Routt County ranchers bring their best to fair steak competition |

Routt County ranchers bring their best to fair steak competition

— On Friday, Charlie Epp probably had the best job in Routt County, if not the entire state of Colorado.

Placed before him were 10 of the best, juicy, tender steaks Routt County ranchers have produced. It was Epp’s job to pick the best one.

“Man, I’m enjoying this,” Epp said.

The Best of the Steak Contest was a new feature this year at the Routt County Fair. Routt County CattleWomen member Marsha Daughenbaugh organized the event.

While Epp might have had the best job, it definitely was not easy.

“I think I can bring a pretty unbiased opinion,” said Epp, who owns Wolf Mountain Pizza in Hayden. “I’m going to pick the best one. No bribing me.”

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Ranchers who brought steaks included Brita Horn and her husband, Gary.

“I’m very competitive, so I said we’re not doing this together,” Brita Horn said.

The Horns have about 500 cow-calf pairs at their ranch, the Raymond Horn Ranch Co.

During the summer, the cattle feed on hay and alfalfa fields in the mountains. During the winter months, they feed their cattle hay that is harvested in the summer.

“It’s the same thing his father did 50 years ago,” Brita Horn said, referring to her husband’s father Raymond Horn.

Before throwing them on the grill, Carl’s Tavern owners Collin Kelley and his wife, Noella, seasoned the various cuts of steak with a blend of fresh-ground pepper, kosher salt and pinches of smoked paprika and garlic. It’s the same seasoning blend the Kelleys use at home.

“It’s not heavily seasoned, so the meat really shines through,” Collin Kelley said.

Kelley then threw the steaks on the grill and offered some tips for grilling steak.

“One of the keys is that everything be room temperature,” Kelley said.

That could mean leaving the meat out at room temperature for an hour. This creates an even cooking temperature through the steak and a nice crust on the top and the bottom.

Kelley said to get the grill as hot as possible. The one he was using was at 700 degrees when he put the steak on.

Kelley waited a minute or two before rotating the steaks 45 degrees to give them those diagonal grill marks.

“The steak will tell you when it’s ready to be flipped,” Kelley said. “If it sticks, it’s not ready.”

Kelley admired the quality of the steaks, and their fat marbling. He said some were prime cuts, which account for only 2 1/2 percent of the beef produced in the United States.

“I was really impressed by some of the cuts that were brought in,” Kelley said.

The more marbled steaks, he said, likely came from cattle that were fed grain.

Kelley shared another common mistake people make when grilling steak.

“You’ve got to rest your steaks,” Kelley said.

By letting them sit for two or three minutes after taking them off the grill, the juice stays in the steaks and not on the plates.

Epp then went down the row of steaks, eating a good size piece off of each one.

The winner was a sirloin produced at the Sherrod Ranch. Brita Horn took second place with her sirloin.

“I had a really hard time because the tenderness and flavor on all of them were reflective of Routt County beef, for sure,” Epp said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland