Ag Pride 2023 | Meat Lover: From Cattle Pot to Deluxe Kitchen
Most cattle trailers are used for delivering livestock to their destination, but Craig Carter’s converted cattle trailer delivers delicious grilled meat to hungry customers at catering events, tailgates, and cooking competitions. “Meat Lover,” as the trailer is affectionately monikered, is the result of two passions meeting: metal fabrication and cooking.
Craig Carter, the mastermind behind the giant project, is a two-time world champion chef, featured on CHOPPED: Grillmasters in 2019. He is a decorated competitor, traveling nearly every weekend to pit his skills against other chefs. Carter has also owned a catering business, Aces Wild, for nearly two decades.
Growing up on a farm as a young boy, he was mesmerized by the cattle haulers he saw pulling into their driveway. The day after graduating high school, Carter began his job as a machinist in metal fabrication until his mid 30’s. He left to take care of his mother, who was his inspiration for becoming a self-made chef. Carter says, “My mother was my inspiration to cook, God bless her. She was the blandest cook.” His location in Kansas City, Missouri provided the perfect backdrop for his catering business and competitive passion. Aces Wild also boasts its own rubs and seasonings, representative of his likeness for bold flavor. His grill top is where he brings Missouri’s premier beef and pork production to sports fans who love meat.
Throughout his career, he has joined his skills for cooking and fabricating to create unique vehicles out of which he can cook, including trailers and a retro school bus. Never had he taken on a project as big as a Merritt cattle trailer, though.
The inspiration for the project came to Carter as he was driving down the interstate. Curious, he researched the price of buying a new trailer to discover that they would cost $30,000-$40,000. Instead, he asked around until he found a wrecked one for $3,000.
The trailer had been laid on its side and slid down the pavement, so it was necessary to rebuild and restructure practically everything. “Merritt was awesome to work with,” he said. Carter ordered replacement sides and roof and started from the ground up. He took the floor of the upper deck out to make more room below, but realized that it provided much needed support for the side walls. “There were a lot of hours spent with a Miller Lite just staring at it,” laughs Carter. “I built a whole structure and encased it. From the nose to the wheel casing. I fabricated everything in place, tore it off, power coated it, and put it back together.” The whole process took a little over a year to complete.
Carter was not even limited by the 53 by 8.5 ft dimensions of the floor of the trailer. He added slide-outs, too. The nose of the trailer is the sink and storage area, complete with hot, running water. Down the steps into the belly is the grilling space which features five different smokers, grills, and stoves. In the back of the trailer holds the full fridges and preparation area. Carter says, “We open up the front for what I call the ‘dog and pony show’ where people can walk up and see everything being cooked.” Carter is able to do cooking demonstrations using the trailer, as well as cater to thousands of people.
He even plans to take “Meat Lover” on the competition trail in the coming months. He is still putting the finishing touches on the trailer, but its first official outing was the Kansas City Royals Opening Day at the end of March. The trailer’s purpose has come full circle, for it brings delicious food from “farm to table” in a unique experience for the customer. Carter works closely with beef and pork producers, including Snake River Farms and Prairie Fresh Pork, to serve the best meal possible to every hungry passerby. “I’m more of a beef guy, but I love cooking pork, too,” he says.
Carter’s inventive mind has not stopped coming up with new ideas, and the latest one is also related to agriculture. For the The American Royal World Series of Barbecue in September, he plans to reconfigure a Bobcat grapple attachment so that he can cook a whole hog in it.
Meat Lover will soon be making appearances at the Missouri State Cornhole Championship; Vogler Semen Beef Auction in McCook, Nebraska; and the inaugural Chrome Shop Mafia Truck Show (of CMT’s Trick My Truck fame). Variety and creativity feed Carter’s passion, but he most enjoys the people with whom he can share a Miller Lite while preparing world-class meals.