Behind the Scenes: How Food Gets Around

An often unknown segment of the food business involves distribution. How does food get from one place to another? From whom do restaurants buy food? By a foodservice distributor, that’s how! The Arizona Beef Council is fortunate to work with Arizona food distributors for educational opportunities to further educate chefs and restaurateurs about beef and how it is raised in Arizona. Meet Brent Olsen, US Foods Arizona, whose job is to connect the food growers with chefs and restaurants.

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ABC: What is US Foods and what does it have to do with beef?

Brent Olsen: US Foods Arizona is a full line distributor of over 11,000 items serving the hospitality and restaurant industry in Arizona. There are 62 US Foods locations across the United States. Stock Yards is a wholly owned subsidiary of US Foods and operates 14 USDA inspected production facilities across the United States. In geographic areas not served by those locations, we contract with other facilities not owned by us to produce product for us. It may be of interest to know the US in our name actually stands for Unifax-Sexton, part or our heritage company portfolio. We have two Stock Yards production facilities in Arizona – one in Phoenix and the other in Tucson. The Phoenix location stocks and fabricates a wide variety of fresh proteins for the Arizona market and we supply products to other US Foods houses as far east as Little Rock, Arkansas. Stock Yards Phoenix focuses on domestic cattle and we deliver packer boxes of fresh beef as well as fresh cut steaks to the Arizona market 6 days a week. Stock Yards Chicago, one of our sister locations, is credited with being the first business in America to offer a cut steak program to Chicago area restaurants in 1893, almost 125 years ago. Our Tucson location produces a wide range of cooked items, including a wide range of pastrami, corned beef, roast beef, and pot roasts, in a wide variety of beef quality grades.

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ABC: When did the food distributor segment start and how much has changed?  

BO: The food distributor started in the late 1800’s and has basically moved from a group of small, regional, segment-specific companies to a huge network of much larger, full line suppliers offering anything a restaurant owner could need or want (anything from canned tomatoes to Prime Ribeyes). US Foods, as it is today, is the culmination of mergers and acquisitions that have taken place over the last 100 years. Stock Yards was also formed from a variety of specialty meat companies across the United States. Stock Yards is really fulfilling an emerging need for portion control, cut steaks, the talent pool of qualified meat cutters out there, whether at retail or foodservice, is rapidly disappearing.


ABC: How is foodservice different from retail? 

BO: There are some big differences between the two industry segments.  First, we market to restaurants, companies that are preparing the raw material for their customers to consume. Retail is marketing to household consumers. Secondly, a retail store will typically offer one grade of beef, whether it be USDA Select or USDA Choice. Foodservice is considerably more diverse with our offerings. On a strip loin steak, for example, Stock Yards Phoenix has 7 different and distinct offerings for that item. Those offerings range from USDA Prime cattle to an enhanced, ungraded, fed Holstein cattle line. Third, there are significant volume differences between retail and foodservice. Foodservice does not run weekly newspaper ads featuring beef, but we do create and promote special pricing and product offerings on a regular basis.


ABC: Who are your main customers?

BO: Our customers range from a single location, owner-operated café in a small Arizona town to multi-unit regional and national footprint customers that are state and nationwide. We supply products and services to schools, hospitals, Indian gaming locations, convention centers, caterers and restaurants across Arizona.


ABC: What are some of the common questions about beef you receive from customers? 

BO: There is a dramatic increase in interest from consumers about where food comes from. Food safety is at the forefront as well. As a USDA Inspected facility, we interact with the local USDA inspector on a daily basis to insure we’re providing safe, wholesome food to our customers. We are also GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certified, the first facility of our type to have this certification in Arizona. There is also increased interest in quality grades, animal welfare, and “natural” offerings. Part of our goal is to help all of our customers understand what is available, and help them determine what works best for their format, customer base, and dining segment expectations.


ABC: Is there anything else you would like to share with Arizona’s rancher audience as well as consumers?

BO: Keep raising high quality beef. It’s the back bones of what we do, collectively, to provide a great eating experience for the restaurant segment we service. I’d really like to see more frequent, meaningful interaction between the ranchers, growers and our side of the business.


