Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef

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joerogo
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2011/06/09 21:37:13 (permalink)

Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef

Splendor in the Grass
This article first appeared in the Wine Spectator.
If your cardiologist has suggested changing that steak on the grill to a slab of tofu, take heart. Grass-fed beef not only tastes great, but it has a nutritional profile that would make olive oil envious.
"Isn't all beef grass-fed?" my friend Tina asked, when I invited her over to sample some steaks. Well, sort of. The vast majority of beef that Americans consume comes from cattle that are weaned off grass while young and then fattened on grain, primarily corn, in feedlots. Before World War II, virtually all cattle ate nothing but grass. After WWII, agribusiness, aided by federal subsidies, produced huge surpluses of corn, which, through the encouragement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found its way into animal feed.
Today, restaurants are beginning to return to grass-fed beef for taste, health and ecological reasons. "The flank steak is dynamite. I sell twice as many hamburgers as I used to," says Derek Davis, owner of Philadelphia's Sonoma restaurant, where grass-fed beef is also used for a beefy osso buco, and even cheese steaks. Davis uses meat from Natural Acres in Millersburg, Pa., because "I like the way it tastes. The grass gives it a sweeter-tasting fat."
"For me, it has a more intense, truer beef flavor. It has less of the nuttiness of prime steaks, which comes from the grain cattle eat," says Peter Hoffman, who uses Conservation Beef from Helena, Mont., at Savoy, his restaurant in New York.
The grass-fed beef movement began in earnest at a 1999 conference of 500 ranchers in Dallas. "It was the first time anyone had gathered all the information on grass-fed animals and their benefits," said Jo Robinson, who lectured at the conference and is the author of Why Grassfed Is Best! and The Omega Diet.
Robinson told the ranchers that grass-fed beef has four advantages. Cattle benefit because as ruminants they are biologically designed to eat only forage; feedlot cattle are usually given antibiotics because they cannot tolerate eating only grain. Second, the environment also benefits because manure from grazing animals naturally fertilizes grass; on the other hand, grain produced for cattle feed requires petrochemical fertilizers. Third, small regional farms, where the vast majority of grass-fed cattle are raised, foster employment more so than do the large, mechanized producers.
Then there is the health aspect. The amount of fat in grass-fed beef is about half that of grain-fed beef. Grass-fed animals also provide heart-healthful Omega 3 fatty acids (grain-fed animals don't) and significant amounts of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potent anti-cancer agent. And grass-fed animals produce less of the potentially harmful e-coli.
While many acknowledge the environmental and health advantages of grass-fed beef, not everyone agrees about the taste. Steve Johnson, chef and owner of the Blue Room in Cambridge, Mass., has conducted grass-fed beef tastings with meat from the New England Livestock Alliance, a cooperative of farms from Virginia to Maine. "My general impression over the years is that it doesn't quite have the texture or flavor of grain-fed," he says. "It's leaner and slightly chewy. It's not quite as rich because it doesn't have that self-basting fat."
Allan Nation, editor of The Stockman Grass Farmer, which goes to some 1,100 grass-fed meat producers, recognizes that grass-fed beef is still evolving. "Most people didn't start in the business until four years ago. There's still a steep learning curve," he says. "We have to re-create skills that people have totally lost."
One of the most important things to learn is what breed to use. Feedlot animals are typically chosen more for their large frames, which can carry a lot of weight, than for the flavor of their meat. However, feedlot breeds do not fatten as well on grass as the shorter, stockier English breeds such as Angus, Hereford, and shorthorn, which are bred for taste, not size. While many grass-fed cattle producers experiment with the best genetics for texture and flavor, they test for tenderness with ultrasound equipment.
