The University of Kentucky's Meat Science program
Southeastern traditions are celebrated at University of Kentucky Meat Science Laboratory and the UK Butcher Shop
Kentucky is known as the Horse Capitol of the World, the world’s leader in Bourbon production, and its ravenous appetite for college basketball. Kentucky is rich in history and traditions, and the Meat Science program at the University of Kentucky is honoring and preserving those traditions while starting more. Recently, UK has created a new tradition by opening a retail sales area to merchandize surplus meat from research and teaching activities. The addition of the retail meat sales area has had a tremendous impact on UK’s mission.
E.J. Wilford was hired in 1918 to teach butchering at the University of Kentucky, and the very first class was offered in 1919. Therefore, next year UK will celebrate 100 years of meat science instruction. The meat from the animals that Mr. Wilford and the students processed was sold to the public, and that tradition continued until the early 1970s. The UK Meats Laboratory moved to its current location, the W.P. Garrigus Building, then known as Ag South in 1972. The retail sales area was closed after the move, due to limited space. However, that has changed; the current retail area was reopened in 2015, renamed the UK Butcher Shop and has had a positive impact on the meats program as well as the UK community.
Today, the meat science program works to provide the UK community and the citizens of Lexington with local, high-quality fresh and processed meats made by UK students. The UK Butcher Shop is a partnership between the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and UK Dining Services that has been beneficial for both parties, as some of the products made by the meats lab appear on the menus at UK eateries. The UK Butcher Shop describes itself as a boutique butcher shop, as they do not have a consistent supply of meat from research and teaching efforts, but the popularity of the UK Butcher Shop has officials at UK looking to expanding their efforts. Currently, the UK Butcher Shop is exploring the possibility of moving to a more visible location on campus and dedicating more animals for retail sales area. This will create more teaching opportunities for UK students and more visibility for the meat science program.
The UK Butcher Shop does not advertise by traditional avenues, but utilizes social media to inform customers of product availability and changes in operation hours. The Facebook page “University of Kentucky Butcher Shop” started out with likes from a few UK employees and faithful students to over 3700 likes and continues to grow. The information gleaned from the Butcher Shop’s Facebook page has indicated that the majority of the customers are members of the UK community, UK Health Care, and local UK alumni. UK undergraduate student, Emma Shelton, maintains the UK Butcher Shop Facebook page which features humor cartoons, pictures from extension workshops, 4-H activities, and UK meats classes as well as recipes for various products that are on the shelves. Ms. Shelton also fields many questions from customers about where cuts originate and how to properly cook those cuts. This has led her to see the need for consumer education in meat science and hopes to create more educational content on the Facebook.
The success of the UK Butcher Shop would not be possible without the support of the faculty and staff within the Department of Animal and Food Science. The University of Kentucky has three meat scientists on staff, Dr. Youling Xiong, Dr. Surendranath Suman, and Dr. Gregg Rentfrow. Dr. Xiong is the senior meat scientist whose research focuses on muscle protein chemistry and the use of antioxidants in fresh meats. Dr. Suman is interested in meat color and how to prolong the desirable color of fresh meats. The extension activities fall to Dr. Rentfrow, who specializes in meat processing, food safety, and 4-H activities, as well as serves as the faculty supervisor of the UK meats lab and the UK Butcher Shop.
The personnel within the UK Meats Laboratory believe in the moto, “Learning by Doing,” The extension programing offers various workshops and classes throughout the year that focus on hands-on meat processing and processed meats. Moreover, Dr. Rentfrow and some meats lab personnel will travel to the Commonwealth’s meat processors to teach humane livestock handling and slaughter, as well as proper meat cutting techniques. University of Kentucky’s undergraduate students benefit from this experience as well. The ASC 300 Meat Science class is offered each fall semester where students learn about the meats and livestock industries, meat quality, and food safety in lectures during class, and then apply that knowledge in the laboratory. Meat Science students gain valuable hands-on experience in ASC 300 by slaughtering animals, carcass grading, carcass fabrication, and processed meats, as well as learning about the culinary side of the meats industry. Some alumni from the meat science class have been inspired to pursue careers in the meats industry and have become influential leaders.
The meat science program at the University of Kentucky is a very traditional program, but is always open to creating new traditions. The UK Butcher Shop has two signature sausages that were developed by students. The Spicy Fat Cat was created in cooperation with the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association and the Cheddar Cat was created with help from the Kentucky Pork Producers, both smoked sausages are sold at Rupp Arena (UK Basketball) and at Kroger Field (UK Football). The students involved in the development and production of these sausages have taken pride in their work, thus proving that the faculty and staff at the Department of Animal and Food Science within the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment are committed to creating leaders for livestock and meats industries.
More information on the University of Kentucky program can be found online at: http://meatscience.org/students/graduate-programs/university-of-kentucky.