Burning Beast: A Festival that Celebrates the Whole Animal, Sustainably

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Sometimes enlightenment comes in the form of a lamb taco. This summer marked my second pilgrimage to Burning Beast, a festival that brings together meat lovers and sustainably raised meat, and which now holds a permanent spot on my annual calendar. After my first year in attendance, I described Burning Beast as a, “bacchanalian meat-lovers picnic,” which is true, in part.

This year, however, my experience of the event tapped into a much deeper level than simple meat-love.

Burning Beast is the three-year-old brainchild of Chef Tamara Murphy, of Seattle’s Elliot Bay Cafe. Each July, Murphy gathers a handful of Seattle’s best chefs and pairs them with sustainably raised “beasts.” The chefs cook outdoors, in a big field at Smoke Farm in Arlington, Wash., using only wood fire and various contraptions of steel, cinder block or bricks.

The scene is artsy and medieval. Folk musicians play and sing, aerialists and trapeze artists swing above the crowd. In center field sits a 20-foot-tall wooden goat, which is ceremoniously burned after the meal. A pig steams in an earth oven, a flock of chickens spin on a rotisserie turned by bicycle pedals, a whole goat is splayed and wired to a steel frame, where it hangs over a smoking bed of coals. All day long the air is filled with the chop-licking aromas of fire-roasting meats and the flavorful smoke of apple, hickory and peach wood.

In addition to meats, there are sea creatures and vegetables, nearly all of which are local and sustainably harvested. Once finished, the foods are crafted into fine creations using the broad palette of flavors familiar to Seattle chefs: smoked rabbit banh mi, lamb tacos with roasted chili and tomato salsa, ballotines of moose meat wrapped in bacon and filled with maple- and blueberry-infused sausage. Guests are asked to bring their own plates and utensils, and when the dinner bell rings they line up for three-bite portions from each chef, bouncing from station to station. It is juicy, delicious meat poetry.

While giving her welcome speech, Murphy said something that forever changed the way I view not just Burning Beast, but the local-sustainable movement. The animals we had been watching roast all day, which many of us were seeing for the first time in whole form, had come from small, local farmers and ranchers. This event, she said, is really about using the whole animal, because if we want the availability of better meat, we need to support the small farmers and ranchers who raise it.

Murphy later explained that these small producers provide meat within a completely different system than the industrial meat empire. She personally has the, “privilege and opportunity” to buy from two small local farms. As she put it, “When the lamb is ready, the lamb is ready, and they need to sell the whole animal. You can’t just order a case of lamb racks every two weeks.” Murphy knows what she’s talking about, having raised, slaughtered and prepared her own pig.

At this point in our changing food system, one of the best things consumers can do is adapt to the needs of the people trying to bring us better animal proteins. Thinking about buying meat in bulk (as in whole, half, or quarter animals), and learning to cook every part of the animal are key to ensuring our own “privilege and opportunity” to buy better meat.

By doing so, consumers can confidently purchase meat from members of their communities who are dedicated to the health of the land, the animals and each other.

Writer, poet and chef Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. When she’s not busy freelancing or posting on her blog, Food-G, you can find her in the mountains, earning her calories.
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Short Rib and Cremini Ragu

If you love fork-tender ragu, add short ribs to your repertoire. Back home in Missoula, Montana, on the search for local meat, I met Scott Barger of Mannix Brothers’ Grass Finished Beef, a fifth-generation cattle rancher in the Blackfoot Valley. He said that cuts like short ribs often end up going into their ground beef, simply because folks don’t know how to use them. Like many tougher cuts, short ribs require a longer cooking time for the connective tissues to melt. When they do, the meat becomes fall-apart tender, infusing the sauce with an incredible richness. This ragu can be served two ways: with the rib portions intact over our Creamy Corn Polenta, or you can remove the ribs from the sauce, and once cool enough to handle, shred the meat, discarding bones and excess fat. Toss the meat sauce with a long pasta noodle like fettuccine or tagliatelle.

Short Rib and Cremini Ragu


Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 8-10

Short Rib and Cremini Ragu


  1. 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  2. 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
  3. 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  4. 6 ounces cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
  5. 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  6. 3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, English cut
  7. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  8. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  9. 1 cup dry red wine
  10. 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  11. 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  12. 1-1/2 cups low-sodium beef stock or broth
  13. 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  14. 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  15. 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  16. Pinch chili flakes (optional)
  17. 2 bay leaves
  18. 1/4 cup half-and-half
  19. Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
  20. Shaved pecorino Romano, for garnish


Pulse the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms in a food processor until finely minced., Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 5-quart oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables, and cook until soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.

Pat the short ribs dry. Trim most but not all of the thick layer of fat from the ribs. Sprinkle liberally with salt and black pepper. Place flour in a small bowl and coat the ribs on all sides.

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Heat the same pot over medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Brown meat on all sides, 3-4 minutes per side. For best browning, avoid crowding the pan, working in batches if necessary. Try not to rush this step, as it adds a lot of flavor.

Remove meat from pan, and immediately add red wine, scraping up any browned bits from the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Add vegetables, meat, tomatoes, tomato paste, stock, herbs, chili flakes (if using), bay leaves and ½ teaspoon salt. The sauce should just cover the meat. Bring to a simmer.

Cover and place in oven for 3 to 3 ½ hours or until meat is fork-tender. Remove from oven and before stirring, skim fat from the surface. Stir in half-and-half.

Serve ragu garnished with parsley and cheese.


Cook Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes to 3 hours, 45 minutes


  • http://www.farmerscookseaters.com Marlen

    Thank you for bringing attention to the committed work Tamara Murphy does to raise awareness and monies in support of our local farmers. From what I’ve experienced, she does so from the bottom of her heart. Burning Beast and An Incredible Feast are only two examples of things she’s created to support the community and our farmers, often staying behind the scenes to keep the focus on the true purpose of what they are all about. Another such example is her first book that’s coming out this Fall. TENDER: farmers, cooks, eaters shares simply ways to enjoy eating, cooking and choosing the bounty of fresh, seasonal foods our farmers raise for us. Thank you for bringing attention to grassroot efforts likes Tamara’s that support our local farmers, nourishing ourselves and our communities!

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