According to the USDA, tenderness is a function of internal fat or marbling, which is why its highest grade, prime, goes to beef with the most marbling, and why few grass-fed animals meet the criteria. The USDA also downgrades grass-fed animals because of their yellowish fat--from the beta-carotene in grass--and advanced age. Grass-fed animals take longer to fatten. The USDA does not have a separate standard for grass-fed beef as they do for prime or choice beef. Grass-fed beef is lumped in with grain-fed beef and is therefore often downgraded because the grading system is skewed towards grain fed beef.
Some producers try to hedge their bets by feeding animals a limited amount of grain. Sunnyside Farms in Washington, Va., feeds organic corn, oats and other grains, in addition to organic grass, to Wagyu (a Japanese breed) and Angus cattle. "If we go 100 percent grain-fed, the animal gets sick. If we only use grass-fed, the meat is too one-dimensional. A marriage in the middle is the best of both," says Steven Damato, a partner in Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C., which uses Sunnyside's Angus beef. Natural Acres also gives its cattle a small amount of spelt (less than 10 percent of the overall diet). According to Robinson, however, even a small amount of grain disrupts the CLA benefits. Omega 3 diminishes gradually as more grain is used.
I tasted New York strip steaks and filet mignons from six grass-fed beef producers. My two favorites came from Australia and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania beef, from Natural Acres, was also organic, meaning that the feed was free from pesticides and artificial fertilizers and the animals weren't given hormones or antibiotics. The strip steak was delicious, rich and full-flavored, but without the excessive fattiness on the finish in some prime beef. The filet mignon was perhaps even more impressive, given the fact that this cut is generally chosen for tenderness, not flavor.
The Aussie beef, sold by D'Artagnan, a specialty meat company in Newark, N.J., comes mainly from South Australia. "The temperate climate means that the cattle can graze on green grass all year long, which gives the meat a more vibrant, more complex flavor, as opposed to other places where the cattle have to eat dried grass," says D'Artagnan co-owner George Faison. "It's like the difference between dried thyme and fresh thyme." In taste and tenderness, the Aussie strip steak was similar to a grain-fed prime steak.
A Wagyu strip steak (called Virginia Kobe) from Sunnyside Farms was a solid number three. It had just enough of that nutty, buttery quality of grain-fed beef, though the filet mignon was rather flabby. The remaining three producers (in descending order of preference) were Napa Free-Range Beef, Conservation Beef and the New England Livestock Alliance. The Napa strip steaks had a slightly gamy flavor, which I liked, but I found the texture a bit chalky. Though the Conservation Beef strip had good beefy flavor, it was not especially tender and downright gristly in places. Its filet was quite tasty. While the New England Livestock Alliance filet (from Little Alaska Farms in Maine) also had good flavor, it had a dry texture. The strip was rather bland.
The leanness of grass-fed steaks means that a bit more care is needed when cooking. Steaks cooked beyond medium-rare start to become chewy and dry out sooner than more marbled beef.
While big red wines are natural partners for beef, I think grass-fed beef is more versatile with wine than grain-fed beef because it has elements of game. Thus, Barbaresco and Amarone are good matches. I also found that the earthy quality of an Argentinean Malbec and the mature flavors of a 1994 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon went well with the beef.
Prices for grass-fed beef are equal to or less than grain-fed beef of similar quality. Strip steaks, for example, ranged from $13.29 a pound for Natural Acres to $37.50 a pound for the Sunnyside Farms Wagyu beef. Though availability of grass-fed beef can be difficult, the good news is that July through December is the best time to get it in many parts of the country. Though mail order is increasing, most meat is sold directly at the farm or at farmers markets. So fire up those grills and invite your cardiologist over for dinner.
How to Get It
Addendum: Since this story was written, Lobel’s, one of America’s premier meat purveyors, has started marketing grass-fed beef. I tried one of Lobel’s filets and found it firmer than usual for this cut with good, though not remarkable, flavor. Lobel’s, New York, NY, 877-783-4512. www.lobels.com
 
