a week off  their meat diet. That said were still seeing really big increase in demand in our online store. Things like low-and-slow barbecue is getting big over here as it has done around the world or more so in Australia.

If you look at the butcher trades as barbers, it’s very hip and I guess you’d say a bit retro. People enjoy talking to their butcher, enjoy seeing how it’s all done.


So what are the trends in meat and butchery at the moment?

Low ‘n slow barbecues are really coming in – though that’s still a very small percentage for us. I think it’s the guys who are really getting stuck in and overspending [laughing] on the meat on the weekends. ,

A lot of people are moving away from your eyelets and your standard fillets – though there’s still the volume there. We kind of do a niche range of sausages that seem to appeal. Whiskey flavoured sausages, pickle flavoured.


The 2022 Sharp Blacks, James top left


Where’s venison at? Wild venison is great isn’t?

Yes I love venison. But we struggle to get a regular supply. I work with Hunting and Fishing New Zealand and we’ve been producing content to teach people to how to actually utilize the whole animal. In New Zealand we are very lucky with the wild game that we’ve got. So it’s, it’s all about utilising it and not just necessarily using your back straps. Not just your main cuts, but getting creative with mincing and sausages. We sell quite a bit in the shop, mostly as small goods, patties and things like that. But there are a lot of good little small game like distributors, like Premium Game Meats.

You can get all sorts: kangaroo, wild tar, wild sheep. Someone I spoke to is doing some pretty neat things like sponsoring a hunter –  essentially you pay them to go and shoot you an animal and supply the meat for you. You’re cutting out that wastage and you’re giving someone that’s passionate about what they do the opportunity to do it as a job. I think it would be really cool to see more people do things like that.


What’s something we should try that you think is fantastic but is not common?

Goat’s really good. It’s a lean meat but if you cook it right it’s like lamb without the fat – it’s got that moisture in it. And play around and get creative, like get into making your own sausages. I teach a lot of classes and I’m finding huge interest in the whole field-to-plate thing, learning where your food comes from, how you produce and package it yourself. So, I think it would be cool to see more people doing that.

Check out James on Beef + Lamb Recipes, Facebook, and YouTube 


About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

Related Posts

Lamb massaman curry

Lamb massaman curry

Recipe from Nici Wickes latest book, More form a Quiet Kitchen Massaman curry is a gently spiced, fragrant Thai-style curry, and the ingredient list is long for a true massaman curry paste, so I save time by using a quality store-brought paste for this stunner of a...

Sushi with me

Sushi with me

There is something about sushi that pleases even the fussiest eater.  Make your own and you can both tailor it to individual tastes as well as save a lot of money.  The only fancy equipment you will need is a bamboo mat to help you roll the sushi tightly, which only...

Southern fried chicken

Southern fried chicken

Fried chicken is a dish loved around the world, but it was one particular American Colonel and his eleven secret herbs and spices that made the Southern American comfort food famous. The trick to making succulent moist chicken is to brine it first, and after much...