ABC: Will you share a little of your background?  How long have you been selling beef? 7-8-2016_Brent_headshot

BO: I started my beef career in a small mom-and-pop corner grocery store in Utah in 1969. We sourced our carcass beef from a small, local packer, and that’s where I picked up the trade. I’ve had a wide spectrum of positions in grocery retail, grocery wholesale, as well as foodservice. I’ve always worked with beef, and I love this industry and the people I’ve met wherever I’ve worked. With my current role, I travel the western United States and promote beef with a wide range of customers, and train about our products and promote our industry whenever possible.


ABC: What is your favorite cut of beef?

BO: I’m a strip loin man, through and through. It’s all about the flavor, and I’m never disappointed with a nice New York cut. A nice, juicy burger is at the top of my list as well. Keep it simple, with high quality there’s no need to hide or mask it with spices or toppings.


Brent is a journeyman meat cutter, beef lover (that shouldn’t be a surprise), and promoter of the cattle industry. He’s a pretty good water skier, as well.


No Cookie Cutters in Ranching

One of the beauties of ranching is that it takes all kinds of kinds to raise beef and to care for the land. Some folks are born and raised on a ranch and stay there their whole lives. Others take a different path to this way of life. Regardless, the passion and dedication is the same. Meet Pamela Griffin, Arizona cattlewoman and current Arizona State Cowbelle President.Pamela Griffin

You never know when you may find yourself in the beef industry and I’m living proof. I was born in Anaheim, California surrounded by orange groves and strawberry fields. We moved to Arizona in 1974.  We had sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, horses, a steer, my pheasant named “Peeps” and a few dogs. I left Arizona twice, but returned and was never able to shake this beautiful state. I spent most of my working life managing large scale communities with multimillion dollar budgets in the infrastructure and construction phase of those communities through transitions. You wouldn’t think that would easily translate into becoming a beef rancher, but it in fact does. I rearranged my tool box and used my tools in a different way.

As I fast forward to today, I’ve found myself as an Arizona cattlewoman. Not in a tremendous scale, but a rancher nonetheless. I met my husband about a decade ago, and he convinced me he was the one, and his family’s historic ranch was the place. The family business has been in operation for over 100 years, passed down through generations. He and I began our own smaller venture raising beef in hopes to provide some additional benefits for our combined children in the future and to subsidize our income.

John Griffin, Pam’s husband. Photo by Chris Couture.

Having some livestock growing up and being on a full-time beef ranch are two different worlds. There is never one day that’s like the other and each day provides opportunity to meet new challenges and situations head on. There must always be a plan “B”.  Personal plans sometimes cannot be kept due to a change in circumstances at a moment’s notice and vacations are sometimes few and far between. I do learn something new every single day on the care of the cattle, the wildlife, the land and its resources. My husband is a great teacher and a wonderful resource.

My participation in becoming a rancher came with some added responsibilities and some passions. It was important for me to participate in organizations that work hard to provide scientific and proven strategies for management of the cattle, the wildlife and the land. An additional responsibility is sharing information as often as possible on our practices, how we run our ranch and how we care for everything living on the land. We are providing a product for customers who in many cases 3-4 generations from the farm or ranch. We cannot expect that they know or understand what we do or how we care for our product and its resources, or what our days are like unless we share that with them.

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Pam has quite the green thumb and grows beautiful flowers in her garden.

When you love what you do, the sacrifices you make to live remotely, not having some of the modern conveniences, to be flexible in plans, work long days, get up before the sun, and to bed well after it’s down, are priceless things. I love my life. There is beauty everywhere. You learn to turn work moments into an adventure and it’s always a treat. A late afternoon of checking waters can become a lovely nighttime drive home. I do get in some gardening, some canning and a little quilting. It is definitely a choice you must love and I wouldn’t change a thing…except for more fishing, I could always do some more fishing, in Alaska!

