GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The smell of cooking meat wafted through the covered patio at the UF/IFAS Extension Straughn Professional Development Center last Saturday as 30 youth crouched over charcoal grills, brushing on glazes and checking internal temperatures. Meanwhile, adult judges made the rounds, asking questions about everything from ingredients to food safety.
At the end of the day, judges selected eight winning dishes in the second annual Florida 4-H State Tailgate Contest. First and second place winners from each protein category — beef, pork, poultry and sea food — received $1,500 and $1,000 college scholarships, respectively.
The event was sponsored by Winn-Dixie, National Beef, Sanderson Farms and Sonny’s BBQ. In addition to scholarships, sponsors, who also acted as guest judges, provided gift cards and meat thermometers.
“The judges were impressed with this year’s entries. The youth here won first or second place in their district contest, so they are competing against the best in the state. They’ve been practicing their recipes at local 4-H grilling workshops and at home, and it shows in the final product,” said Brian Estevez, one of the contest organizers and a 4-H youth development agent with UF/IFAS Escambia County.
Nearly 90 youth participated in the four district contests to get to the state level, Estevez said.
The Florida 4-H Youth Development program, which is part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, gives young people opportunities to learn by doing and to become successful adults, Estevez said.
Learning to grill and season a piece of meat to perfection — and explaining your technique to judges — helps participants learn important life skills, such as decision making and effective communication, Estevez said.
The contest also teaches the importance of animal protein in a healthy diet, said Chad Carr, contest organizer and UF/IFAS associate professor of animal sciences.
“This experience will give the youth the foundation for cooking animal proteins safely with tasty results. Many adults could probably learn from watching these kids in action,” said Carr, who is also the state meat specialist for UF/IFAS Extension.
The day of the contest, participants prepared their work stations, setting out cooking tools labeled “raw” and “cooked” to prevent cross-contamination. With meat and other ingredients stored in coolers, youth lit their grills at 9 a.m., tending the coals until they hit the right temperature.
Montana Rose Smith of Zephyrhills, who took home first place in the beef category, explained how beef short ribs tend to dry out when grilled.
“To stop the ribs from getting tough, I wrap them in aluminum foil, which keeps the moisture in. I use a simple rub of salt, pepper and garlic because when the ribs are done grilling, I top them with a chimichurri sauce, which gives it a lot of flavor,” said Smith, a Florida 4-H state officer.
First and second place winners in each category included:
First place – Montana Rose Smith, Zephyrhills
Second place – Cheyenne Duncan, DeFuniak Springs
First place – Sloan Finger, Tallahassee
Second place – Isabella Cosson, DeFuniak Springs
First place – Hayden Hawes, Sunrise
Second place – Justice Szetela, Land O’ Lakes
First place – Dalton Brock, Land O’ Lakes
Second place – Jordan Cassel, Land O’ Lakes
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.