The most tender steak ever? A story of top secret grain, Japanese cattle and the preciousness of life.

If you're a cow, this is the ranch for you.

The most tender steak ever? A story of top secret grain, Japanese cattle and the preciousness of life.
Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Chattanooga, meet Chili Pepper Ranch and Wagyu.

"We want you to really know what you're eating."

From their 400-acre Chili Pepper Ranch in Apison, Tenn., Jim and Amy Jo Osborn sell cuts of beef from over 200 head of cattle to hundreds of customers from Seattle to Miami to LA, all of whom ordered more than 60,000 pounds of meat last year.


The Chili Pepper Ranch meat.

It is deep red-pink with streams and tributaries of white.

So tender, you barely need teeth. The bone just releases the meat like a gift: here, enjoy.

New York strip, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Behind that meat? There's the real story. Chili Pepper Ranch is home to Wagyu cattle, a Japanese breed that the Osborns steward with great respect, carefully, lovingly, painstakingly attending to all parts of the ranch-to-plate experience.

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

An out-of-state nutritionist designs and prepares four top secret stage-of-life grain recipes each specific to the needs of the cows. Cattle move from pasture-to-pasture via a ranch plan inspired by Dr. Temple Grandin, the famous animal behavioralist, that allows ease of movement and less stress, including a special examination chute designed to soothe the cows.

"Like papoosing a baby to feel more comfortable," said Jim.

Papoosing a baby?

If you're a cow, this is the ranch for you.

Jim Osborn, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

The Osborns are transforming the meat-eating experience, redefining it as healthy, fatty and both grain-and-grass-fed.

When you bite into a Chili Pepper beef, you taste a long line of careful and precise decisions, some dating back four years, all culminating in that New York strip.

That marbled, melty New York strip.

Boneless chuck roast, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

For example: the Osborns cut their own hay. No surprise. Many ranches do the same.

Yet, the Osborns also store their hay for one year. Their finishing cattle only eat year-old hay. Why? Because fresh hay may contain, well, non-desirables that will later affect the taste of the meat. What goes in cattle, the Osborns say, comes out onto the plate.

Even fresh hay?

Yes, said Jim. You could taste it on the plate.

"If they eat onions," he said, "they taste like onions."

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Once, a cow birthed a blind cow. Bring out the knife, right? At Chili Pepper, the Osborn kids bottle-fed the blind calf its mother rejected, which then followed – with a little bump here, a little bump there – all over the ranch.

An injured calf? Jim – a retired orthopedic surgeon – will use a human splint. He's been known to rush home from the hospital to awfully loud bawling – a neighbor called: uhh, Jim, I think one of your cows is dying – and, at emergency-room speed, pull a calf out of a bridged mother, elbows-deep, the afterbirth pouring out onto his leather shoes and wool slacks.

You half expect Chili Pepper to have its own bovine masseuse. Personal cow coaching. Bowls of backstage M&Ms. (Green only!)

Not because the Osborns are indulgent.

Or extravagant.

But because they are attentive.

And loving.

They understand intimately, in deep chambers of their hearts, where the most tender things are stored, exactly how precious life is.

"Jim and I lost our first child to cancer," Amy Jo said.

Amy Jo and Jim Osborn, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

In 2012, the Osborns, six years after burying their first-born son, moved from Ooltewah to 9.6 acres in Apison.

The nearly 10 acres left the non-farming, non-ranching family with a question: uhhh, how do we maintain this?

""We need an animal that eats grass," said Jim, "and is a deduction."

Goats? Sheep? Arabian horses?

"Wagyu," said Jim.

Wagyu are Japanese cattle born in the US. In Japan, the same cows are called "Kobe."

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"Wagyu means 'our cows.' They are Japanese," said Jim. "Think about a sumo wrestler. A big boy or girl with a lot of extra meat on their bones."

It's niche and far healthier, the Osborns say, than other American beef. Some claim Wagyu is the most exceptional meat you can eat. Plus, at the time, there was only one other Wagyu ranch in the state. Jim, who describes himself as a "right pedal kind of guy," loves the green-light experience of researching, building, maintaining, envisioning, sustaining. Never ranched before? No problem.

"We love business. We love startups. We love creating things," said Amy Jo.

Wagyu, it was.

