It’s a fact we all know, but often choose to ignore: the juicy grass-finished beef steak on our plate was once part of a bovine. At the farm, we strive to make our animals comfortable and content so that they will grow and develop in a stress-free environment. This is good for the animal, the forages, the land, and for the farmer. The cycle of life moves along until the measure of creation is fulfilled for the animal—and we omnivores continue that cycle at the dinner table.
A significant part of the field-to-fork process in the meat industry is the butchering of an animal. So I spent some time with my butcher the other day in order to share a behind-the-scenes look at butchering. The cutting of meat is somewhat of an art form, with lots of cultural variations. The standard American cuts that you see at the grocery store or on a chart such as this one distributed by the Beef Council tell only part of the story. Meat cutting is the art of identifying and separating the muscle groups from the bones and sinews. Once the muscle groups are separated, they can be sliced and trimmed into the familiar cuts of beef. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting beef cuts.
[Warning: The following photos may be too graphic for non-meat eaters! Read on at your own discretion.]
Writing about grass-fed and grass-finished beef has been a fun and interesting experience. The fun part is getting reader feedback. The interesting part is learning about consumers’ experiences with grass-fed and grass-finished beef. Even though the focus of my most recent article was the health benefits of grass-fed beef, I got a lot of comments about the eating experience, which covered a wide range of experiences—everything from grass-fed beef is “tough as shoe leather” to noting that the flavor is “far superior” to commodity beef.
That’s why I’d like to discuss the “eatability” (not to be confused with edibility), or the eating experience associated with grass-fed or grass-finished beef. (Read about the difference between these two terms.) On my family farm, we raise grass-finished cattle, which means the animals are never fed grain or similar high-starch diets; they’re brought to a mature fattened state on forages (grass and legumes) alone. Many factors contribute to the eatability of beef, including animal stress, butchering and aging processes, storage conditions, and more. To keep it simple, this article will discuss only the three primary factors that affect the eatability of grass-fed beef: the lean-to-fat ratio, flavor, and manner of preparation. (more…)
I had an eye-opening experience at a pig farm about five years ago. Since we usually buy a couple feeder pigs in the fall to utilize our garden scraps, I went to the hog farm to get a couple pigs. This was a small to moderately sized pig operation—but definitely a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO, aka “factory farm”). I wasn’t ignorant about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, but this was one of those days when reality struck. While I was there getting my two piglets, the delivery truck rolled up and unloaded a 4x4x4-foot pallet loaded with antibiotics—a month’s supply. Wow!
Even if you know nothing about raising pigs, doesn’t common sense make you wonder how healthy the pigs are in the first place if that much antibiotic is needed? (more…)
Having beef for dinner? Beef is one of the most versatile ingredients around. Will you have a steak, roast or burger? How will you prepare it: grilled, baked, roasted, fried, marinated? Whether you consult your favorite restaurant menu, cookbook or the Internet, the possibilities are practically endless. But when it comes to the first choice you have to make—about the beef itself—what will you choose? (more…)
A few months ago, there was a TV commercial that compared the driving experience in a high performance sports car to eating grass-fed beef. I’ve since forgotten the details about what kind of car it was, but the comparison was memorable and apt: being a producer (and consumer) of grass-fed beef has been quite a ride over the past few years. (more…)