UW meat judging team excels this year
Out of eight competitions this year, the University of Wyoming (UW) Meat Judging Team placed no lower than fourth, taking reserve three times as well as a first-place finish.
“We were very competitive all year long,” says UW Meat Judging Team Coach Zeb Gray.
This year’s team holds three of the top five highest team scores in UW history, as well as the records for beef grading and specifications.
At this year’s International Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Dakota City, Neb., the team earned a perfect score in specifications and took home the reserve national championship.
Similar to livestock judging, in meat judging, students judge different classes, such as carcass or primal cuts, and rank four exhibits from first to last. Contestants must write up their justifications for their rankings, based on both economic and scientific principles.
“Generally, the carcass or cut that is going to win the class is worth the most amount of money and the one that goes last is worth the least amount of money,” he comments.
Gray also mentions, “We judge beef, pork and lamb, and beef by far counts for the highest amount of points in the contest.”
Students also compete in specifications, in which they determine the quality of sub-primal meat cuts.
“They have to know anatomically whether that cut is cut properly to specification. Generally, with one cut, there will be seven or eight different specifications that have to be met, and the student has to know the anatomy of a carcass to say whether it meets these specifications or if it has one or more defects,” Gray continues.
Specifications are important in the meat industry because customers expect uniformity in their food products.
“If a supermarket calls and orders ribeye rolls, they want those ribeye rolls to be very similar to their last shipment and to their next shipment, so they want them to be cut properly. That’s a big part of our industry,” comments Gray.
Students who compete on the UW team first take a fall semester introductory class to learn about the principles of meat judging. They may then choose to join the team and judge competitively for the university.
“If they decide to judge, the first contest is at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo. Once they start judging, they only have one calendar year of eligibility,” he continues.
Over the past three years, the team has grown from five, to seven, to nine members who have completed the year, and Gray notes that he would like to see even more participation.
“Meat judging looks really good on a résumé for a lot of the same reasons livestock judging looks good on a résumé. Employers know that students are dedicated enough to stick it out for the full year. They were also able to be part of a team, and they were put in some pretty high pressure situations where they had to make decisions,” Gray says.
The food industry is also one of the most rapidly growing industries in terms of employment, and meat judging helps students become more employable.
“Basically, anybody that I’ve had come off of a meat judging team who wants to work in the meat or food industry has had no problem getting a job,” he adds.
Gray competed on a meat judging team as an undergraduate at Iowa State and is now pursuing his PhD in meat science at UW. He coaches the UW team, assisted by student John Lacey.
This year, team member Taryn Chapman of Canon City, Colo. broke the top UW beef grading record. McKenna Brinton of Jackson was top 10 in three different contests and now holds the third highest individual score ever posted by a UW meat judger. Eli Lindsey of Taylorstown, Va. was named to the All-American team, and Beth Lenz of Wray, Colo. scored in the top 10 in four different contests and became a Second Team All-American.
“The All-American selection is based on a judger’s performance throughout the whole year,” Gray notes, adding that prior to this year, only two other UW students have been named to the All-American Team.
BW Ochsner of Torrington was also in the top 10 at six different contests and holds the highest individual score and three of the top four reason scores ever posted by a Wyoming judger, in addition to being a First Team All-American.
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.