Inside Texas Tech: The Art of Judging Meat

Dec 8, 2017

Members of the highly successful Texas Tech meat judging team credit work ethic and good chemistry with recently bringing home the group’s 13th national championship. Not too surprisingly, some on the outside aren’t sure exactly what the team does.

“I’ve gotten everything from, “wait do you just eat steaks all day.” No I wish I did,” Ben Mills, one of the judges, says.

Ben Mills and the 15 other members of Texas Tech’s meat judging team spend countless hours looking at cattle, lamb and hog carcasses. Then they spend additional time gazing at various cuts of meat to ensure they’re ready for whatever their competition brings.

That dedication led to a perfect 7-0 record during the spring and fall seasons, a mark not seen in 44 years of meat judging competitions. And along with that unblemished record, the 16-member team brought home the program’s 13th national championship in November in Dakota City, Nebraska.

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Mills, a 21-year-old junior from Shallowater, says the team’s work ethic is partly why the team does so well.

“We practice starting the semester before we actually start competing,” he says. “So then we compete for a year. When we’re practicing, we practice Friday afternoons and then on Saturdays we practice from really early in the morning until as long as it takes for us to finish.”

This year the team traveled in vans to competitions in Greeley, Colorado; Fort Worth; Houston; Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; Friona, Texas; and finishing up in Nebraska.

Texas Tech started its meat science program in 1981 and won its first national title in 1989. It won three in a row between 2011 and 2013.

This year’s national title came after Texas Tech outscored Kansas State, 4,185 to 4,134. Colorado State took third, Oklahoma State got fourth and Texas A&M placed fifth.

In individual categories, the Tech dominated, winning five of seven competitions.

April Molitor, a 21-year-old junior from Hondo, says judging beef includes looking at quality, yield and marbling. For pork, the criteria include the animal’s cut-ability and trimness, and in lamb the criteria include trimness and muscling.

Big competitions spark a tradition, she says. “Before the contest, we have a tradition where you have to eat the species that you’re going to be judging. So, leading up to big competitions, we’ll go to a nice steakhouse and everyone will eat a piece of beef or pork, really whatever you prefer, just not chicken or fish.”

The Meat Judging Team is comprised of predominantly sophomore and junior students who are interested in developing their knowledge of the meat industry. Students of any major can participate.

Quick decision-making is required in judging meat, and that, says team member Maddy Ainsley, a junior from Hondo, is a skill that will serve competitors well long after they finish their one-year tenure on the team.

“You have to learn how to make a decision on the spot. You have use reasoning and logic. Being able to make those instantaneous decisions and back it up with logic is something that you can carry in life,” Ainsley says.

Mills and his teammates feel their involvement with the meat judging competitions will pay dividends down the road.

“It allows us to meet people who are already in the industry that we want to go to and make those connections, so that when we go and apply for jobs, we are already able to say that we know them and we have this experience,” Mills says. “It also allows us to put it on our resume to show them that we are willing to work hard and put in the effort.”