4-H meat judging: What’s it all about?

Meat judging helps youth develop important life skills and by participating in the project, contestants show their ability to evaluate carcasses and identify meats.

Contestants evaluate carcasses to determine yield and quality grades at the Michigan 4-H/FFA Meat Judging Contest.

Contestants evaluate carcasses to determine yield and quality grades at the Michigan 4-H/FFA Meat Judging Contest.

4-H provides numerous learning opportunities, camps, contests, shows and events for members. Sometimes forgotten are the projects that are a little more challenging to explain. The 4-H meat science project allows youth to learn about the different cuts of meat along with the trimness and quality factors that affect the safety and taste of the meat products we consume. The project culminates each year with the Michigan 4-H/FFA Meat Judging Contest.

So what really is meat judging?

Well for starters, it’s cold! When practicing for a contest or competing, contestants put on an extra layer of clothing and a coat as they step into the coolers of a meat laboratory, business or processing plant. Food safety has to be the first priority in this project area because there is a consumable, uncooked product being judged. Beyond the cold, contestants move in a certain order from class to class to evaluate the meat products.

This project area helps youth improve life skills, such as decision making, communications skills and confidence, but it also provides them a very practical skill they can use every time they visit the grocery store or butcher shop. Youth learn how to examine a cut of meat to determine which will be of the highest quality and flavor. Whether they cook for themselves or others, this useful skill will be perfected over time.

What are the classes?

The classes will vary from contest to contest, but at the Michigan 4-H contest, classes presented for evaluation are three beef classes, three pork classes, identification of 20 retail cuts and yield grade and quality grade of three beef carcasses. Additionally, 4-H members will give two sets of oral reasons and FFA members will answer one set of questions and complete a multiple choice test. The contest is open to 4-H and FFA members with four separate divisions featuring individual and team competitions.

Why do youth compete on a 4-H meat judging contest?

By participating, contestants show their ability to evaluate carcasses and identify meats. These are skills that will impact youth now and in their future. The following three youth shared their reason for competing at the 2015 4-H Meat Judging Contest:

  • Jaycee Wise, Ottawa County 4-H member, “I show livestock so I thought it would be good to learn about what I’m producing.”
  • Kaleb Bickel, Lapeer County 4-H member, “I didn’t really know much about it and I wanted to learn more to see if it was something I would enjoy doing again and gain more experience.”
  • Brynnen Gardner, Kent County 4-H member, “Because I show livestock and wanted to know more about the industry I am a part of.”

Where can you learn more?

For information about getting involved in meats judging, visit the Michigan 4-H Animal Evaluation page or the Michigan State University Extension website for animal science content. The 4-H Meat Science Project Snapshot is a great starting point. If a youth is excited about meat judging, there are numerous online resources to help increase knowledge and understanding. One great training program is the Texas A & M University 4-H Meat Judging – Online Training

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