Focus on Ingredients: Grass-fed Beef

Thursday, August 25, 2011

from the Carnation Cook Book

I want to get specific about what constitutes "grass-fed beef," because I've had producers tell me their beef is grass fed "and then corn finished."  All beef is grass fed to a certain point. However, most steers end their lives in a feedlot where they stand around on a concrete floor with a bunch of other steers and are fed corn until they reach slaughter weight. When I say "grass-fed beef," I mean beef that has stayed on the pasture its entire life.  Of course, even a grass-fed steer will eat hay in the winter or during other lean times, but that's part of his natural diet.

Grass-fed beef is a pre-industrial ingredient, so we must look at how pre-industrial peoples prepared it:
  • If grass-fed beef is to be dry cooked (grilled, roasted, sautéed), it should be cooked to rare or medium-rare (to keep it nice and juicy) and requires the addition of cooking fat.

  • Grass-fed beef should only be cooked to well-done if moist heat is involved (boiling, braising).
Why? Corn-feeding beef has changed our expectations of how a cut of beef should behave, making it possible to cook a steak to well-done and it not resemble a piece of shoe-leather. This is because of the excessive fat which lubricates a cut of corn-fed beef. A corn-fed steer is obese; he provides his own cooking fat. While corn-fed beef may be juicy, its flavor is insipid compared to good grass-fed beef, which tastes like a beefier (literally!) version of beef.  It's more satisfying.

I say "good," because I've had my fair share of indifferent and even bad grass-fed beef. It all depends on the producer and the breed. For example, I really love the beef from Turkey Foot Ranch, which is only about 50 miles from my house and they sell their products in the freezer section at my local health-food store. They raise red and black Angus, which is a very tasty breed. It's worth finding out what breed a producer raises, because each tastes differently. My personal favorites (so far) are Angus and Charolais.

What about cost? I firmly believe that the desire for healthy, tasty food is not elitist. It is possible to find reasonably-priced grass-fed beef; you only need to do a bit of research (see the Resources section). For example, the KC Strip from Turkey Foot Ranch is $12 per pound. Yes, it absolutely costs more than feedlot beef, but it's worth every penny.

However, if grass-fed beef's superior, succulent taste hasn't convinced you, here are a few things I've learned from doing my own research* on the subject:

  • Grass-fed beef has more omega-3s than grain-finished beef

  • Grass-fed beef has higher concentrations of vitamins A and E 

  • Grass-fed beef has more lutein and beta-carotene 

  • Grass-feeding reduces the occurrence of e.coli
Practical Information**:

Recipes for dry heat:
Old English Roast Beef
Roast Beef with Cabernet Gravy
Steak frites

Recipe for moist heat:
Boiled Beef with Carrots and Dumplings

Local Harvest
Eat Wild
Eat Well Guide

Further reading/watching:
Food, Inc.
The Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Real Food by Nina Planck

*This information is found both in Nourishing Traditions and Real Food, along with a lot of good information on the importance of high-quality animal fats in our diet.

**Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite recipe for using grass-fed beef (or anything else to add). Please be sure to leave a link for me if you have one. Thanks!

Edited 8/25/11: This post is now linked to Fat Tuesday Forager Festival at Real Food Forager.

Yesterday on The Past on a Plate: "Feasts and Festivals: St. Bartholomew's Day"

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