Cookin’ with Cathy: The Blazing Saddle Burger

I love burgers. Seriously, I think a great big fat burger could be my last meal on earth. Along with a rib eye, a porterhouse, and prime rib…all together on one plate. Yes, I am an unapologetic Arizona beef eater and I like fooling around in my kitchen dreaming up new beefy masterpieces…and most of them involve a burger. Everyone should learn how to make a great burger. There are lots of resources on the internet to teach you – websites, blogs, YouTube, and, of course, right here, at the Arizona Beef Council and also at Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. Learn how to grill or fry a great burger, then experiment with flavors and techniques. I’ve eaten some crazy restaurant burgers that look like a science experiment with 25 toppings, but none of them are as good as the ones I grill at home and with my own crazy toppings. Get the basics down and you’ll be the hit of the backyard barbecue.

So why is this burger named “The Blazing Saddle Burger”?

Three words: beans, cabbage, and jalapenos. You do the gastronomical math.

I bet more than a few of you have seen the classic 1974 film Blazing Saddles. It’s silly slapstick, slightly embarrassing, very politically incorrect, but ultimately a hilarious parody of the old west and of life, in general. If it came out now, it would probably be protested and banned. Political correctness, sadly, is replacing our ability to laugh at ourselves and that particular topic belongs in another blog, so for now, I’ll just say this burger honors one of the funniest films ever made.  At least I think so!


The Blazing Saddle Burger
(Cheese Burger with Cilantro-Jalapeno Slaw, Pinto Bean Mash, and Salty Red Pepper Glaze)

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Don’t be put off by the multiple steps in this recipe. All are fast and easy and the slaw can be prepared 2 hours before the main event. The main event being all your family and friends complimenting you on this awesome burger.


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  • 1/2 head medium sized green cabbage, core removed and sliced thin
  • 1/2 head medium sized purple cabbage, core removed and sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup chopped pickled jalapenos (from a jar that everyone should have in their refrigerator.  No one should live without pickled jalapenos)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1-2 teaspoons liquid from the pickled jalapeno jar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups roughly chopped cilantro
  1. Mix the two cabbages and chopped pickled jalapenos in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk the milk, mayo, jalapeno juice, sugar, and salt together in small bowl.
  3. Pour the dressing over cabbage and stir until well-combined. Refrigerate for no less than 2 hours. Add the chopped cilantro before serving. You will have leftover slaw, but that’s a good thing, right?


Pinto Bean Mash

  • 1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, drained, well-rinsed, and drained again
  • 1/3 cup jalapeno flavored cream cheese (I can find these tubs of deliciousness in most every supermarket)
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion or white, it doesn’t matter – you just need a little onion crunch – add more if you like onions.
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I mean this. Taste as you add your salt and pepper to get the right amount. Beans can take quite a bit of salt.)
  • A drop or two or three of your favorite hot sauce, if you’re so inclined
  1. Place the beans in a small saucepan and mash with the bottom of the empty bean can (clever, huh?) until beans are semi-mashed with a few whole beans remaining.
  2. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and add the cream cheese and mayo and mix well. Stir in chopped onion, cumin, and briefly cook until cream cheese melts and everything is nice and blended. Start tasting and add salt, pepper, and hot sauce if you’re feeling sassy. Make it your own!
  3. Set aside, with lid on to keep semi-warm until ready to assemble burgers. You may want to re-heat if mash gets too cold.


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  • About 1/2 cup red pepper jelly
  • Flakey sea salt – NOT table or kosher salt (I use Maldon salt, which I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT. I buy it off Amazon and also it’s stocked in some supermarkets.)
  1. Mix the jelly and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Again, add the salt according to your taste.

Mine was so salty that it was like my tongue dove into a salty ocean of red pepper jelly. But I love salt. Ease up, if you don’t.

