Wagyu is King at Morris Stock Farm in the Texas Panhandle

It was supposed to be a definitive steak tasting. A Texas Wagyu beef tournament, if you will. I had collected a dozen steaks, most from Texas-raised Wagyu producers, and even more friends to come and judge the steaks head-to-head. The white flecks of grease dazzled like stars in each piece of raw beef laid out in a long row, ready to grill. I grilled them, seasoned only with kosher salt, in three batches of four directly over charcoal, and served each medium rare. We tasted and chatted, not picking our favorites from each group (the tasting was blind to me, but two tasters who kept track of which steak was randomly written down and knew what they were eating). Taste preferences can be personal, and there were no official scoreboards, but I assumed there would be a few clear favorites, maybe even one. That didn’t happen, which shows how good we have it in Texas with our local Wagyu beef.

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing a series about each producer in this tasting (and a few others I learned about later). You’ll learn about genetic differences between herds, where you can find grower beef in restaurants and stores, and the history of Japanese Wagyu cattle in Texas. This trip began with a visit to Scharbauer Ranch and its Midland Meat Company in Midland. Trying ranch beef alongside that of so many other great producers deepened what has become a bit of a personal Wagyu obsession. Although this steak tasting did not result in a definite winner, there were names that my fellow tasters kept coming back to, and four of them had something important in common: All that marbling was developed in a small feed yard high up in the Panhandle, near the small town of Gruver, a hundred miles northeast of Amarillo.

Morris Stock Farm is run by Joe Morris and his family. His grandfather JR Morris left Blue Mound, Oklahoma, in 1926 to settle in Hartley County further west. He brought a tractor, a wagon, a team of horses and a dairy cow. “That’s where the tractor broke down and in a storm the horses raced to Oklahoma,” Joe said, so JR changed his plans and built a house. Well, first he built a dugout in the dirt with a roof for shelter so that his wife, Mary Belle, could join him. Joe’s father, Vance, was raised in this dugout. The family had built a bonafide house over the dugout when Joe was born, and it is where he lives today with his wife, Nancy. “I have indoor plumbing,” he laughed.

Across County Road Y, a road so remote that no one even bothered to post a speed limit, is the house where Joe’s parents lived. Today, her daughter Brittany and her husband, Dustin Borden, live there. They operate their own small herd of beef cattle, sold under the 4B Meats brand. Dustin also helps Joe and the Morris Stock Farm crew feed up to 9,000 head of cattle at a time. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a small feedlot by Texas beef standards. Take for example the nearby USA Feedyard, which has a capacity of 62,000 head. “We’re small in the cattle feed industry, but we’re pretty big in the Wagyu industry,” Joe said.

A feedlot of any size typically purchases calves that have been weaned from their mothers, fattens them, and then sells those fattened cattle to a beef processing plant. At Morris Stock Farm, most of the cattle are owned by a marquee cattle operation that sent their cattle to Gruver for fattening. Once fattened, their owners will send the cattle to a processing plant and package the beef under their own brand – and the type of fat in that meat matters.

The Morris family. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Cattle at Morris Stock Farm.
Cattle at Morris Stock Farm. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

When animals are ready for slaughter and processing, intramuscular fat is prized; too thick a layer of fat just under the skin is frowned upon. The concentration of these white flecks of fat in lean muscle determines whether the beef will be graded Prime, Choice or Select. The best is the best because higher quality beef commands higher prices.

Morris Stock Farm has an advantage because 95% of the cattle are Wagyu crosses or pure-blooded Wagyu cattle, a Japanese breed known for its marbling, but also for its slow growth. The longer you need to feed cattle, the more you will need to charge for beef to get a return on your feed investment. Of the crossbred Wagyu cattle leaving Morris Stock Farm, 85-90% are Prime graded, compared to 10% in 2021 for base beef as a whole. That’s why Burch Wallace, co-founder of the Texas Wagyu Association, contacted Joe in 2010. Wallace, who had just started his organization in 2009, wanted to experiment with some Wagyu crosses. After several dozen head of Wagyu cattle had been fed at Morris Stock Farm for over a year, the duo discovered that F1 cattle, an industry term for a fifty-fifty cross, matured faster than the Pureblood Wagyu, while producing incredible marbling. .