I remember reading this article in Wine Spectator many moons ago.  I thought, Wow, beef that is actually good for you.  Then I checked into the price, Wow again.
 
Well, I came across a local slaughter house and purchased two, 1 1/2" thick porterhouse steaks, grass fed, for 5 bucks a pound.  I grilled them tonight to medium rare and thought the taste and texture was outstanding.  The filet portion was huge and tender as can be.  Reminded me of Bison at a fraction of the price.  Also, the grass fed beef is slaughtered younger to keep the meat tender.
 
If any locals are interested, Darlings Meat Locker in La Plume(No, not PU, La Plume).  Not for the faint of heart, this is a slaughter house.  Nothing is prepared or in a display case.  You order it, they butcher and cut it while you wait.
 
Also, filet mignon for 5 bucks a pound, veal hearts for 2 bucks a pound.
 
 
#1

17 Replies Related Threads

    Twinwillow
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/09 22:09:27 (permalink)
    I am in total agreement with the health benefits of eating 100% "birth to butcher" grass fed beef. for health reasons, I will not eat any grain or corn finished beef. Grass fed beef is truly, the "salmon of the land".
    In Dallas, we're fortunate that we have Sprout's Markets that sells 100% organic grass fed beef from Uruguay. It's with out a doubt, the best tasting grass fed beef you'll ever eat. The same beef that's sold in Argentina and elsewhere in South America. We also have Central Market (HEB) and, Wholefoods selling (local) grass fed beef but, it's the beef from Uruguay that Sprout's sells that has the best flavor. Their ground meat for hamburgers is ridiculously good.
    You wont get heart disease from eating 100% grass fed beef. It's the grain and corn finished beef that'll kill ya.
    A cooking hint: be careful not to cook grass fed beef as long as you would grain and corn fed beef. It has less fat marbling and it will be done sooner because of that.
    Many thanks to joerogo for starting this topic and all of the above information contained therein. 
    post edited by Twinwillow - 2011/06/09 22:16:59
    #2
    1bbqboy
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/09 22:47:44 (permalink)
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    joerogo
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/10 08:43:56 (permalink)
    Twinwillow, I can't see myself going back to grain fed.  Especially since finding Darling's so close to home.  This also means I won't be paying crazy prices for Bison anymore.  How are the prices at the retail location you shop?
     
    1bbqboy, I find the mail order places to be very pricey.  
     
    Darling's is as unpretentious as can be.  You tell Howard(about 80 years old)what you want, he goes into the cooler, comes out with a side of beef over his shoulder and cuts your steaks for you.
     
    I am still in Xanadu  this morning, thinking about the flavor of those steaks from last night. 
     
    Darling's Meat locker 570-945-5716
     
     
    #4
    MetroplexJim
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/10 10:01:57 (permalink)
    This is a great topic.  Here is a look at it from an economist's perspective ...
     
    The best beef I have ever enjoyed are the premium cuts (filet, porterhouse) I have been served in Rio, BA, and La Paz.  They were tender, extremely flavorful, and relatively inexpensive in relation to other cuts.  By the latter I mean that the cost ratio of, say, filet to brisket is much lower in South America than it is "up here".  Example:  if the cost per pound ratio of filet to brisket in Dallas is 14:1 it would most likely be 4:1 in Rio & BA and 2:1 in La Paz.
     
    The reason for this is income distribution; e.g., in La Paz "the masses" are competiting for the brisket (and the tongue, entrails, and sweetbreads); the remainder of the animal remains for the realtively wealthy.  Due to the numbers of both cows and people who must eat and the fact that each animal has only one of each part, this competition among the masses is quite keen, while the competition - due to the relatively small middle and miniscule upper income classes - for the finer cuts is much, much less.
     
    Other things remaining the same, exporting the South American finer cuts to the U.S. makes a great deal of business sense and I am glad to hear that, once again, this, even if in a small way, is being done presently. 
     
    Be warned however, that if this business ever becomes in any way significant, "Big Beef" will petition Congress to stop it.  In fact, I can recall this happening in the '80's when my then local Argentine Steak House on Lee Hwy. in Arlington, VA closed suddenly despite a brisk business:  after a number of "raves" in the Washington Post and Argentine Beef coming to be sold at bargain prices (despite the obvious hefty transportation costs) in local Bodegas to individuals who had never before patronized them, there suddenly came upon us an embargo on Argentine beef!
     
    Enjoy it while you can!  As long as Congress in still in session freedom will be in peril.
    #5
    Twinwillow
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/10 10:49:45 (permalink)
    Jim: Very interesting. I read elsewhere, the US only allow 6 million tons of meat from Uruguay allowed in. I'll try and find where I read that story and post it here.
     
    joerogo: The meat from Uruguay is only about $1.00 LB. less at Sprouts than the local grass fed beef at Wholefoods. Wholefood's local grass fed rib eye and strip steaks run about $14.95 LB. and ground about $7.95. And, the Uruguayan meat is tastier!
     
