UNL Meats Judging team muscles through beginning of season, earning 2nd in overall placings

by Chandra Spangler | IANR News

2022 UNL Meats Judging Team
The 2022 Meats Judging Team (from left to right) consists of Ian Klaes, Emma Schmidt, Sarah Dilley, Elizabeth Hodges, Amber Staab, Allison Everhart, Alexis Gerritse, Megan Vrbka, and Laura Reiling (not pictured).
May 9, 2022

Lincoln, Neb. — For nearly 100 years University of Nebraska-Lincoln students have been evaluating the cuts of meat for differences in composition and quality as part of the Meats Judging Team.

The UNL Meats Judging Team hit the ground running in that first year – 1926 -- winning the First International Livestock Exposition Meat Judging Contest. The success continued throughout the years as they received multiple team and individual awards at numerous contests. The team went through a recent slow spell, but is working to gain momentum again after hiring Brianna Buseman, youth meat animal extension assistant professor, as the head coach of the Meats Judging Team in 2020.

Buseman came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with the mission of the Meats Judging Team in mind. It aims to introduce students to various meat industry opportunities through educational and internship experiences.

Students hone their meat judging skills through class curriculum, practices and workouts. Students are first introduced to meat judging through an introduction to meat evaluation, grading and judging class, where they learn how to evaluate beef carcasses, beef primal cuts, pork carcasses, pork primal cuts, and lamb carcasses through the application of U.S. Department of Agriculture Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications. Here, students receive strong exposure to information relating to meat quality through lectures and hands-on experiences with the use of product in the meat lab.

The UNL Meats Judging team practices evaluating cuts of meat at the University of Wyoming.

Students who join the Meat Judging Team practice three days a week. Typically, one day is skill specific to work on specific areas students might be struggling in to try and improve. Another day is focused on reasons practice where students judge a class of meat and present a set of reasons on why they placed the cuts the way they did. The final practice of the week is a workout day where students get the chance to work with product in the meat lab, or travel to a processing facility to see some different cuts to practice their judging skills.

UNL Meats Judging team members practice analyzing beef carcasses at McLean Beef, Inc. during the spring 2022 season.

The hours of practice by the team’s nine members have paid off as they have completed the first part of their season. This spring, the team placed 3rd in pork judging and 2nd in overall placings at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. Sarah Dilley, sophomore animal science student, placed 1st in overall placings with a perfect day. At the Iowa State Contest in Ames, Iowa, the team placed 3rd in lamb judging, 3rd in summer sausage, 4th in placings and 5th in pork judging. Individually, Elizabeth Hodges, a sophomore agricultural and environmental sciences communication and animal science double major, placed 5th in lamb judging, and Laura Reiling, a junior animal science student, placed 9th high alternate.

Looking toward the fall, the meats judging team hopes to continue garnering awards.

“We know what areas we need to focus on, and I think coming into the fall we’re going to be excited and ready to go with it,” said Buseman.

The lessons learned extend beyond involvement of the team. Students can learn the important skills of dealing with people, get travelling experience, and gain an insider perspective of the meat industry and the opportunities that lie within it. Numerous connections can also be made with students from other schools, potentially faculty from other universities, and industry professionals. These connections can be an asset for students in their future careers, or perhaps in their possible pursuit of graduate school.

“I’m just thankful for the support from the university and I’m excited to see it continue to build because we’re definitely in a growing period, and I know that comes with some growing pains, but I think it’s pretty exciting to see where we can go,” said Buseman.