My favourite sport at the Winter Olympics is curling. The often-derided “chess on ice” is the most thrilling thing one can do in a cold arena filled with frozen water. After all, the excitement of scrubbing the ice in front of a sliding stone while being screamed at by a madman makes for high-octane TV. But now, it seems, I have found something even more exhilarating: competitive meat judging. An article in Sports Illustrated introduced me to a competition that has been held each year since 1926 with the exception of the Second World War. Today, the American Meat Science Association is in charge of the competition and holds six championships each year with the International Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Dakota City, Nebraska, the most important event in the calendar.
Contestants prepare for the contest in ten different categories ranging from beef carcasses to pork cuts. The bible for competitors is the Meat Evaluation Handbook which has been used to train meat science professionals for years. And the best athletes come from universities with a strong agricultural program like Texas Tech or Oklahoma State. What makes the competition so demanding is that athletes can only participate for one year during their university career, so team managers have to be able to select their team members at the peak of their performance. Of course, it helps to hone your skills if your university campus is close to a factory of a major meat producer like Tyson Foods or Cargill, as is the case for Texas Tech. Students of Texas Tech go to the Cargill Foods plant in Friona, Texas every Friday afternoon to practice for tournaments giving them an advantage over their rivals.
Major meat producers as well as the US Department of Agriculture are keen to sponsor the events and to pick up successful meat graders as future employees. After all, if you can estimate the amount of fat and meat on a carcass down to the fraction of an inch, your career as a meat inspector or meat scientist is probably going to be a high-flying one.
I for one, will lobby my friends at the International Olympic Committee to introduce meat judging as an Olympic sport. Then, the best Americans could compete with the best Australians for the gold. I know, it will be a thrilling match.
Professional meat judging in action
Source: Sports Illustrated.