Meat – some raise it, others eat it and a few Kansans judge it. More than 40 students across Kansas learn butchering techniques and view strip steaks in competitions nationwide. These students learn their skills on meat judging teams at three Kansas colleges. New this year, the Garden City Community College team is selling their meat, which they practice judging and cutting on, on Main Street.
Selling meat on Main Street
"I’ve never heard of this anywhere else," said Clint Alexander, Ph.D., GCCC meat judging coach and agriculture professor. "It’s definitely a great partnership. It gives us a merchandising arm."
Alexander teaches the students how to price the product, including the cost of labor and marketing. For example, only about 30 pounds of an 800-pound carcass is ribeye.
A fourth-generation rancher from Finney County, Alexander said he is blessed to have Tyson nearby. He supervises his team in cutting and storing the meat they get from the meat packing plant in the school’s federally inspected laboratory.
Once the meat is cut and inspected, it is brought to Klaus Wood Pellets and Outdoor Living, a retail store that sells Traeger grills and barbecue supplies in downtown Garden City. Ryan Klaus sold the grills for years, and because of his success, he decided to open a storefront a little more than a year ago. In addition to the freezers full of meat from the college team, the store carries outdoor furniture, knives and seasonings.
The proceeds are then recirculated to the program.
"We rent the college the space and take a small percentage," Klaus said. "The rest all goes back to the meat judging program."
Along with specialty cuts of Angus beef, including brisket, prime rib, bacon-wrapped fillets and tri-tip steaks, the students offer lamb and make sausage.
All the meat used by the three school’s teams, GCCC, Fort Scott Community College and Kansas State University, comes from USDA federally inspected facilities. A state inspector must be present while each facility cuts carcasses.
Another business model
K-State is the only school in the U.S. that participated in every international meat judging contest since 1927. Students judge beef, pork and lamb carcasses. Eighteen students from Kansas, California, Maryland and Missouri help cut and evaluate the meat. Each year, a few students from from GCCC and FSCC join the team.
Unlike Garden City, K-State has a kill floor and a herd of mixed-breed cattle. Once the meat is cut in their federally-inspected laboratory, it is sold in a retail store on campus.
"We have a great opportunity to teach our students about different breeds and carcass composition," said Travis O’Quinn, Ph.D., professor of animal sciences and meat judging coach at K-State. "It helps support the cost of our meat lab."
When you do not have meat
Alexander said there used to be six meat judging teams in Kansas. But because of the expense, three of them closed down.
Sara Sutton, an agriculture instructor and meat judging coach at Fort Scott, said she does not have a laboratory on campus.
"We go to butchers around the state. Sometimes we go to the Tyson plant in Garden City," Sutton said. "We practice a lot on pictures, and we travel a lot."
Kansas and beef
In 1890, according to the Kansas National Historical Association, Kansas was third in the nation for cattle population. In 2019, Kansas has the third largest number of cattle on ranches and feed yards. As of last January, more than six million cattle call the state home. In addition, according to the USDA, in 2017, Kansas produced more than five billion pounds of red meat, approximately 11% of the nationwide total.
Why meat judging
Members of all three teams travel across the country judging meat, and all have won numerous awards. Many employers view team member’s skills, such as decision-making and communication, highly.
Micaila Lock, 20, an animal science major and meat judging team member at GCCC, grew up on a farm in Wallace, Kansas.
"I’ll probably take over the cattle part of it after I graduate," Lock said. "I learned a lot through meat judging."
Anderson and Klaus are excited to see the students excel and be able to support their travel and schooling through retail sales.
"Our goal is to support the beef industry, our local college, sporting teams and the Kansas Honor Flight," Klaus said. "Barbecue is a good way of getting people together. Barbecue is not something you do; it’s a lifestyle."