Personally, I don’t monkey around with ingredients INSIDE my meat. I prefer to get creative with the fixin’s that go ON the burger. More important is the meat itself and how you handle it. I used pure ground chuck for these burgers, but my new obsession is ground hangar steak for burgers. Try it – it’s terrific. Many butchers and chefs prefer it for their own hamburgers. It’s difficult to find in most markets, but I have a feeling a few of you have access to a great butcher. It’s becoming “a thing” in the culinary world. If you have no idea how to cook your burgers, please refer to first paragraph in this post. You have lots of options and I feel it’s best to let YOU decide how to prepare your burger, but I’m betting if you are reading this blog, you already know how to cook a burger better than anything I could explain, so I’ll just stop blathering! I cooked this burger on my trusty cast iron griddle, inside, because it was raining. No complaints whatsoever about rain from this Arizona native!

  • 3 pounds ground chuck (with 20% fat content – fat is GOOD, people!)
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 12 slices good ol’ American or Cheddar cheese
  • 6 good-quality sesame seed buns, sliced open, lightly buttered on both cut sides. Not the flimsy ones that fall apart like tissue paper with your first bite.
  1. To make burgers, divide beef into 6 portions (these are big burgers!), gently making each portion into a patty. The less you handle it, the better the burger! Make a well on top of burgers with your thumb, so burger doesn’t swell up when you cook it. Salt and pepper each patty with the kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Grill or pan fry as you like.
  3. Drape two cheese slices over the top of each burger after the last flip and let the cheese get all melty.
  4. Toast the cut sides of the buns on edge of grill or in oven while burgers are finishing up.


To Assemble Burgers

Spread warm pinto bean mash over cut side of bottom of buns. Top with burgers and a big heap of slaw. Spread cut side of top of buns with salty pepper jelly and place on top. Done!

Serves 6…or 1 Mongo

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And good luck at the campfire!



Cathy Wilkinson is an amateur, untrained and reckless cook with occasional, accidental, totally random bouts of culinary brilliance. Over the years she has appeared on both the Food Network (America’s Best Recipes) and The Cooking Channel (The Great American Steak Cook-Off), participated in many cooking competitions and demonstrations and is a avid beef industry supporter. A few of her cooking competitions include “Best American Lamb Recipe”, Cake-Mate “Best of the Bake Sale”, Tillamook Cheese Cook-off, Gilroy Garlic Cook-off, as well as beef cooking demonstrations for the Yavapai Cowbelles. She is a 5th generation Arizona native, great-granddaughter eastern Arizona ranchers and farmers and daughter and sister of central Arizona hay growers. 

Arizona Team Beef: Trisha Grant

Arizona Team Beef member Trisha Grant is a sports enthusiast, agricultural loan officer, University of Arizona Wildcat, and dog lover. Meet Trisha:

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Activity and fun have always been an important part of my life. I grew up in an active family whether it was playing sports, riding horses, or water skiing. As I’ve gotten older, staying active has become even more important – it’s what keeps me going physically and mentally. I can tell a difference in my health, focus, and mood when I’m not as active as I should be. Now the activities have changed to more running, hiking, and biking with friends and family. It keeps me young and happy. When halfway through a half or full marathon training program I may say that it’s a chore, but I really love it.

I wouldn’t be able to stay as active as I am without high-quality protein in my diet. It is just as important to my physical and mental health as staying active. Beef provides the fuel and energy I need to get through a long run or difficult hike. In fact, the protein beef provides helps my muscles recover more quickly, which is important when training for full marathons. My favorite lean cut is the tenderloin – we can grill one night and have steak salads to take to work the next day. I also appreciate that beef contains essential nutrients that help me get through the day including zinc, iron and B vitamins.

Beef is also the best part of my post-race routine! Nothing taste better than a big juicy burger (and maybe a cold beer) after a big race. Many of us joke that the during a long and/or hard run, the only thing that keeps us going is looking forward to that post-race meal.

My favorite race so far would have to be the Big Sur Marathon. It also happens to be the hardest race I’ve done. The views running along the coast on Highway 1 are amazing and breathe taking. Likewise, the elevation changes and wind are also “breathe taking” and brutal. There are all kinds of neat things along the course, including a grand piano at the top of Bixby Bridge at the halfway (13.1 miles) point. If you are looking for a challenging, beautiful, and adventurous marathon this is it! Now, if you are looking to PR (personal record), this is NOT the race for it. I’m so happy I ran it in 2015, and I will probably never run it again.

