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After the crowd counts down to zero, Team Yedra Brothers hits the hindquarter like a NASCAR pit crew. To break beef into the large cuts known as "primals," a butcher must exploit the natural divisions between major muscle groups. Oscar saws the flank steak off the side using his foot-long steak knife like a violin bow. Three strokes back and forth, it comes loose, and Oscar lays it on the cutting board before Rinn, who wiggles his boning knife between the meat and the thick slab of fat.
Next, Oscar crouches down and hugs the lower-hanging drop loin like a football tackle while Renato saws it off from the leg above Oscar's head. Oscar pirouettes the 50-pound hunk onto the table before his nephew, who cleaves the seams. Oscar then cuts the sirloin tip and top round, and hauls them to his own board. All this takes three minutes.
Speed was eliminated this year as a criterion for judging. Yedra hypothesizes it's because they've easily slayed in that category the past two years. "Speed was our weapon.... Last year they had a guy, very good, from New York, and we still won," he says, with a mischievous chuckle. Yet fast work still impresses, and the Yedras look like they're on sped-up video. As cameramen circle like vultures, Oscar and Renato assume a wide, industrial stance, bent over at a nearly right angle over the tables, face down to the meat. Sweat breaks out on Yedra's face, despite the autumn chill. "Last year I yelled out, 'My husband is so sexy when he cuts meat!'" Magidoff later says.
Oscar ties flat hunks of sirloin tip into conical roasts with string like a fisherman, and the two others plunk their finished steaks onto the front table, where Oscar arranges them like a supermarket display.
After 25 minutes, the emcee asks Rinn, "Are you ready to dominate the competition yet again?" Rinn shoots back, "I think we already did." Cheers and boos follow.
After 34 minutes, Team Yedra Brothers has turned the 200-pound hindquarter into market-ready cuts spreading over an entire folding table, with hardly any waste: baseball steaks, osso buco, roasts, thin carne asada from Oscar's own hand lying over each other like napkins. Yedra sets the tomahawk steak's 2-foot rib bone vertical to dramatically arc over the display. He blots his brow with his shirt sleeve, grins, and inspects the work.
A few minutes later, Team Dave the Butcher presents a full table of traditional steaks — solid work, but, to an outsider's view, lacking Yedra's surgical precision. Team Butcher's Guild, led by New York-based Adam Tiberio, finishes last, having taken the time to chop handmade steakburger patties, skewer Brazilian picanha, and twist flank-steak pinwheels with cheese, all topped with rosemary sprigs and basil leaves.
"I think we have some serious competitionthis year," the emcee says.
The judges make their rounds, two hovering longest at Yedra's table. Oscar points out all the steaks, adding the tomahawk will sell at $29. "Plus you're selling all the bone," says one judge. "Exactly," Oscar responds.
The judges confer. One, a retail butcher shop owner from Oregon, would later say they were impressed by the Butcher's Guild's creativity and presentation, but also by the Yedras' knife work, and how they filled out the entire table with their cuts. It simply looked like more meat.
The winner is...
"The Yedra Brothers!" Oscar and Renato shoot their fists in the air. Magidoff runs up and plants a big smooch on her husband's lips. "My fan," Oscar says, drawing laughs. The team is handed bottles of gin and plastic trophies with a steer standing on top. Spectators ask to pose with the team for pictures — rock-star butchers for a day.
At a barbecue after the contest, the Eat Real staffers and the other teams bite into some of the chimichurri-smothered contest steaks and share their post-contest analysis with this reporter: The Butcher's Guild was more innovative. The Yedras did the same cuts they'd done for the last two years. Maybe it's time to officially retire them from the contest.
Yet Yedra wasn't around to hear the scuttlebutt. He would clock in at 7 the next morning at Canyon Market, place his contest trophy above the glass display, and get to work.