Chris McParland has been cutting meat at the Texas Roadhouse in Peoria for nearly three years, since he was 18.

“I started there as a busboy,” he said. “My uncle owns that restaurant. He kept going through meat cutters until finally he said, ‘Well, let’s make Chris do it. If he tries to quit, we can tell his mom.’”

But he did not quit. In fact, he took to the job quickly.

Two years later, McParland took his skills all the way to the finals of the Texas Roadhouse National Meat Cutting Competition in Florida, a chance at bragging rights and a $20,000 grand prize. He proved himself the better of nearly all of the competition. Nearly.

“I finished third,” he said. “I was .2 percent behind second place and .8 percent behind the winner. Basically, the difference between a six-ounce and an eight-ounce sirloin. I almost had it.”

The finals of the competition took place in April at Texas Roadhouse’s national conference in Florida. Those who came to compete also took part in some raucous festivities, though being underage, McParland could not always be included.

“They sent me to Disney World instead,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”

Now 21, McParland was in Phoenix Wednesday for the first round of this year’s competition to give it another go. McParland and six other meat cutters representing Texas Roadhouses from Arizona and Utah met at the Grand Avenue Produce Co., with the winner advancing to the semifinals.

Gilbert Meraz, a product coach with Texas Roadhouse who was on hand to run the competition, said meat cutters have a difficult job even when there is no competition involved.

“They come to work and they’re in a 35-degree room for six to 10 hours a day,” he said. “And they’re all by themselves. These guys are cutting between three and five thousand pounds of meat every week.”

Each participant Wednesday was given 50 pounds of meat and tasked with cutting the highest-quality steaks in the shortest amount of time. The cutters are judged on the quality of the cuts, the yield and their speed.

As the competition was set to get under way, McParland stopped short of saying he was confident.

“I feel good, but anybody can win it,” he said. “I’ve definitely been practicing. I came prepared.”

When the dust settled and the meat scraps were cleared away, McParland had once again emerged victorious.

“It was a close contest,” Meraz said. “Easily the closest it’s been in three or four years.”

McParland will move on to the semifinal round in January, with another shot at $20,000 on the line.

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or jdempsey@yourwestvalley.com.

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