The 2021 Nebraska State Fair will be filled with attractions. There will be a carnival, wandering ground acts and educational activities for all ages.
One of the most popular attractions (and with good reason) is the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Beef Pit.
Nebraska Cattlemen Beef Pit Committee co-chairs Mark and Suzanne Jagels have organized the restaurant for a total of about 17 years altogether and consistently since 2010.
They arrange the schedules of the people who work in the Beef Pit – called Pit Bosses. These are the adult volunteers who have reliably shown up to man the pit each year. They number about two dozen and work in groups of five or six each day.
“Most of the Pit Bosses have been there for quite a while,” Mark said. “They are a pretty dedicated group.”
Another mainstay to the pit are Daryl and Maggie Griepenstroh of Nebraska City. They are the cooks that turn that Nebraska beef into delicious dishes for public consumption. Daryl hauls his own personal cooker to the Grand Island location each year. The Griepenstrohs generally show up the Wednesday before the fair and stay until the Tuesday after Labor Day, said Suzanne.
“They have the knowledge base to provide the best flavor for the dishes we serve,” she said. “They make the whole thing work.”
The rest of the crew is also made up of volunteers. They come from local agribusinesses, colleges, cattlemen and other affiliates, Mark said. They sign up to help in the kitchen and dining area in groups of 15 to 25 people from each of the groups mentioned.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “It’s wonderful to get to know all of them. We have great camaraderie.”
The Beef Pit is located inside the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center. There is ample seating and the space is air conditioned. Mark said the State Fair Board worked diligently with the Nebraska Cattlemen Beef Pit Committee to insure they had an air conditioned space when the fair relocated.
“The move to Grand Island has been very beneficial,” he said. “We have pretty much doubled the amount of products we serve.”
Suzanne said the busiest days for the Beef Pit are usually over the weekend. With some recent changes to the fair schedule, there may be shifts in the times of the day the pit is busier. But, she said they won’t know that until they see what the changes bring.
Mark said during the busiest of times, he has seen the line stretch outside the Expo to the Birthing Pavilion located in the sheep barn. That would be a distance equivalent to the width of the Heartlands Event Center where the fair’s concerts are held.
It meant about a 30-minute wait; time that was not wasted, he said. Pit Bosses worked the crowd, explaining what was going on and sharing info about Nebraska beef.
“They turned it into a great way to meet people and interact with the fair-goers,” Mark said.
That is the primary purpose of the Beef Pit, after all. The promotion of Nebraska beef and education about the nutritional value of beef in a healthy diet is why the Beef Pit was founded by the late Donovan Yoachim of Belvedere, said Suzanne.
This year marks the 37th anniversary of the Beef Pit. Since its opening in 1984, the pit has served more than 250,000 sandwiches, Suzanne said. They go through about 8,000 pounds of beef each year.
The Beef Pit also recognizes the efforts of the youth at the fair. To reward the youth, the Beef Pit includes a voucher for a free sandwich for each young person signed up for fair events. These are paid for by sponsors, Mark said.
“The youth are what the fair is all about,” he said. “Them showcasing their talents through 4-H, FFA and the rodeo. We wanted to support them.”
Jon Burleson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.