Menuism Dining Blog
Dining education for foodies

Grass Fed Beef Steak

Photo by VirtualErn

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.

Lean-to-Fat Ratio: Why It Matters

One common misconception is that the health benefit of grass-fed beef is due to the leanness of the beef. While it’s true that grass-fed beef can be lean, it can also be rich in fat—including essential, heart-healthy omega-3 fats. When grass-fed beef is very lean, it can be tough and dry—like shoe leather—but the culprit is usually overcooking, not the leanness of the meat.

Beef may be lean for many reasons. The breed and age of the animal, the extent of finishing, the amount of fat trimmed from the carcass, and the particular muscle group used for a particular cut are all contributing factors. Breeds such as longhorn and corriente (aka criollo) are naturally lean; they were bred for traveling long distances in dry country to forage and find water the muscle-to-weight ratio is very high. Despite the leanness of longhorn and corriente meat, the flavor can be quite good, but proper cooking methods are critical to tenderness and eatability. Angus and hereford, two of the most common cattle breeds in the US, were developed in wetter climates where traveling to find food and water was not critical. On good feed, they naturally put on more fat. Because of the fat content, cooking skill isn’t as big a factor in eatability. Common dairy cattle breeds such as holstein and jersey fall somewhere in the middle, as dairy cattle are bred so that “extra” fat ends up in the milk rather than the meat. Although it’s possible to finish a dairy animal with quite a bit of fat, it’s a fairly inefficient process compared to the common beef breeds, so much of the meat from these animals ends up as ground beef. Fat from other animals may be added to attain a certain percentage of lean meat to fat. A top quality grass-finished steak or roast will have some external fat and good internal fat or marbling.

An Array of Flavors, Not Just One

Great beef flavor is pretty subjective. Because so much of the beef that’s widely available in the US is grain-fed commodity beef, we’ve become used to a standardized product that tastes like beef—or, at least, the standard “beef flavor” that many of us have come to expect. In the world of grass-fed and grass-finished beef, however, a whole new array of flavor is possible. The animals are, in a very real sense, what they eat. The flavors you’ll find with grass-fed and finished beef will vary regionally due to forages: cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, legumes, brush, herbs, forbs—what the animals eat makes a big difference in how the meat will taste. Seasons also affect the flavor. Even soil types and cultural practices within the same region will affect flavor of the beef. This is what makes the experience of eating grass-fed beef so interesting. As grass-fed beef becomes increasingly available, you can have a lot of fun discovering and comparing the array of natural flavors. Go to different restaurants that serve grass-fed beef and compare them that way, or source your own from farms and ranches and host a tasting party.

Note: Occasional serious problems with “off” flavor in a beef cut can often be traced to environmental factors such as animal handling and stress, or processing problems in a sub-par facility.

Preparation Matters As Much As the Meat

Grill, fry, roast, bake, broil or slow cook: how do you make the most of each style or cut of grass-finished beef? Any of these methods can work without compromising the quality of the meat, but there are a few ground rules no matter what method of preparation you choose. Follow these guidelines and you can’t fail.

1. Don’t allow the meat to dry out.

2. Don’t overcook.

3. Prefer slow cooking to fast cooking, generally speaking.

To sum it up, when it comes to grass-fed and grass-finished beef, don’t fear the fat, savor the flavor, and cook carefully. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: Have you tried grass-finished beef? What’s your favorite preparation?

Posted by on November 15th, 2011

John Brady is one of a now-rare breed of farmer-ranchers who comes from an unbroken chain of family farmers going back multiple generations. He is the third generation currently farming the same land in Idaho. After earning a degree in Agronomy and a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, borrowing money, and participating in USDA farm commodity programs during the 1970s, he has finally overcome most of that to be a maverick in doing things the “new old-fashioned” way, working with nature to raise beef the way it was intended: on grass, legumes and forage. Watch John move cows at BradysBeef.com, read the Brady’s Beef blog and keep up to date on all things Brady’s Beef on Twitter.

Rachael White

Rachael White
Hosting and Entertaining

Kanako Noda

Kanako Noda
Japanese Cuisine

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr
Southern Cuisine

Dale Yasunaga

Dale Yasunaga
Hawaiian Cuisine

Dave Jensen

Dave Jensen
Craft Beer

Duggan McDonnell

Duggan McDonnell
Cocktails

Prerna Singh

Prerna Singh
Indian Cuisine

John Brady

John Brady
Grass-Fed Beef

Mr. Lew

Mr. Lew
Burger

Kim Thompson

Kim Thompson
Sustainable Seafood

Michelle Kretzer

Michelle Kretzer
Vegan Foods

David R. Chan

David R. Chan
Chinese Restaurant

Lauren Deitsch

Lauren Deitsch
Chocolate

Alain Cohen

Alain Cohen
Kosher Foods

Jackie Yoo

Jackie Yoo
Korean Foods

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich
Fast Food

Dawn Gribble

Dawn Gribble
British Food

Justina Huddleston

Justina Huddleston
Food Trends

Bun Boy Eats LA

Bun Boy Eats LA
LA City Guide

Sara Grunden Kuhs

Sara Grunden Kuhs
Richmond, VA City Guide

Jeff Pearl

Jeff Pearl
Chicago City Guide

Juliet White

Juliet White
Sante Fe City Guide

Ashley Dickey

Ashley Dickey
Orlando City Guide

Justin Chen

Justin Chen
Menuism Co-Founder

John Li

John Li
Menuism Co-Founder

Kim Kohatsu

Kim Kohatsu
Managing Editor

Quantcast