At Texas Tech, Hunger and Focus Fuel Dominance In Meat Judging

Nov 15, 2019

From Texas Standard:

There’s no shortage of worthy choices if you’re debating the best college football, basketball or volleyball team. But when it comes to supremacy in the meat locker, there is only one school you can call the very best: Texas Tech. Over the weekend, the Texas Tech meat judging team claimed their 14th national championship – a record that’s unmatched in the world of amateur meat evaluation.

You can be on the Texas Tech meat judging team, or you can have your weekends free, but you can’t do both.

Sherri Halsted is a senior at Tech.

“We pride ourselves on being the hardest-working team,” Halsted says.

Every Friday afternoon from January through November, she and her teammates on the meat judging team go to a nearby Cargill processing plant to practice. They’re there until about 9 pm, and then…

“The next day we start bright and early for a 4 a.m. practice, and typically those practices aren’t over until 4 p.m.,” Halsted says.

And then there are morning practices during the week, before classes start. This may sound like an arduous schedule, but it’s a proven one. On Sunday, the Red Raiders claimed their 14th national title by taking first place at the American Meat Science Association International Meat Judging Contest in Dakota City, Nebraska. Each contest is pretty much what you would expect: contestants evaluate different carcasses and cuts of meat, and the most accurate wins. There are various events to test different skills: evaluating the quality of a beef carcass, for example, ranking pork ribs, and yield grading, where you have to use mental math to estimate the amount of protein in a cut like a ribeye. It requires a lot of technical expertise, but according to Coach Mark Miller, mindset is what’s most important.

“We practice hard and then we ask them to just envision that your success will come from all your good practice,” Miller says. “And that self-doubt will just eat you alive, it’s like a cancer.”

Although the competitors judge each piece of meat at the same time, it can still get pretty lonely in the meat cooler. According to Halsted – who in addition to being part of the championship team, also won first place in Sunday’s individual competition – nerves never completely go away, even for someone like her, who’s been judging meat competitively since she was a freshman in high school.

“You’re usually pretty panicked when you get out of the cooler, but it’s definitely a big sigh of relief, especially when you can say you did everything you could, you left everything in the cooler, you were 100 percent focused and you did the best you could,” Halsted says.

And on Sunday, she did. Miller’s teams usually do. He’s coached the Tech meat judging team for 13 of its 14 national titles, which has created a challenge in and of itself: keeping the team focused and hungry when championships are the rule, not the exception.

“They had to really humble themselves. They needed to not just expect that they were going to do well, they had to just not take anything for granted and be very humble in all they did,” Miller says.

His message to next year’s team will be the same. A fourteenth championship doesn’t guarantee a fifteenth – especially since in meat judging, you only get one year of eligibility, instead of four, like most other collegiate competitions. Still, even with 28 new members on the team, the standard in Lubbock will stay just the same.