Wagyu, it has become. In 2014, they bought four head, like training wheels.

Food as a Verb thanks Tucker Build, our sustaining partner, for its generous support.

Tucker Build offers Chattanooga a commercial construction firm made up of design-build experts specializing in the planning, building and managing process.

(The first calf born on the ranch was killed by a mountain lion. They've lost three others to bears and coyotes. Now, multiple dogs roam the ranch. Problem solved.)

Over time, their 10 acres became 400; their four head-herd became 200. As they grew, they kept their eyes on one prize:

"Can we have these cows taste like we want?" Jim asked.

Wagyu is different; intentionally fatty, tender in stunning ways. You can't half-ass its preparation; Wagyu must be cooked skillfully, knowingly, in order to bring out the Wagyu-ness.

That's why the Osborns, like helicopter ranchers, hover: monitoring, adjusting and dialing up or down every part of the process. Decisions made at 18 months will affect the meat three years later on your plate.

Boneless chuck roast, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"It's residual," Jim said. "You’re trying to create environment where you optimize health all the way through. In the last 90 to 120 days, I can change the profile and that will change the flavor."

Today, Chili Pepper manages the entire four years of conception-to-plate process. Ninety heifers, three bulls and the rest are beef animals. They've got a sustainable land-growth plan, with plans to create a fully closed-loop regenerative ranch.

Last year, Chili Pepper sold 60,000 pounds of Chili Pepper beef; in 2024, orders are up 30%.

Their goal?

"100,000 pounds a year," said Jim.

The Osborns divide their cows into four life spans: birth to weaned to beef to the final 100 days, where finishing cattle are removed from pasture and housed in a big barn eating special last-supper feed.

Folks come to Apison to talk with the Osborns in a way that resembles culinary therapy. The Osborns ask about their budget, family size, expectations when eating meat, different cuts you maybe haven't considered before.

"We are big-small," said Jim. "Come here and tour and see what’s going on. We'll teach you how to cook it and why it's healthier."

Most orders are made through their small retail shop. The Osborns also deliver and ship. For years, Jim couldn't even eat his own filets.

"They were back-ordered," he said.

One Jamaican cattle rancher flew here, tasted the beef cuts, then made his order.

They sell in a few local restaurants, which they are shy to name. Chefs will order for specialty parties. Many sales come through friends and word of mouth.

"We are very focused on the individual," he said.

It all results in this Wagyu experience.

"I'd never been exposed to that kind of fat," said Amy Jo. "Biting into the fat of Wagyu is totally different."

How different?

Ever had pate? Jim asked.


"How about Jello?" Amy Jo said.

Jello? Wagyu-a-second. You're comparing beef to Jello?

"It’s almost like you don’t have to chew it," she said.

Cap-on sirloin, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

In the fall of 2002, Jim was practicing orthopedic surgery and racing cars professionally. He traveled to Road Atlanta; there, a Southern Living photographer was on assignment; they caught eyes.

In love, then married, then to Chattanooga. In August 2006, Amy Jo and Jim gave birth to young Hatch. Then, the unthinkable. In October, after two months of tumors on his spine and brain, Hatch died.

"On the morning of the 19th, Hatch took his last breath in Jim’s arms as I sat next to them on the floor," Amy Jo writes. "He was only nine weeks old, but he was the strongest little boy imaginable. The pain of this is nearly unspeakable, still. But that pain has created a deep desire to do all we can to help families journey from the infliction of this terrible disease."

That December, they created the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, their generous, nonprofit response to the pain of cancer.

"We don't treat the cancer," Amy Jo said. "We treat the chaos that cancer incurs."

Their foundation treats the psycho-oncological effects of cancer. It is treatment for the patient, siblings, caretakers, parents – the mental, physical and emotional burden they all carry.

Austin Hatcher Foundation, Chattanooga, Tenn.

All services are free. Locally, 12 clinical staff care for 730 patients and families. Across the US, the foundation has supported some 90,000 people in the last 17 years across 23 states and 46 different hospitals.

Their vision: a Ronald McDonald House omnipresence.

"We could have one in every state next to a children's hospital," said Jim.

After Hatch died, their family – the Osborns have three other high-school-aged children – moved to Apison. Built a small garden. Got some chickens. Mourned. Within this life of grief, they began to also study grain.

