Team has ‘strong tradition’ at SDSU

Julie M. Frank

Julie M. Frank

It is 7 a.m. on the weekend. You are standing in a meat packing plant cooler surrounded by lamb carcasses. You have been preparing for at least a half an hour already. You are decked out in an insulated coat covered by a white lab coat, a hard hat, cotton gloves and steel-toed shoes. The intensity level is rising and the competition is about to begin.

Those steel-toed shoes you are standing in are those of a member of the SDSU Meat Judging Team.

“SDSU has a strong tradition. For those students on it [the team] it is a real honor,” said Duane Wulf, a meat science professor, team coordinator and 1987 team member.

According to Wulf, a meat judging team evaluates beef, lamb and pork carcasses and cuts for their quality and value. SDSU’s team, established in 1929, participates in competitions across the nation, including Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa. Many of these competitions take place in meat packing plants.

Their season consists of seven intercollegiate meat judging contests. During the High Plains Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Plainview, TX, records were broken. Matt Grussing, a junior animal and range science major, is the first SDSU student to earn first overall in the High Plains competition. He earned a score of 1069, which is also the highest score received by an SDSU student in school history.

Grussing grew up on a farm with cattle and previously judged in other competitions on Future Farmers of America and 4-H teams. He joined the team with no previous knowledge of judging meats because it was something new to try.

Grussing set the record only to break it at the season’s final competition, the International in Dakota City, Neb. Wulf said that this is the “superbowl” of meat judging contests. Grussing, again, was first overall and set a new record of 1070 points.

“I was surprised,” Grussing said. “It’s something to be happy and proud about. I’m glad I could represent the college.”

The team was fourth overall at the International and has “constantly” been in the top five since 2000, according to Wulf. The SDSU Meat Judging Team won the International back in 1984.

Before joining the team, students are required to take AS 200-Introduction to Meats Judging-with Wulf. Students can only be on the team for one season, which runs from January through November. Limiting participation to one year allows other students the opportunity to join.

At competitions, participants are split into six groups; members of the same team are separated, according to Tim Nath, the team’s coach and member of the 2004 team. All team members judge at competitions. However, only four judgments are submitted for scoring. The chosen four are not known until after the contest is over.

Throughout the day, teams judge 10 classes. Each class consists of four carcasses, which they rank one through four. For some of the ranking, a reason is submitted, which the team is also scored on. A reason is a written statement as to why one carcass ranked higher than another, according to Wulf.

The team also competes in beef grading and specifications, which is determining if a meat cut is correct, according to Grussing.

Both Grussing and Nath agree traveling, meeting new people and networking with those already in the industry make the invested time worth it. Grussing said meat judging has taught him to keep motivated and not give up.

Competing on the team teaches students skills such as leadership, teamwork, communicating and more that future employers look for in prospective employees, Wulf said.