How Jess Pryles Became a Professional Carnivore
We know what you're thinking: What's a professional carnivore? Get that image of a man clad in red flannel, butcher's knife in hand, poised over a wood cutting board and a hunk of bloody red meat, out of your head.
Instead, meet Jess Pryles, who's as adept at harvesting meat at slaughterhouses as she is at judging at the biggest BBQ competition in the world and fire grilling in Rockefeller Plaza on the Today Show. If you don't already know her, that is. When it comes to being a professional carnivore—or a hardcore carnivore, as she calls herself—Pryles has already, ahem, carved out quite the place for herself.
This Australian born and Texas-trained author of a new cookbook called Hardcore Carnivore is a regular speaker at international meat conferences. She also cofounded the Australasian BBQ Alliance, and has shared her meat recipes with restaurants around the world. Her life, her work, is meat.
"I was always a foodie," Pryles tells Food & Wine, "but my first taste of a Texas smoked beef rib was a near-religious experience. It got me curious about the cooking method and art of smoking, which then led to a total fall-down-the-rabbit-hole of understanding beef, breeds, feed, marbling, and more. The more I learned, the more curious I was about meat cookery."
Here, she tells Food & Wine what it really means to be a professional carnivore—and how she became one—as well as gives her best tips for how you can live your life for meat, too.
What she does:
In short, it’s Pryles’ job to know everything about meat—and she’s taken that responsibility to the nth degree. “Understanding the science behind the cooking—and being in touch with the industry side of the meat world—is important to me,” Pryles says. “It wasn’t enough to know which steaks to choose—I wanted to know how grading works, what other cuts are lesser-known but of great quality, and where my meat comes from.” To that end, Pryles recently became an ethical deer hunter. “I’d never even picked up a gun in Australia,” she admits. “I started hunting only three years ago, and learning to process and break down animals myself. My venison preparation and recipes are something I’m now teaching lifelong Texas hunters.” When she’s not furthering her education—and educating others—Pryles publishes weekly meat recipes on her website, speaking as an ambassador for meat-centric brands such as McCormick’s Grill Mates, or appearing on or even hosting shows, such as the 2015 Aussie Barbecue Heroes, a reality TV BBQ competition in Australia.
How she did it:
Pryles took courses at Texas A&M University, including Beef 101 and Beef 706, but much of her meat education, Pryles says, “was autodidactic—getting out into the field, visiting with butchers, watching them work their magic, and asking questions.” Pryles visited ranchers, slaughterhouses, and meat scientists, conducting informational interviews then heading home to try what she’d learned at home. “Failing sometimes,” she admits, “but I ultimately got better and learned more. Then, the biggest key was sharing the information I learned to my audience—kind of bridging the gap between industry and consumer. I sort of held myself to a higher standard—it wasn’t enough to claim to be a good cook, I wanted to understand the raw ingredient. A lot of folks think buying the most expensive cut means that they know what they are talking about, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Her career advice:
If you want be a professional carnivore, you’ll need to know more than just where to buy the best steaks. “You might consider yourself a professional carnivore if you’ve eaten in the top 10 steakhouses across America,” Pryles warns, “but unless you can also explain and understand where that beef comes from, how it was processed, its cooking method and aging process, then you’re just an experienced dining patron.” Pryles says that anyone can begin learning those things with a simple trip to their local butcher. “Whether it’s at a mom-and-pop specialty shop or a grocery store, your butcher is more than happy to help answer questions,” she says. “It’s a great place to start to learn more about cuts, and often they can also recommend how best to cook them. Some butcher shops also offer short courses it butchery, charcuterie, and sausage making.” You should stoke your curiosity by continuing to learn about meat. “There are so many facets to the world of meat, be it home-cooking, restaurants, cooking methods, different animals, breeds, feeds, meat science,” she says. “And even though I am often touted as an expert, there’s always new lessons and information to be learned. So never stop being hungry for new experiences or knowledge.”
Lastly, Pryles says, if you’re a woman who wants to learn more about meat, don’t let your gender—and what others might think of you—derail your passion. “Being a carnivore has nothing to do with gender,” she says. “Women can butcher, grill, and BBQ, too. I’m asked a lot what it’s like being a woman in a man’s domain—and it’s really just about who can cook like a badass. If you can throw down with the best of them, you deserve the accolades too.”