     
    The reference to Uruguayan beef is second from the bottom in this thread about "Grass fed Bison" from "Chowhound Dallas".
     
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/612100

     
     
     
    post edited by Twinwillow - 2011/06/10 12:22:07
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    Sundancer7
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 06:47:27 (permalink)
    I was in Buenos Aires a few years ago and I can attest that their beef is outstanding.  It is all grass fed primarily off blue stem grass which is high in protein.
     
    I spent a lot of time in Germany and many of their restaurants advertised in big signs out fron that they served on Argentina beef.
     
    I cannot tell you why grass fed is better than corn fed here in the USA but in my personal opinion, it certainly is.
     
    Paul E. Smith
    KNoxville, TN 
    #7
    Twinwillow
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 08:13:07 (permalink)
    Paul, I also noticed the cuts of beef from the South American cattle are smaller in size overall then the same cuts from "regular" American grain and corn finished cattle. I guess they don't raise their cattle to the same behemoth sizes as here in the USA. They must be closer in size to Texas Longhorn cattle which are naturally smaller animals. And, great tasting too!
    Wholefoods used to sell cuts from grass fed Texas Longhorn but haven't done so in years. They were mighty tasty beef.
    #8
    Mosca
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 10:20:32 (permalink)
    rogo, you are my pal.
     
    Righthaven extends copyright lawsuit campaign to individual web posters
     
    Yes, they really are reaching waaaaaay down into the internet for guys like us.
    #9
    Twinwillow
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 10:51:17 (permalink)
    Mosca

    rogo, you are my pal.

    Righthaven extends copyright lawsuit campaign to individual web posters

    Yes, they really are reaching waaaaaay down into the internet for guys like us.


    Well, so much for "freedom of speech". Our right are slowly being whittled away by "big business". Greedy bastards that they are. Gee, can they sue me for saying that?
    #10
    joerogo
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 11:42:08 (permalink)
    Mosca
    rogo, you are my pal.
    Righthaven extends copyright lawsuit campaign to individual web posters
    Yes, they really are reaching waaaaaay down into the internet for guys like us.

     

    Step away from the computer!!!
     
    Tom, I thought I was clear because I posted the link to the original?
     
    Or were you talking about my reference to Pepe le Pew
    post edited by joerogo - 2011/06/11 11:48:03
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    Mosca
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 13:26:38 (permalink)
    Joe, the rules for internet are the same as for print; you can use a snippet to give the gist, and link (for print, cite). But you can't cut and paste the entire article. The source makes money on hits and eyeballs for the ads.
     
     I state no opinion here on whether it's right or wrong, or infringement. But the facts are
     
    1) It is really happening. Righthaven is combing forums looking for violations. Roadfood is not a small corner of the internet, it is a pretty big forum that sits at the top of many Google searches.
     
    2) It's not about whether you'll win or lose, but about whether you'd settle. Search for Righthaven's modus operandi, or read the article I linked.
     
    "Righthaven launches suits in circumstances where many content owners would simply issue a DMCA take-down letter, directly request the blogger/website owner remove the news article, - or frankly just ignore the situation."
     
    They sue for 6 figures and settle for low 4. Then it's lather, rinse, repeat. Would you rather win, at a cost of $10k, or settle, for $3k? If Righthaven does a couple hundred of these a year, and I guarantee you their paperwork is all boilerplated by now, well, that's a pretty slick annual income for not much work.
     
    Stand on principle and pay, or cite the source in the accepted manner and be safe. I'm fine either way. I want you to be, too.
    post edited by Mosca - 2011/06/11 13:35:22
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    Sundancer7
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/11 13:36:28 (permalink)
    Twinwillow

    Paul, I also noticed the cuts of beef from the South American cattle are smaller in size overall then the same cuts from "regular" American grain and corn finished cattle. I guess they don't raise their cattle to the same behemoth sizes as here in the USA. They must be closer in size to Texas Longhorn cattle which are naturally smaller animals. And, great tasting too!
    Wholefoods used to sell cuts from grass fed Texas Longhorn but haven't done so in years. They were mighty tasty beef.