Joe Morris then decided it was time to innovate the way the family works, just as generations before him had done. His grandfather had been one of the first in the Panhandle to raise Hereford-certified cattle. In 1957, when a drought forced his father, Vance, to sell most of his herd at a loss, Vance decided to build one of the first cattle ranching operations in the area. Most cattle at the time were fattened on pasture, mostly grass. Vance began taking other people’s cattle to fatten them up. Joe expanded that model, adding an additional two thousand head capacity earlier this year, and he took the innovations one step further by specializing in what he saw as the future of Texas beef, even though the breed Wagyu was new to the state.

Joe set up a table at Wagyu Association meetings and conventions; he finally got A Bar N Ranch, from Celina; Midland Meat Company, of Midland; and Legacy Custom Meats, of LaGrange, to send all of their Wagyu crossbred herds to Gruver for feed. Along with 4B Meats, Brittany Brand, and Dustin Borden, these are all names vying for best steak at this steak tasting in my backyard, and all of these producers breed F1 crosses.

Finding the right breed-specific feeding program took many years. “We have a secret sauce,” Joe said, which is a feed recipe that includes used cooking oil once mixed with corn, molasses, and 190-degree food-grade alcohol. “We have a computer system in the office that monitors the mix of feed in each truck, the location of each truck, and how much feed is distributed where,” explained Joe’s sister, Sherry Morris McWilliams, who monitors the program. power from the desk. . The beef is raised to be all natural, as certified by IMI Global. This means no growth promoters, no mass treatment of antibiotics and no animal by-products in the diet.

All of these F1 cattle mentioned above spend about 400 days feeding at a cost of about $5 per day per head, given the current high price of corn. “Our food ration is designed so they’ll take in about 1.7 pounds a day, so we have an estimate of when they should be ready,” Sherry explained. For comparison, the few pureblood Wagyu are fed for 550 days to reach maturity, while base cattle are regularly fed for 300 days to a year. It costs more to produce this beef, but the difference in flavor is staggering.

While we were talking at Morris Stock Farm, Brittany Borden was slicing a 4B Meats tri-tip she had smoked. Even sliced ​​on the thicker side, it was buttery tender. I shared with them how well the beef from their farm fared in the steak tasting. I had tossed a regular grocery store premium steak into the mix, and it tasted watery compared to the juiciness created by all that marbling in Wagyu steaks. Even the edge fat on the strips, which is usually too hard to eat easily, was tender in the Wagyu steaks. I bought several other cuts to bring back from the freezer full of beef on the property that acts as 4B’s retail store. Brittany promised I could grill the round steaks, a cut usually so lean it’s only reserved for Salisbury steak or beef jerky, so I brought some home. I grilled one the other night alongside a strip loin and marveled at the tenderness and juiciness of the medium-rare round steak.

Although most F1 cattle in the feedlot have Angus genetics, the Bordens focused on complete French Charolais heifers to breed their Wagyu bulls. Heifers are white-skinned cattle, and despite the black coloration of the Wagyu bloodlines, so are crossbred calves. The Charolais is an animal bred to pull a plow rather than to produce juicy, tender meat. “Charolais don’t have marbling known to God, so if they do, it’s from the bull,” Joe said. And the crosses certainly take that marbling – and also do a remarkable job of not building up that thick fat under the skin, even after four hundred days of Morris Stock Farm’s secret sauce.

For now, you can only find beef from 4B Meats at a few restaurants in the Panhandle. The company’s steaks are on the menu at Girasol and Macaroni Joe’s in Amarillo and Roma Italian Restaurant in Borger, about 60 miles south of Gruver. You can pick any cup straight from the Morris Stock Farm property southwest of Gruver, which is quite a drive even from Amarillo, or you can find a few cups at the Water Store in Borger; Watonga Cheese Factory at Perryton, about forty miles east of Gruver; and Salt in Amarillo. Dustin said the company can now ship its beef to the United States (call or email for details), so you won’t have to head to the Panhandle for a bite. But beware, 4B only slaughters around 100 head of cattle per year, so the cut you want may not be available from week to week.

Morris Stock Farm is a unique food court in the world of Texas Wagyu beef. It literally produces some of the best beef you can get in Texas and does so for several different brands of beef. Joe Morris brought the operation far from that hole in the ground where his grandfather settled. And Dustin and Brittany add their own new dimension to the family business. Far from here, along County Road Y, ninety minutes from the Amarillo airport, Joe wouldn’t have it any other way. “People who work in town, they work their whole working life at a job they hate so they can go buy them a little farm somewhere and raise cows,” he said. But he already has his three thousand acres in the country, and he said to me, in all sincerity, “Hell, I live in heaven.”