Jolene Pisel got up from her kitchen table, put on a mitt and pulled a pan of small, golden bread rolls from the oven.
“I had a last-minute food idea,” Pisel said. Baked inside each of the rolls was a jalapeno-cheddar brat, made from beef raised on her family’s farm east of Gilmore City. “It’s like an original jalapeno popper,” she said with a laugh.
Pisel said she enjoys coming up with new recipes for the skinless beef brats, named CYburdogs, that she sells from her on-farm store and online.
Farm Bureau members Jolene Pisel and her husband, Kirk, raise Black Angus cattle near Gilmore City in northwest Iowa. In 2009, they started JoKir’s Wild Beef to sell their premium, Iowa corn-fed beef directly to customers.
“I always tell everybody, before we tried to please the public, we were pleasing us. And we are beef snobs around here,” Pisel said.
Now JoKir’s Wild Beef is looking to expand its market with a new skinless beef brat, called the CYburdog. The name is a mash-up of Iowa State University Cyclones, burgers and the food’s hot dog shape.
Pisel developed the new ground beef product with the help of students through Iowa State University’s (ISU) Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative. ISU’s licensing department agreed to co-brand the skinless beef brat and put Cy on the label.
The Pisels grow corn and soybeans and raise cattle on a Century Farm that’s been in Kirks family since 1892. Their Black Angus calves originate from McGinnis Meadows Ranch, a dude ranch in Montana.
The Pisels feed the cattle with the corn they grow. They market the fed cattle to Lewright Meats, a family-owned meat locker and smokehouse in downtown Eagle Grove.
It was on the drive home from Lewrights’ that Pisel came up with the idea for JoKir’s Wild to direct market their family’s beef.
“That’s the ‘wild’ part of the name, because it was just a wild idea and I ran with it,” Pisel says with a laugh. (The name is also another mash-up, standing for Jolene and Kirk.)
Direct marketing was a natural fit for Pisel, who spent years working in retail and in advertising sales for a horse magazine, a job she could do from home and still help Kirk with cattle chores, planting, harvest and more.
Pisel said she wanted to sell directly to customers to set their own prices and help even out the ups and downs in the commodity cattle markets.
“As a farm wife, my whole world takes place outside this kitchen window, and I watch how hard my husband works out there with the cattle and when I’m out there with him. So I know how much work it is,” Pisel said.
“It would just break my heart that he didn’t get paid for his whole year’s worth of work ... because the market tanks and we had no control over that.”
Pisel also noted that, at the time, many grocery stores had stopped offering premium or prime beef because customers were spending less during the recession.
“I was hearing a lot of complaints about the type of beef you get at the grocery store. So the people who wanted something better, I wanted them to have that opportunity,” Pisel said.
What makes JoKir’s Wild unique is that it’s made from Iowa corn-fed Black Angus beef that is dry-aged and locally processed, Pisel explained. Dry-aging raises the cost, but it brings out the flavor and tenderness of beef.
Pisel opened a store in the basement of their home, inviting travelers passing by their farm on Highway 3 to stop in. At the farm entrance, there's a large yellow sign with a humorous beef-related message that she changes regularly. A recent message read: “Friends don’t let friends eat imported beef.”
The JoKir’s Wild ribeye steaks are the most popular item, but that left the Pisels with a need to sell more ground beef. So they turned to their friend, Ray Hansen, an ISU Extension and Outreach value-added agriculture specialist. Hansen connected the Pisels to the ISU Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative’s internship program.
The interns helped redesign the JoKir’s Wild website (www.jokirswild.com) and helped Pisel come up with the idea for the CYburdog, using ground beef.
Pisel developed 12 different recipes for the CYburdog and asked the ISU students and others to try out the recipes. They narrowed the recipes down to six varieties and then took the CYburdogs to ISU’s Ag Day, asking students and faculty to taste-test the skinless beef brats and vote for their favorites.
Once again, they narrowed it down to three varieties, which are now in production: fireworks, which is the jalapeno cheddar brat; teriyaki, with teriyaki sauce and French fried onions; and patriotic, with red onions, blue cheese and ranch dressing.
Pisel and the ISU interns are working to introduce the CYburdogs to Ames- and Des Moines-area grocery stores, restaurants and sports venues. The Pisels also successfully applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture value-added producer grant to help with marketing and product development.
“I have a lot of things sizzling and bouncing around in the pan, but I haven’t landed that big fish yet,” said Pisel, about expanding the market for CYburdogs.
In the meantime, the CYburdogs are currently available in Pisel’s on-farm store and online. The store also offers JoKir’s Wild steaks, beef patties, ground beef, beef sticks and more.