She can cut it: Local meat cutter vies for $20,000 prize
When it comes to beef, Carrie Horton has a "take it or cleave it" philosophy. Just as long as she doesn't have to eat it. The 26-year-old West Fargo native deftly slices 200 to 300 pounds of beef a day in her job as meat cutter for the Texas Road...
When it comes to beef, Carrie Horton has a "take it or cleave it" philosophy.
Just as long as she doesn't have to eat it.
The 26-year-old West Fargo native deftly slices 200 to 300 pounds of beef a day in her job as meat cutter for the Texas Roadhouse in Fargo.
She's become so adept at it that she'll compete Thursday in the semi-final round of the Texas Roadhouse National Meat Cutting Challenge in Louisville, Ky.
But even if she advances to the finals and wins the $20,000 grand prize, Horton won't celebrate with a steak dinner.
"I haven't eaten red meat for five years," says Horton, who practiced vegetarianism for a while for health reasons.
Still, it doesn't bother Horton to spend her working days in a 36-degree, walk-in-freezer, surrounded by boxes filled with giant slabs of meat.
She wields an impressive arsenal of knives and cleavers to break down large hunks of meat - some wrapped in fat and gristle and weighing more than 15 pounds - into different cuts of perfectly portioned beef. In one year, she'll carve up about $1 million in meat.
It's hard, physical work, but Horton likes it. "It took me a couple of years to build up my upper-body strength for the everyday work," she says.
Horton started working at the franchise steakhouse when it first opened in 2006. She'd already done a lot of from-scratch cooking at a local truck stop, and liked the Roadhouse's reputation for making its side dishes from scratch.
But when the meat cutter left his job a week before the restaurant opened, Horton stepped into the rubber Croc knock-offs required for the job.
"It seemed like a neat thing to try," she says. "I'd rather do that than wash dishes."
Today, as one of the few female meat-cutters in the company, Horton more than holds her own. She's competed in the chain's meat-cutting competition for four years, placing third out of 300 competitors one year.
She's even found a steak that places her a cut above the rest: the fillet.
"The fillet is the most fun. I like to make them as pretty as possible," she says. "It's kind of complicated. You have to take it apart like a puzzle. You have to fish it out from this huge hunk of muscle."
Kitchen manager Justin Kinzler vouches for her fillet finesse. "She has some of the best-looking fillets in the competition," he says. "And that's not just me saying that. That's what the product coaches say."
In fact, the company has flown Horton to other restaurants around the country to train other meat cutters.
She also has traveled the country to compete in various legs of the competition. The nationwide contest began with more than 200 meat cutters in the first round. Second and third-round events whittled the competition to the remaining 24 in the semi-final round in Kentucky.
From there, seven finalists will compete in April at the national conference in Naples, Fla.
The contest is held at the best place to find 30-degree temperatures and sprawling fields of ice: the host cities' ice rinks.
The meat cutters are given an hour and a half to break down 50 pounds of beef consisting of two sirloin butts, one ribeye loin and one fillet loin. Their goal is to make 10 different cuts.
The winner is the person who yields the most steaks, with the highest-quality cut in the least amount of time.
Horton has become such a fixture at the annual competition that no one seems to care she's the lone female contestant. "She's just one of the guys on those trips," Kinzler says.
Then again, Horton isn't much of a girly-girl. She drives a Harley, skates with the FM Derby Girls roller derby squad and was named "Carrera" - as in Porsche - by her mechanic dad.
In fact, if Horton won the grand prize, she would probably spend it on a long motorcycle trip with her parents, Bruce and Daphne Horton of West Fargo. Or she'll be able to take more credits at North Dakota State University, where she's a freshman.
"I might buy some new roller skates, too," she says, smiling.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525