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Students with chops: NMSU reboots meat judging team

Clad in a hairnet and white coat, Eva Cortes-Monroy walked across a refrigerated meat lab on NMSU’s Las Cruces campus. She stopped before the bright red cattle carcasses hanging from the ceiling and began taking notes.

Cortes-Monroy, an undergraduate student studying agricultural economics and agricultural business, examined the massive beef cuts for quality and yield grade, using the skills she learned as a member of NMSU’s newly relaunched meat judging team.

“Attention to detail is key,” she says. “If you mess up on one number or grade, it can tank your points in competitions.”

Training for collegiate competitions has been a primary focus for NMSU’s meat judging team since its early days in the 1900s. After a nearly 40-year hiatus, the team orchestrated a comeback in fall 2023, with head coach Jacob Painter leading the charge. 

Painter, who manages NMSU’s meat lab, says the time was ripe for the team’s return as the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences opened the new Food Science, Security and Safety Center, which houses a state-of-the-art Meat Science Laboratory. The new lab provides ample space for the team to practice and break down meat, which students plan to sell to the public at Pistol Pete’s Premium Meats.

“Historically, we’ve had a team at New Mexico State, but we haven’t had the facilities or the funding for a long time,” Painter says. “So, we built the new facility, and that sparked an interest. But one of my goals when I joined NMSU in 2022 was to get the team going again.”

Painter draws on his vast background in meat and livestock judging to teach students about product quality, fabrication procedures and meat industry marketing, while sharpening their skills in teamwork, communication and critical thinking. His goal is to broaden students’ workforce skills and help them become more marketable after graduation.

“Whatever they decide to do, whether it’s working with live animals or going into the meat science side, knowing these skills will help them in either direction,” he says.

In its first two competitions during the spring 2024 semester, the team placed sixth and fifth in events in Greeley, Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas. The team’s success has earned universal praise, particularly among alumni who have long called to reestablish the team.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls since we started the team with a lot of congratulations,” Painter says. “This team means a lot to our alumni.”


Eva Cortes-Monroy (left) and Jacob Painter practice meat judging. NMSU’s meat judging team relaunched in fall 2023.

Eva Cortes-Monroy (left) and Jacob Painter practice meat judging. NMSU’s meat judging team relaunched in fall 2023.