T-bone fever: Tales from a meat raffle

The prizes at a recent meat raffle held at the Grand Rapids, Minn., Eagles Club. (Aaron J. Brown)

The juicy prizes at a recent charitable meat raffle held at the Eagles Club in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. (Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Though humans evolved as omnivores, many people on earth do not eat meat. Early vegetarianism could be found in ancient Greece. Abstinence from animal flesh has been part of Hinduism and Buddhism since the 7th Century BC. One finds vegetarians in many parts of modern society, many swearing by the health benefits and moral authority of a meatless life.

This was not, however, the crowd at the Grand Rapids Eagles Club meat raffle last Friday night. If a head of broccoli walked into this place it would take a beer bottle to the sprouts and leave on a stretcher, uneaten.

Though a longtime and voracious consumer of meat, I found myself walking through the doors of the small town club as a meat raffle novice. Not only that, my son Henry and I had volunteered to *conduct* the meat raffle as a fundraiser for his youth archery club. I would learn this is a bit like piloting an ore ship under the Aerial Lift Bridge shortly after learning how to operate a 25-horse outboard motor.

First we met with the pull tab lady, the supreme power behind the meat raffle. We trekked into the labyrinth of the kitchen area, rooting the meat out of the walk-in freezer to place in ice on a rolling cart. Every aspect of the process had been repeated time and time again by the staff. It was like watching the executioners practice the long walk to the electric chair on “The Green Mile.”

Twilight at the bar seems an unusual time to jockey over perishables, though that hardly seemed to bother the assembled players. About 50 folks hunkered around the bar and surrounding tables, each dividing their attention more or less equally between their beverage of choice and the blood-red gold in the rolling cart. It was a “smaller crowd tonight” the lady told us.

Stacks of singles lay everywhere. These people only had eyes for meat.

Heading into the evening I’d been told that we’d be “selling” meat raffle tickets to bar patrons. The word “selling” implies that we’d have to talk people into it, perhaps explaining the virtues of our charitable cause or describing in delicious detail the various cuts of meat.

But what happened next required no selling at all. Indeed, the transactions more closely resembled what happens in the pit of a stock exchange or a back alley cockfight. We simply had to make sure everyone who wanted a ticket got one, or at least got first dibs on the next drawing.

There were six drawings in all. Four smaller cuts — a pair of T-bone steaks, a roast, a breakfast bacon and sausage package and some pork back ribs — went in $1 drawings. Four-packs of thick, juicy T-bones highlighted both $2 raffles.

In each case Henry or I would call the numbers. This prompted a collective groan and one isolated scream of joy. A happy lady, a teetering fellow, a young family who had come in just to grab a bite to eat — someone would walk away with a bag of meat. They’d set it on the table or bar and go about their business. The meat lingered there for a period of time I gladly don’t know.

The appeal of the meat raffle is clear. For just $1 you might have a steak dinner or a Sunday roast. You get a one in thirty chance, which is better than most things in life.

You also get to tell whoever’s waiting up for you at home that you weren’t just at the bar. You were grocery shopping. Tomorrow’s supper is on the house.

Unless, of course, you’re dining with vegetarians.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 24, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Welcome to the brotherhood, guys. I did a bunch of these in St. Hilaire when I lived up there. It was complicated by the fact that bar bingo was happening simultaneously, so I had to avoid distracting certain people while they were running their daubers across their many cards.

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