TTU Meat Judging: A cut above the rest

TTU Meat Judging: A cut above the rest

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

Editorial Note: We're sharing this story again, first published September 30, since Tech just won its 14th national championship. The story below was from before this latest title. 

It has been called the Alabama of meat judging. Texas Tech has dominated in the sports, with 13 national titles.

Keith Shoemake looked at four pork carcasses and ranked them after 30 seconds, "I'm going to go ahead and make that guy my class winner just because he's real trim and he's got a huge ham, so he's going to yield a lot of closely trimmed retail just because of that muscling and that lack of fat," the Texas Tech junior said.

When junior Paige Williams looked at a pork loin she noticed some faults, "This shouldn't be more than four inches and it's about five. This one also has diaphragm right here and hanging tender."

Shoemake and Williams are two of Texas Tech's team of 20 meat judges.

"A lot of other universities can only afford to have six or eight and so the fact that we have all these kids coming together and work together to bring each other up really helps us be successful," Coach Tommy Fletcher added.

The team puts in a lot of time practicing. They drive 100 miles to Friona every Friday at 1 P.M. to practice. On Saturdays they meet at 4 A.M. for a 10 hour practice.

"Those are some long days, but we're just very passionate about it, we want to do well and we're willing to put in the work to do well," Shoemake said.

The long practices prepare the team for long contests. It's a formula Dr. Mark Miller has taught for 30 years.

"The day we stopped talking about winning the national championship, we started winning them pretty much all the time," Miller said.

13 national championships to be exact.

"In all honesty, everybody hates us, they want to beat us," Miller added.

Texas Tech is one of the hottest teams right now, but they don't hold the most national championships. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M have more.

"It's a lot bigger picture than meat judging," Miller said. "Like meat judging is the vehicle that we can use to do things to make a big impact in people's lives and also across this country."

That's the case for senior, Denise Guevara. She was in community college when Miller noticed her at a competition. He writes letters to recruit and made a special one for Guevara.

"Dr. Miller actually hand wrote mine and said hey, I saw your progression, I saw how much you worked and you strived for what you achieved and I'd really like to see you at Tech," she remembered.

Guevara's parents immigrated from Mexico and work in the industry. Her culture and experience at Tech is leading her to an international career. Her goal is to work in animal welfare and food safety, in lesser-developed countries.

"Wanting to help countries set up a good standard of meat quality and meat safety and hopefully if possible, maybe coach a team or two," she added.

According to Miller, "She's going to be a big player in this industry."

Miller's mission is to set kids up for success. He's had students go on to develop Lunchables, run major corporations and governmental agencies. He's also had plenty become parents and raise the next generation to join the Ag industry.

"Our whole mission is to grow young people. About being unselfish, about being committed to excellence and to be honorable in everything you do. If you do those three things, everything else takes care of itself," Miller said.

Texas Tech will compete for its 14th national championship, in November.



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