Catching up with the local grass-fed beef ranchers at Cut Beef

It's summer, and the backyard smokers and patio grills are working overtime. How much do you know about where your beef comes from, and how it was raised? At Cut Beef, Clay Price and Scott Herod want more East Texans to ask.

Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

Local ranchers Scott Herod and Clay Price want to keep Tyler beef in Tyler. That’s why Herod started Cut Beef, raising and selling local pasture-raised beef that’s grass-fed, without antibiotics and no hormones, and dry-aged for 21 days.

Herod’s backyard on FM 850 opens up to vast acres of beautifully lush green grass where Cut Beef’s three herds graze, each with about 40 cows. Their retail location on Old Bullard recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. The business supplies Bernard’s, Cork, Villa Montez, and several other local restaurants. You can buy their beef directly from the retail store, order meat delivery within an hour’s drive from Tyler, or sign up for their customizable monthly subscription package.

As an avid home cook and local food entrepreneur, I’m always interested in learning more about our regional foodways and the people behind them. That’s why I recently visited Cut Beef’s ranch, to learn more about Herod and Price’s cattle and how their business is doing. My conversation with Price has been edited for clarity and length, with photography by Yasmeen Khalifa.

Left: Clay Price, ranch manager; Right: Scott Herod, Cut Beef owner. Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

Tell us about your product. What makes it different?

Most beef is touched by nine different people. That’s nine different people who have a different view of what’s right and wrong, and nine different people who need to make money.

Our beef touches just two hands—our hands and our processor’s. So, we know exactly what’s going into it. If we have an issue with an animal, we have records dating back to the day it was born. If there’s something we need to change, something we need to adjust, we can trace that all the way back and make adjustments as needed.

We want to keep Tyler beef in Tyler. Instead of having beef shipped off the feedlots from Tyler and then going everywhere else in the world, and us importing beef in from anywhere in America or from different countries, we want it to stay here.

It’s also the way we manage it. It’s grass-fed, no hormones, no antibiotics. We try to mimic nature through our rotational grazing and our management with the herds. We’re not only following sustainable practices, but we’re improving the land and improving our ecosystem at the same time, while producing a great beef product.

You say it’s important that your beef isn’t raised in feedlots. Why does that matter?

Today, we live in a society where a lot of our food lacks actual nutrients. That’s because it’s been cheapened into a system that shortens the animal’s life cycle. The animals aren’t fed high-quality diets. We are what we eat. When what we’re eating is getting poor nutrition, it’s missing out on the diversity of a nutrient-rich diet that comes from being raised in a pasture.

That’s the whole idea of why we need to make sure that what we’re eating is providing value, and that goes beyond beef. We need diets that sustain us. And yes, that may cost a little bit more, but cancer and diabetes are pretty darn expensive.

Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa
Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

Tell us about how your beef gets processed and ready for sale. [Cut Beef works with Panola County Processing in Carthage. There are no USDA-certified processors in the Tyler area.]

Since our processors are USDA-certified, every animal is observed when it’s brought in. It’s observed when it’s slaughtered, and it’s observed again once they go through and process it. We’ve never had a single animal turned down for any issues. But if there is something abnormal or wrong, the USDA will shut it down at that point and won’t allow it to move forward. The USDA is the outside source for our processors, so if our processor is trying to do something they shouldn’t, the USDA watches.

Every animal has its own USDA number and is tracked, so we know what we’re dropping off is what we’re getting. Each animal’s stamped on the meat, and you can’t undo that. Most people are pretty honest, but you don’t really know. That’s the big point about having [a USDA-certified processor] rather than some kind of small processor.

As local business owners, what’s been your biggest challenge?

I think one of the biggest pieces is just education on why we’re different, and what sets us apart from what you would get at a grocery store. Getting the word out has been a different challenge.

People are used to going to the grocery store once a week or twice a week and getting what they need, and having everything right there. So, it’s a little bit of an inconvenience to buy from [our retail store]. But again, everything you put in your mouth is an investment. That’s why we’ve started a subscription package. We try to seamlessly fit into our customer’s schedule as well as we can.

We want to make it as convenient as we possibly can for people to have quality food.

As Cut Beef continues to grow, do you hope to start selling to more local restaurants and grocery stores?

We want to keep Tyler beef in Tyler, so we want to make it available as best we can. If that’s through different restaurants, then that’s awesome.  If it’s through a local third-party provider who we trust, we would consider it.

But right now, our biggest goal is reaching the residential customer and going right from our hands to their hands.

Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

Do you think Tyler-area customers are becoming more interested in buying from local farms and ranches?

People are pretty health-conscious here. People are aware of what they need to do and how they can make changes to improve their life, and food is a big part of that. You see it with different specialized grocery stores popping up here in Tyler. It’s growing.

People do care about the climate. Most ranchers and farmers would tell you climate change doesn’t happen and all that, and we’re not trying to get on that train, but people understand that there’s something there that we can be responsible for. It seems that people are becoming more and more aware of that. And even the people that aren’t, they want to come in and try what we have to offer.

Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

Do you have to buy a whole cow at a time? How does the storefront work?

When they come in, people are always wondering, “What can I buy? Can I get a steak? Do I have to buy a quarter or a half a cow?”

We started out doing quarters and halves, and we still do that. You get a good break in price because it allows us to use the whole animal. You can buy that way if you’re willing to invest the money up front and you have the space or a freezer.

You can also just walk in and buy two steaks for the weekend, or get one pound of ground beef. We cut fresh every Wednesday, so we may run out of steaks [filets and ribeyes] by the weekend, but everything else we keep in stock. If you know you’re coming in, give us a call. That way if we do have it, we set it aside with your name on it, so it’ll be ready for you to go.

What is your favorite cut of beef, and how do you prepare it?

Obviously, if I was to have one, it’s a ribeye simply cooked out on the grill, medium-rare. That’s hard to beat.

Coming into this, I didn’t know a whole lot about different meats and cuts. A recent favorite cut of mine has a weird name; it’s called flap steak. It is very similar to a skirt steak, but it’s larger in size. It’s generally a tougher cut of meat, but it’s well marbled and very flavorful.

I like to marinate it for 24 hours and then grill it and make it into some fajitas. It’s phenomenal. It’s a tough cut, and usually people don’t want it. But when you marinate it for 24 hours, it makes a world of difference. That’s one of my favorite secrets.

Photography by Yasmeen Khalifa

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Kim Carrillo is an East Texan native. She grew up in Henderson and after having moved to other parts of Texas, decided to settle back in among the pine trees. She has a master's degree from The University of Texas at Austin and bachelor's degree from Stephen F. Austin State University. Both degrees are in Social Work and she has worked in non-profits and higher education. Kim currently works with international students, however she has recently become a food entrepreneur as well. She works with her mom to provide Chelo's Handmade Tortillas. Later this year, she and her husband, Matthew Carrillo, will open Texas Tortilla Kitchen. She believes food is a way to bring communities together and nourish the heart and soul.