We are standing by their 11,000-square-foot barn; Amy Jo talked about what the land means to her. Even her sentences, normally full as an artist, became simpler, leaner, like poetry.

"Just slowing down. Just to be outside," she said. "It's so quiet. Away from everybody."

Jim Osborn, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

We walk into the barn, where these cows spend the last 100 days of life, off-grass (if they eat onions, they taste like onions) and enjoying a special diet and soft sawdust floors.

Jim walks us over to the grain, separated into four different bags of feed. Some for the calves, other for the breeding stock mamas, others for the beef cattle bound for processing.

Jim Osborn, feed, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"We are the only ones I know of with this specific grain ratio," he said.

Their monthly feed bill can top $10,000. They're mum on the specific formula, who prepares it, where it originates. ("Outside of Tennessee," he said.)

The recipe doesn't change with a changing commodities market. Just create a standard and stick with it, the Osborns say.

Nearby, the Temple Grandin-inspired chute. Jim nods.

Jim Osborn, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"If you let animals move naturally, they won't be stressed or stress you either," he said, borrowing my notepad to sketch out the ranch; he draws a series of alleyways, all originating from central hub in an outward-emanating-design.

"They want to be where they’re supposed to be," he said.

They want to be where they’re supposed to be.

Is this a ranch?

Or Zen?

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.
Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Looking at the feed rations, it is a beautiful moment, revealing the calf-to-plate series of relationships, all present when we cut into that New York strip. By paying such close attention, the Osborns are offering a generous model of what love can look like.

What we care for, we attend to.

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Back at the walk-in store, Jim and Amy Jo open up a cooler, pulling out a dozen different cuts of Chili Pepper beef. Other cuts, not present, are named. It becomes a Forrest-Gump-shrimp-stew-shrimp-gumbo moment.

"Beef jerky," Jim began. "Smoked chuck roast."

"We make sausage," Amy offered. "I love the flatirons."

Whole shanks. Filets. The skirts. Legs cut into sections. Osso Bucco. And Amy Jo's favorite.

"Chuck roast," she said.

Cube steaks, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"Cooked tongue," Jim continued. "Corned beef. Beef bacon. Pastrami. Ribeye-shank. I cook that in the Dutch oven."

One man with leaky gut syndrome buys organ meat, boils the joints and marrows. Another hunter buys the leftover fat, mixes it in with the game meat he's killed.

New York strip, Tere major, Flat-iron, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"Dino ribs," Jim continued. "Beef belly. Ground beef. Ground sausage. Ribeye. We take the eye of the round, cut it into 1/4" thick and run it through the tenderizer. They're called cube steaks. I just sold $2,000 worth this morning."

The most popular?

"Bone-in ribeye," he said. "By far."

Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

"We want you to really know what you're eating," he said.

Food as a Verb thanks Tucker Build, our sustaining partner, for its generous support.

Tucker Build offers Chattanooga a commercial construction firm made up of design-build experts specializing in the planning, building and managing process.

We climb in Jim's Chevy; he carries us over to another field a quarter-mile away. Nearly 200 years ago, there was Forced Removal here. Off in the distance, tom turkeys court and strut. A ridge or two over, Jim says a subdivision – 3500 houses, he estimates – is coming.

Jim Osborn, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

On these 230 acres, though, they envision something else: a series of eight rotating pastures along with a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant serving Chili Pepper beef and TN-grown produce. It is an attempt at environmental prosperity, food security and regional hospitality.

"Can you sustain quality beef product for area and supply neighbors and people locally?" Jim wonders.

Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

Neighbors call the Osborns, wanting to sell them their fields, trusting them and their attention. One neighbor, in charge of her late father's estate, was under specific orders: sell this land to Jim and Amy Jo.

My dad wanted you to have this, she said.

The cows, off in the far fields, turn and amble towards Jim. Sure, he usually feeds them. It's part Pavlovian.

It's also something else.

I ask him what he's learned from ranching and farming.

"Understanding the temperament of animals and appreciate them for who they are," Jim said.

Those cows know, intuitively, that they are loved, attended to and cared for.

How precious, this life.

Wagyu, Chili Pepper Ranch, Apison, Tenn.

All photography by Sarah Unger (

All design by Alex DeHart

All words by David Cook (

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This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

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