As for local races, there are so many good ones. One of my favorite half-marathons that we run every year is the Fiesta Bowl Half in December. It tends to be a smaller race and is a nice flat course, great for running a PR. The Phoenix Marathon and Half-Marathon are also great courses.

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John Lillie, Dave Wood and Trisha after finishing the 2013 P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix. Dave really did run the whole thing in his cow costume!


Meet Your Dairyman: Wes Kerr

The beef community has many volunteer leaders who dedicate countless hours to sharing how beef is raised and how they care for their cattle. Wes Kerr, fourth generation dairyman, is the chairman of the Arizona Beef Council. He and the other directors carefully plan the Council’s promotion and education efforts, striving to connect Arizona families to the men and women who raise both beef and dairy cattle. Meet Wes!


My great-grandfather John Kerr Sr. was born in Michigan in 1900 and was the first Kerr to be born in America. He was interested in agriculture from a young age. In 1927 he decided to buy a small herd of Jersey cattle and became the first in our family to be a dairy farmer.

After becoming tired of the harsh Michigan winters he decided to sell the Jerseys and move to Arizona in 1940. He started working for a dairy farmer in Tempe, and when the farmer told him he was planning to sell his cows my great-grandfather bought the herd. This is how my family became Arizona dairy farmers.

I only have one memory of my great-grandfather, however I find it very interesting that the life decisions that he made are largely responsible for what I do today. My family’s passion for caring for animals and raising crops lives on today, four generations later. Those are the main drivers that get me out of bed in the morning. For our family dairy farming is more than just a business, it is a way of life.

For me it is so interesting to see how much dairy farming has changed over the years. Looking at old photographs, one can see how different things looked when compared to today. The cattle in those days looked fleshier and less defined. Instead of metal shades with fans and misters, the cows were shaded by palm fronds thatched together. They were fed hay and during milking a little grain was given. A dairy cattle nutritionist was unimagined in those days. All of the cows were bred to a herd bull using natural service.

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A photo from Kerr Dairy circa 1963-1964, as printed in United Dairymen of Arizona’s magazines.
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Today’s dairy with a more sophisticated shade and cooling system for the cows.

Taking stock of all of these apparent differences one can ask, “Has anything stayed the same?” The answer to that question is definitely yes! Our family, like so many farm and ranch families, has continued to use the best technology and know-how available at the time. Each generation worked hard to improve over the previous one.

Today dairy cattle are far more productive, healthier and produce higher quality milk than ever before in history. People often speak of “the good old days”, but when I look at the data it becomes apparent to me that perhaps the “the good old days” are today. I sometimes wonder what my great-grandfather would say if he could see the practices we use today. I suspect that he would find them incredible.

I believe that our job as modern agriculturalists is to share our unique stories with consumers. We food producers are not faceless greedy people who cut corners trying to make a quick buck. We food producers are made up of families who work hard every day through the good times and the difficult times, to bring quality products to feed families.

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Wes with this wife Lauren and daughters Madelyn and Caroline.

Ugh, What’s for Dinner?

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.® Of course.

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Hi, all! I’m Lauren. I love beef, red wine, and pie.

I think we can all agree on one thing: no one wants to get home from a long day at work and slave over the stove as our precious time ticks away. Maybe you’ve just sat in traffic for an hour or maybe you just got home from sweating up a storm at the gym. Either way, something quick and easy for dinner is in order.

I’d like to share with you one of my go-to weeknight dinners: steak salad. The ingredient options are endless and they can be a snap to throw together, while also remaining healthy and delicious. Have New York Strip leftover from last night’s steak house outing? Toss it in a salad. Out of ideas for that shredded or Ground Beef from Taco Tuesday? Make a salad. What to do with some of our favorite lean beef cuts (like Flank Steak)? Marinate them and, you guessed it, make a salad! Plus, it gets hot here in the desert and who wants to slave over a hot stove in the summer? Not me.

