Cooking events at Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic sizzle with consumers and producers
KEARNEY — Ronette Bush-Heinrich, manager of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic, remembers when the dream started to showcase the beef industry of Nebraska in Kearney. That was back in 1990, two years before the event really kicked off in 1992.
The NCC began with shows and sales of 11 beef breeds, a commercial trade show and the junior livestock show. It has grown to include many other facets all tied to the beef industry,
The 25th annual Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic kicked off for its weeklong run Feb. 13. The first two days were dedicated to the ranch horse, from an evaluation to team and open roping to a ranch rodeo. Feb. 14 began with Cowboy Church and had the working cow horse competition and sale.
On Feb. 15, the NCC held its inaugural National CattleDog Association trial. These two animals — working horses and dogs — were showcased because of their contributions to a successful ranch.
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Feb. 16, vendors in the trade show set up shop while a new event, the Ag Innovation/Technology workshop was held in the morning. A seminar by Viaero Wireless explained and demonstrated RoseTech Barn Cameras, Ag Eagle-Drones and more.
Then, beef took center stage with a new event, the Classic Steak Cook Off. About 10 teams were given three ribeye steaks to prepare and turn in to a panel of judges.
“The steaks will be judged on appearance, closest to medium, tenderness and flavor,” said Bill Runions of Minden. He and wife Jeri are wholesalers for Traeger grills, which by the looks of the teams, was the most popular grill used. Runions was a first-time contestant. “This sounded like fun and we aren’t that far away … I’ve grilled a lot of steaks in my time. TLC (tender loving care) is my secret ‘weapon’ for appearance and tenderness.”
Some of the steak cook-off contestants were also part of another inaugural event — Battle of the Breeds. Nebraska beef associations were encouraged to set up a display, and using whatever beef recipe they wanted, cook for the public. Suzy Hebbert, Hyannis rancher and secretary and manager of the Nebraska Angus Association had plenty of help to set up their display and cook for both the steak contest and their breed recipe. They had to change the breed up for thier cooking, though.
“We had to use certified Hereford beef for the steak contest as that is what the NCC provided us with from Cash-way, but at our booth of course the meat is certified Angus in the form of New York Strip Prime steaks, where we have fajitas as our entrée,” she said.
Other associations with their beef recipes included Simmental, Piedmontese and Hereford. Limousin had their banner, but due to conflicts in other parts of the country, did not have any beef on hand.
Simmental had pulled beef sandwiches and offered free beer to those old enough to enjoy.
“We made enough to serve 200 people, and we ran out,” said Margaret Smith of Taylor. She and her husband, Charlie, raise Simmentals and a composite breed in Taylor with their three daughters, age 6, 4 and 1.
Another steak cook-off contestant was a team called ‘Beefy Babes.’ For the public, they were enhancing their steak bites with a ‘Blue Cheese Crab sauce.’
“Steaks could not be embellished for the contest, but I had this recipe and wanted to share it,” said Jennifer Leupp, of Overton. Her teammate was Bonita Lederer from Pierce.
The Battle of the Breeds had the public vote on best beef, best display and best hospitality. Angus was the people’s choice for the first two categories, while Simmental won for best hospitality.
If you did not get enough beef in the arena, you could go on the west side near the sale ring and get an indoor picnic of hamburgers and all the trimmings at the Classic Burger Bash, open and free to the public, served by the NCC committee. These had been smoked by Bill Runion.
“We had 300 patties in the smoker while preparing for the steak contest,” he said.
Feb. 17 began the show and sale days – Herefords, Polled Herefords and Red Angus took to the showring. The arena was divided so that classes from two different breeds could be run simultaneously. Feb. 18 belonged to Angus, Simmental, Charolais, Limousin and Gelbvieh, while Feb. 19, Shorthorns, Maine Anjous and Chianians were shown and sold.
The champions and reserve of all breeds will be placed on Supreme Row, where overall NCC champion and reserve of both bulls and heifers were selected Feb. 20.
Feb. 17 was also the day dedicated to the future leaders of ag and the elementary school groups of the area that want to learn more about how their food is raised. There were some 300 plus blue jackets, or FFA students, who came to not only enjoy, but to compete. School chapters were encouraged, but not required, to set up displays explaining their chapter activities.
A team from each chapter could be entered to give a report on the knowledge gained at the NCC, winning cash prizes for that chapter from $1,500 for first to $250 for sixth.
“Our board decided last year to celebrate our silver anniversary by awarding to our future ag leaders monetary scholarships instead of the trophies and ribbons that just collect dust,” Bush-Heinrich said. “The awarding of those winners and the scholarships will occur on Saturday.” ❖
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