Early trash talk is helping Team USA sharpen its focus. Johnson said he read remarks in related online forums that said “to be an American butcher, you just have to cut a steak on a band saw.”
Bryan Butler, winner of the best butcher in Austin, Texas, cuts pork chops as he and members of Team USA for the World Butchers' Challenge 2018 do a practice run at Taylor's Meat Market on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/TNS)
Credit: Hector Amezcua
Credit: Hector Amezcua
Johnson and his five teammates — representing California, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina — intend to make the naysayers eat their words. Other countries expected to compete in the event include Australia, Bulgaria, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa.
Last week’s practice began with Bryan Butler, co-owner of Austin’s Salt & Time butcher shop, pulling out an 8-inch breaking knife and cutting into a hog’s hind quarter on a large plastic cutting board.
In a matter of seconds, he freed a massive hunk of meat and passed it over to Lothar Erbe, a sausage specialist from Virginia. With a bone saw and a butcher’s knife, Erbe then cut it into smaller pieces.
The American team plans to meet at least three more times before Belfast to fine-tune its chemistry and work out any kinks, like the one it briefly experienced at Taylor’s Kitchen when trying to remove skin from a pig’s foot and keep it intact for a specialty dish.
The challenge: Getting the skin off safely and fast. For a few minutes, the team discussed various methods. “We were just trying to figure out the most efficient way to do it,” Johnson said.
The agreed-upon technique involved hanging the foot from a hook and pulling off the skin with pliers. Johnson declined to discuss exactly what they would do with the skin.
“Those are the little tricks we have to keep to ourselves right now,” he said. “We are dead set on winning this thing.”
Other Team USA members include: Craig Deihl, a celebrated charcuterie maker and James Beard Award-nominated chef from South Carolina; John Fink, owner of The Whole Beast, a ranch-to-table restaurant located in San Francisco; and Paul Carras, who works with Johnson at Taylor’s and was part of the team that won the “Flying Knives” competition at the 2013 Eat Real Festival in Oakland.