This week, I found my inspiration from a recipe: Beef Steak Salad with Dried Cherries. I had a Skirt Steak ready to marinate and violà – a delicious, nutritious and fulfilling meal option. Prep was a snap. It could even be packed for lunch at work. Salad ingredients are easy to keep prepped in the fridge as easy go-tos. Then you can say a little “abracadabra” while tossing the salad ingredients in bowl and you are set in a jiffy.

The beauty of salad recipes? You don’t have to follow them exactly. If you don’t like blue cheese – exchange for feta. Have Tri-Tip to use? Go for it. Here are my ideas but don’t let me stifle your creativity. This is in the style of a no-recipe-recipe. If you are the type who needs a recipe, click on the link below.

BEEF STEAK SALAD (modified from this inspiration)



  1. Beef Skirt Steak (or Top Sirloin, Flank Steak, any leftover steak). Note: see marinade idea below.
  2. Lettuce – I used romaine that I cleaned and chopped. Spring mix or Boston/Bib/Butter lettuce (apparently they are different) will also do.
  3. Dried cherries or cranberries or golden raisins. Use your discretion on how much you like.
  4. Crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese
  5. Sliced red onion
  6. Some nuts: I really like sweet and spicy pecans but other options are pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted.
  7. Diced avocado

DRESSING (I did follow this recipe and it was tasty. Or you can simply use extra virgin olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper).

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Important: If you are pre-marinating the beef (Flank and Skirt Steak need this extra treatment), here is a marinade you could use and follow these marinade tips. Or use the one in the original inspiration recipe.

  1. Combine dressing ingredients in medium bowl.
  2. Cut steak lengthwise in half and then crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick strips. Add beef to remaining dressing; toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.
  3. Remove beef from marinade; discard marinade. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1/2 of beef; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until outside surface of beef is no longer pink. (Do not overcook.) Remove from skillet. Repeat with remaining beef.

If you are using leftover beef, start here (so easy!):

4. Combine lettuce and reserved dressing in large bowl; toss to coat. Don’t over dress! No one like a soggy salad. Arrange beef over lettuce; sprinkle with cheese, cherries, red onion, nuts, and avocado, as desired. Serve immediately.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an exper food photograher. Just good enough for Instagram. 

Enjoy! What are your favorite salad ingredients to go with beef?

Fueled by Beef

In Arizona, and other states across the country, there is a group of athletes who proudly wear their T-Bone-emblazoned jerseys as they run, cycle, CrossFit, and hike on their quest to lead healthy lives through physical activity. Though they hail from different backgrounds, the one thing Arizona Team Beef members share is the need for high-quality protein in their diets and for these athletes, beef is what fuels them.

Team Beef Arizona


Arizona Team Beef has participated in marathons, adventure runs, triathlons and even spends many days horseback gathering cattle on the Arizona range. Athletic skill ranges from beginner to record holding race winners but, no matter the level of fitness, we all recognize the nutritional benefits of protein in one’s diet. Lean beef can play an important role in repairing and building muscle, maintaining weight, and benefit heart health, all while providing fuel for the finish.

Team Beef Fuel Finish logo

Beef provides 10 essential nutrients including iron, which shuttles oxygen from your lungs to your hard-working muscles ensuring you sustain and maximize your performance throughout the whole race (or whatever activity in which you engage). It also begins and speeds post-activity recovery leading to stronger muscles in a shorter amount of time. Include lean beef in your post-race regimen, just like our Team Beef members, to give your muscles what they need to recover quickly for your next adventure.

Bottom line? Beef really helps you perform.


Million Mile Month large-logo

As April begins, so does Million Mile Month, an athletic movement empowering people across the country to live healthier lives. Team Beef members from many states are logging their miles and/or minutes of activity (running, walking, biking, yoga-ing, CrossFitting, gardening, farming, swimming, zumba-ing). Sign up if you are interested – there are prizes for leaders nation-wide as well as Arizona specific! Running the month of April, this challenge is a great way for Team BEEF members, beef farmers and ranchers, and other beef lovers to participate together in this all-abilities challenge as we power up with protein.

Arizona Team Beef members burning up the asphalt