Starting late winter and early spring of each year there are state and regional cured meat competitions held around the country. These competitions lead to what many processors consider to be the most prestigious cured meat competition held in the U. S.; the American Cured Meat Championships (ACMC) held each year in conjunction with the Annual Convention of the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP).

Processors from across the country vie for top honors at the ACMC. Winning gives you bragging rights and reinforces that you are doing an exceptional job. Winners proudly display their plaques and trophies and include news about their winning products in their advertising. It is great to win; however, competing in itself can be fun and very educational.

After the competition is completed, people are allowed to view all the products. It is a unique opportunity to walk into a room with several hundred different products on display and be able to compare them with each other and with your products.

Most winning competitors enter products they produce on a regular basis; products that have stood the test of time with their customers. Granted, they don’t very often just grab a package out of the cooler and enter it in competition. Rather, they select product that has exceptional workmanship and appearance. Normally the flavor of the product is the same flavor profile they produce on a day-to-day basis. Characteristics winners look for in the products they enter include:
External trim: Ham, bellies, etc., that are uniformly trimmed and don’t have ragged edges
External color: Products that have a rich mahogany color, not products that are light, extremely dark, muddy or streaked in appearance
Particle definition: Distinct visible particles of fat and lean in a coarse-ground sausage is highly desirable
Links: Links that are uniform in diameter and length
Casings: Product stuffed in fibrous casing should be uniform and free of defects
Freshness: Select products at the beginning of their shelf life not toward the end.

These may seem like small, unimportant details. However, in cured meat competitions it is not unusual for only a few points to separate the winners from those that do not place.

When judges evaluate products they will be discounted for even the smallest of defects. After all, they must select the best of the best. Small defects, such as toucher markers on hams or smoked sausages that are acceptable in every day production are not acceptable in competition. When examining product in a cured meat competition viewing, processors should always compare traits observed in the winners with traits in their own products. If your product places in the upper 20 percent of a class, you should feel good about it, and chances are you will win your share of competitions. If your product places in the bottom 50 percent of a class, maybe you should seriously consider some changes.

While participating in a cured meat competition viewing, make sure to look at the innovative and specialty product classes. You just might get an excellent idea for a new product.

Remember: We can accomplish many more things if we do not think of them as impossible.