Meat Lab Team Finds the Winning Cure

The UC Davis team, from left: Caleb Sehnert, Meat Lab manager and team coach; and student employees Josh Cheng, Jared Hickory, Jackson MacLeane, Mario Valdez (reserve grand champion) and Chyanne Hughes (grand champion).
The UC Davis team, from left: Caleb Sehnert, Meat Lab manager and team coach; and student employees Josh Cheng, Jared Hickory, Jackson MacLeane, Mario Valdez (reserve grand champion) and Chyanne Hughes (grand champion).

The Meat Lab’s student employees found the right cure — with beef jerky — to regain the team title in the college section of the California Association of Meat Processors’ Cured Meat Competition.

With the recent win, UC Davis has now had possession of the Norm Eggin Championship Cup for six years out of the seven years it has been awarded.

“After losing the trophy to Cal Poly by a mere 10 points last year, our returning juniors and seniors really wanted to get it back,” said Caleb Sehnert, UC Davis Meat Lab manager and team coach.

In each year’s contest, all the competitors are assigned the same cured meat to prepare. This year it was whole muscle jerky from beef.

The Eggin cup goes to the team with the highest total of three individual scores. UC Davis achieved that with Chyanne Hughes’ “Sweet and Spicy Meat Candy” (grand champion, or first place), Mario Valdez’s pastrami jerky (reserve grand champion, or second place) and Jared Hickory’s fourth-place “Bourbons Revenge.” (Valdez also won the meat processors’ scholarship.)

Other UC Davis team members finished as follows: Josh Cheng, fifth, “Asian Invasion Jerky”; and Jackson MacLeane, eighth, “Beehive Blitz” — meaning all UC Davis competitors placed in the top one-third of the 27 entries.

Each year, Sehnert said, the college competitors start from scratch. “They work for weeks trying to get the flavors and craftsmanship dialed in,“ he said. “Then, a day or two before the contest they make the final batches for the competition.

“For this year’s jerky challenge,” he said, describing the process at UC Davis, “the students sliced and marinated the meat, then smoked and dried it in our smokehouse — that usually takes about four to seven hours.”

Then comes the competition during the meat processors’ annual convention, held this year at Chico State University. Judging is based on appearance, uniformity, aroma, flavor, palatability, after taste and color. 

“Our students worked long hours researching, trying out and tweaking the recipes and slicing techniques until they had products worthy of entering,” Sehnert said. “I couldn’t be happier for them — or prouder.”

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About the author(s)

Dateline Staff Dave Jones, editor, can be reached at 530-752-6556 or dljones@ucdavis.edu. Cody Kitaura, news and media relations specialist, can be reached at 530-752-1932 or kitaura@ucdavis.edu.

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