When animal sciences graduate student Brenna Klauer visits a grocery store’s meat department, she doesn’t just see meat in a case. Klauer, coach of Colorado State University’s Meat Judging Team, can easily identify different cuts of meat, assessing their quality and potential yield. As part of January’s National Western Stock Show, Klauer will lead her team as they compete in the American Meat Science Association National Western Stock Show Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest at the JBS facility in Greeley on Jan. 15.
“This is essentially a home game for us,” said Klauer. “Our team is competitive at almost every contest but is it especially important to us to have a good showing here in Colorado.” The January contest is one of three contests that the team will take part in during the spring semester. Being a part of the Meat Judging Team is actually a commitment spanning 1 ½ years with the team spending their first fall semester in the classroom, attending the three contests the following spring, and then travelling to four contests during their second fall, culminating with their final major event in South Dakota.
The current Meat Judging Team includes 12 students, which is fairly large for a CSU meat judging team. Of the dozen, only four will have their scores count toward the overall team score, which means the students must demonstrate both skill and dedication if they are going to earn one of these coveted spots.
“Meat judging is a significant commitment, particularly in terms of time,” said Klauer. “Our team members might spend up to 12 hours a day in a cooler, assessing cuts of meat.” The team practices at the same JBS facility where they will compete in January, spending time in the coolers grading meat and looking at smaller cuts of meat on the JBS floor.
Placing classes and writing reasons are two central components to meat judging. Team members need to know how to evaluate beef carcasses as well as specific cuts of pork and lamb. A detailed understanding of USDA grading scales for beef quality – prime, choice, and select – is also a skill that team members must excel at. They also must know how much yield can be expected from particular cuts that are presented to them.
“Meat judging is perhaps one of the most unique experiences that a student can have at Colorado State University,” said Dale Woerner, an associate professor of animal sciences who also serves as the team’s advisor. “Students are able to learn professional skills while mastering decision making, experiencing leadership, and becoming the ultimate teammate.”
Klauer, who came to CSU from California, knew almost nothing about meat science or meat judging when she arrived on campus. After earning an undergraduate degree in animal science and serving as assistant coach for last year’s team, Klauer has learned just how valuable the experience has been for her and will be for her team members. “This is hard work, and when you enter industry and meet other people who were meat judges in college, they will know just how hard you worked,” said Klauer. “Meat judging helped me find a professional home on campus and has given me friends for life. I feel like I will be better position for a job in product development because of my time on the Meat Judging Team.”
One doesn’t need to travel to a judging contest to see the Meat Judging Team in action. The team provides catering at a number of university and private events as way to raise funds for travel and materials. They often provide meat, sides, and desserts for official CSU football game tailgates, and many events in the Department of Animal Sciences as well as in the College of Agricultural Sciences.