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4-H youth to compete in state grilling championship at the University of Florida

Steaks being grilled. Barbecue, grilling, meat, meat science, steak, beef, cooking, food, nutrition. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Please see caption after story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Kara Croft, 16, noticed that all the other contestants at her district 4-H Tailgating Contest were using lighter fluid to start their grills, she got nervous. The lighter fluid produced big flames, while the paper charcoal-starter she used created a much smaller flame. But she stuck to her plan, reminding herself that paper starters, unlike lighter fluid, don’t impact the taste of grilled meat.

Croft, who is a Suwannee County 4-H member, ended up cooking the winning steak, which the judges said was both tender and flavorful. Her win qualified her for the State Championship 4-H Tailgating Contest, where she and 29 other youth will demonstrate mastery of cooking safety and grilling techniques.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will host the contest on September 10 at the Straughn IFAS Extension Professional Development Center on the UF campus. The Straughn Center is located at 2142 Shealy Drive, Gainesville, FL 32611. Check-in begins at 8 a.m., and grilling starts at 9 a.m. Contestants have 2 ½ hours to prepare and submit their meat for judging.

Winn Dixie Supermarkets and its supplier, National Beef, as well as Sonny’s BBQ, have sponsored the event. First and second place winners in each category will received $1,500 and $1,000 scholarship prizes toward tuition at a public university, said Chad Carr, UF/IFAS Extension meat specialist, associate professor of animal sciences and co-organizer of the event.

Attendees can compete in one of four categories: beef, pork, poultry or seafood. When their protein arrives at the judge’s table, it will be evaluated on more than taste and texture, said Carr. “They need to show creativity. If someone cooks a filet and it’s tender, that’s no surprise. But if someone cooks a tender chuck steak, that’s quite an accomplishment,” he said.

However, “participants will be assessed not only on their finished product, but also on their knowledge of their recipe, as well as food and fire safety,” Carr said.

Before she started practicing for the competition, Croft said she didn’t know much about how to stay safe while grilling. “I didn’t know how different temperatures affected how well-done a steak is, or that meat has to be stored below a certain temperature to prevent bacterial growth,” she said.

The day of the competition, judges will verify that all participants’ proteins are covered and stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit before cooking and that they have reached safe internal temperatures after they come off the grill.

“A cooking contest like this teaches many life skills, such as knowing how to buy and prepare a meal safely and incorporating lean protein into the diet,” said Brian Estevez, 4-H agent with UF/IFAS Extension Suwannee County and co-organizer of the event. The Tailgating Contest also introduces 4-H members to food and animal sciences, as well as possible careers in these fields, he explained.

One skill that Croft has been working on is becoming more comfortable cooking in front of other people—especially people who are judging her food. “I’ve learned a lot about performing under pressure,” she said.

Caption: The 4-H Tailgating Competition teaches life skills such as buying and preparing meat safely and incorporating lean protein into the diet. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler Jones.

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By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Chad Carr, 352-392-1981, chadcarr@ufl.edu

Brian Estevez, 386-362-2771, bestevez@ufl.edu