Cows were made by nature to eat grass, but some years ago, some entrepreneurs got the brilliant idea of feeding them corn instead to fatten them up faster. Besides a faster turnover time, raising trough-fed cows also means that they can raise more cattle in smaller spaces because they don’t need all of that pasture.
Lately, though, US farmers are turning back to the traditional method of raising cattle by letting them graze on yards and yards of all sorts of grass, thus you can now buy cuts labeled “grass-fed beef” from your supermarket. They come with a higher price, however, because the cost of raising cows the natural way actually costs higher, so you must be wondering, is it worth it?
The funny thing is, taste-wise, grass-fed beef is completely different than the beef we’ve gotten used to. For one thing it’s a little chewier than most of us are accustomed to and it is more meaty. Most of the flavor of corn fed beef comes from the fat, the flavor of grass fed beef actually comes from the meat; and anyone who has had a steak in the grasslands of Argentina would know the difference.
We should also eat it because it is healthier. Cows who eat grass get a lot more exercise than their grain-fed cousins because they do a lot of walking while eating in the pasture, so they develop leaner meat and less fat. Grass-fed meat is low in both overall fat and artery-clogging saturated fat, and it provides a considerably higher amount of healthy Omega-3 fats than corn-fed meat. The meat from grain-fed feedlot animals typically contains only 15 to 50 percent of the Omega-3’s of grass-fed livestock. And even though grain-fed cows develop highly marbled flesh that most consumers are accustomed to, this is unhealthy saturated fat that can’t be trimmed off. What’s more, meat from pastured cattle has up to four times the amount of vitamin E than meat from feedlots, and is much higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a nutrient associated with lowering cancer risk.
Besides, cows are meant to eat grass, so when they are switched to something different, it takes a toll on their growth. So to speed their growth and reduce the health problems that come from being fed this unnatural diet and from their stressful living, these animals are treated with hormones, feed additives, and daily doses of antibiotics.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that what’s healthy for us doesn’t taste quite as good (hello junk food!). Sustainable Table gives us some tips on how to cook these guys so that they don’t have to taste a lot worse though. Check it out:
• Cooking. Because grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed, it doesn’t have a lot of spare fat to keep it moist when cooked too long or at temperatures that are too high. Beef with lots of fat is more forgiving of sloppy cooking, but grass-fed cuts need a little extra attention and care. So, rule number one: don’t overcook. Grass-fed beef needs about 30 percent less cooking time than most common beef and is best if cooked medium-rare to medium, or it will be too tough. Keep an eye on the internal temperature. Just stick a meat thermometer where the steak is thickest. If the thermometer registers around 135°F, it means the meat is still rare. You want a temperature between 145°F and 155°F for medium-rare to medium. Anything above that is too much, and your steak will lose its moisture and tenderness.
• Temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer and don’t particularly care about a picture-perfect piece of meat, you can always cut a slit in a bottom corner of your steak and check for doneness. And if you just can’t bring yourself to eat medium-rare meat and like your steak well-done, when using grass-fed beef you may want to opt for a cooking method that utilizes a lot of moisture to keep the meat tender. Do not microwave. Do not cook when frozen or partially frozen. Thaw the meat in the refrigerator or under cold running water, but don’t de-frost it in a microwave oven.
• Let rest after cooking. As a rule, always let any type of meat rest for 8 to 10 minutes after taking it out of the heat. This will help redistribute the juices inside the meat before serving. In particular, when you’re planning to serve the meat in pieces, don’t cut into it right away because the juices will immediately spill out, resulting in a drier texture. For the same reason, always turn your meat with tongs rather than a fork when cooking it. Deliciously precious juices will be lost if you poke the meat.