     
    I hve never bought Argentine beef here in the USA.  I do know that the steaks I had in Buenos Aires were huge.
     
    I have a friend that has a Limosine cattle farm and he raises about 400 head and he does cow calf.  They are grass fed until they reach 400-500 pounds and then he sends them to the feed lot.  He told me that they will gain up to 10 pounds per day.  They feed them all the grain mix that they want plus I suspect some antibiotics also.  One feed lot that I was at added a molasses extract and another who also owned a huge apple orchard fed them the apple pulp he had left over from his apple cider.  He had a new Chevy truck and he told me they tore the fenders off trying to get at the pulp.
     
    Paul E. Smith
    Knoxville, TN

    #13
    joerogo
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/24 17:01:22 (permalink)
    I stopped by Darling's Meat Locker today for some weekend grillin beef.  I asked Howard how the bone-in ribeyes are.  He went into the cooler, came out with a long hunk of meat on his shoulder and said, "you are really going to like these, they have been aging for three weeks".  He cut five steaks, 5 bucks a pound, $28 total.......I can't believe I got dry aged, grass fed, bone-in ribeyes for 5 bucks a pound.
     
    And this is all local, NEPA Beef...which means it is as pure as the driven snow
     
    He also has lamb, but only sells it by the half for 6 bucks a pound.  He said the half should net about 25 pounds.  Sounds like a good deal, I may take him up on it.
    #14
    Michael Hoffman
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/24 17:29:44 (permalink)
    Twinwillow

    Mosca

    rogo, you are my pal.

    Righthaven extends copyright lawsuit campaign to individual web posters

    Yes, they really are reaching waaaaaay down into the internet for guys like us.


    Well, so much for "freedom of speech". Our right are slowly being whittled away by "big business". Greedy bastards that they are. Gee, can they sue me for saying that?

    Freedom of speech? Your freedom of speech isn't being touched. Do you think it is perfectly fine for someone you don't know, never heard of, and will never get to meet to take your private property and use it as he or she might wish without even asking you for permission? When someone does that with your car it's called car theft. When someone does it with your published words it's called copyright theft.

    #15
    pnwchef
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/24 20:07:35 (permalink)
    In most cases the cow will gain about 50lbs per month on pasture, 100 lbs a month in a feed lot when finishing the cow after pasture. The first month they get adjusted to a low amount of protein and it moves up from there. The cows don't eat all they want, some feed lots will give them a shot to prevent this, other feed lots will do other methods. I keep my cows on pasture until they hit about 800 lbs and then they go off to the feed lot. I want to add fat to the cow to get a good marbling and taste. In all cases the pasture raised cow is much leaner. I like the grain finishing of my cows, the taste is great, well marbled and melt in your mouth tender cuts of beef. I hang my beef 18 to 21 days, this breaks down the tendons and ages for a more tender beef. The large processers don't hang beef because you loose weight during this process................pnwc
    post edited by PNWCHEF - 2011/06/24 21:53:27
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    MiamiDon
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/25 09:54:18 (permalink)
    PNWCHEF

    In most cases the cow will gain about 50lbs per month on pasture, 100 lbs a month in a feed lot when finishing the cow after pasture. The first month they get adjusted to a low amount of protein and it moves up from there. The cows don't eat all they want, some feed lots will give them a shot to prevent this, other feed lots will do other methods. I keep my cows on pasture until they hit about 800 lbs and then they go off to the feed lot. I want to add fat to the cow to get a good marbling and taste. In all cases the pasture raised cow is much leaner. I like the grain finishing of my cows, the taste is great, well marbled and melt in your mouth tender cuts of beef. I hang my beef 18 to 21 days, this breaks down the tendons and ages for a more tender beef. The large processers don't hang beef because you loose weight during this process................pnwc


    That's what I thought:  If you don't want well-marbled, USDA Prime beef, buy grass-fed-only.
    #17
    joerogo
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    Re:Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef 2011/06/25 14:04:00 (permalink)
    PNWCHEF, I find prefer the taste of grass fed beef, but was never willing to pay chic/designer prices.  The taste tends more towards bison than store bought beef.  And the health benefits mean I can double-up on the portions
     
    What do you think about the lamb price?
    #18
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