How to Cook Grass-Fed Beef and Why It Matters
“For most of the 6,000 years since humans first domesticated cattle, they freely grazed hillsides, fields, and pastureland. If it’s tasty, natural, and nutritious beef you’re after, two words of advice: Go grass-fed.” —Al Sears, MD, author of The Doctor’s Heart Cure.
Okay, you may be thinking, what is the big fuss about grass-fed this and pastured that? If you’re new to cooking grass-fed meat, be forewarned that it’s truly different from conventional feedlot beef on many levels: the conditions the animals are raised in, the nutritional content of the meat, and a different fatty acid profile that requires cooking it more gently for best results.
Open Space Meats, a family ranch in Newman, California, that raises cattle the traditional way, had this gem of advice on their website FAQ page:
Q. What is the best way to cook grass fed beef?
A. As you may know, the fat in grass fed beef is less saturated than the fat in conventional beef. It is also much higher in Omega 3 fatty acids. That means that this fat will liquefy at a lower temperature. So grass fed beef will cook faster than what you may be used to with conventional beef. It is best to use the rule of 25’s: 25 degrees less heat and 25% less time. That will help you consistently have a great eating experience.
And of course, tougher cuts of meat benefit from long, low-temperature, moist cooking such as in a slow cooker or in a low oven.
It’s only since World War II that there was any other kind of meat available than pastured meat. As you may know from reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma or watching “Food Inc.,” the industrial agriculture model in U.S. has taken cattle off the pasture and put them in huge feedlots, where they are fed mountains of corn and soy, which turns into mountains of manure. Grains fatten up cattle fast, but at the cost of their health — as ruminants, with multiple stomachs designed to digest grass, a high-grain diet acidifies their stomachs and makes them prone to illness. The diet also changes the fatty acid profile of the meat, and not in our favor.
And where does all that corn and soy feed come from? Why, from clearing grasslands of every living thing so it can be planted end to end and soaked in chemicals derived from petroleum. Think for a moment about all the geopolitical implications. Why not just keep the cattle on the grassland? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier on everybody? Think of the cost savings, especially in terms of personal, animal, and environmental health.
The current dominant system hasn’t always been here, and fortunately, more and more farmers are turning back to their roots, literally. Here’s a wonderful, very short video on grasslands from Savory Institute Holistic Planned Management, and from there you’ll see other videos by the Savory Institute:
Grass is the basis of all sustainable animal husbandry, and sustainability of civilization in general. Much land that’s not suitable for growing row crops is beautifully suited to supporting ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats, which provide high-quality nutrient-dense food for humans. And when you raise animals on pasture, you can “stack” complementary species, such as cows, sheep, and goats, since they don’t eat exactly the same things (there is overlap), and poultry, which eat the bugs and larvae that are attracted to (or passed along in) the ruminants’ manure.
Poultry spread out the manure, making it more quickly absorbed back into the soil, thus helping to build soil fertility, while solving the pathogen problem. (They’re tasty, healthful snacks, to the chickens.) It’s a beautiful system, designed by nature, implemented by humans who live in harmony with nature.
Even more important, you don’t have to clear the land of all other living things, down to the bacteria, to graze ruminants, as you do for conventional agriculture. Your mixed-grass pasture can remain home to wildlife as well as livestock: birds, bees, butterflies and beneficial bacteria, as well as rodents, rabbits and other small mammals that are killed by combines if not already poisoned by chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. Biological diversity can and does flourish on the savannah/pasture. And all these animals will add to the soil fertility, the literal and metaphorical foundation of all life on earth. (Watch this interview of Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth and co-author of Deep Green Resistance, explaining the relationship between vegetarianism and ecosystem destruction, and between grazing cattle and building topsoil. This will help you get it.)
The presence of grazing animals is not just tolerated by grass, it benefits the grass. Here’s more from Open Space Meats (love that name!) about why grasslands want to be grazed:
Grass was meant to be grazed. Like most things in this world, “all things in moderation.” If you abuse your natural resources by overgrazing, eventually it will catch up to you. By overgrazing you diminish the grass’s ability to replenish its roots; if a plant has unhealthy roots, eventually there will be no plant, or it will be replaced by less beneficial plants. The opposite is also true. If grass is never grazed or burned, the old mature grasses that die eventually form a layer of thatch that keeps light from reaching new seedlings. If there is no new growth there will be less rootstock to hold the ground in place, leading to the erosion of the topsoil. So grazing our lands responsibly is a win-win situation. Not only do the cattle get to graze the most nutritious plants for them, it actually helps the grasses reproduce more effectively and keeps the rangeland healthy and the water clean.
For these farmers and ranchers dedicated to raising pastured animals, they must find a market so they can continue to be stewards of the land. What can you and I do? Find a local purveyor of grass-fed meats and get started eating. Open Space Meats sells online, as does U.S. Wellness Meats. (I’ve never ordered from either company and am not receiving money or products from them.) I’m fortunate to be able to buy grass-fed meat locally from Magruder Ranch and John Ford Ranch (which does both grass-fed and grain-fed, though not feedlot, meat).
You can also use resources such as eatwild.com, localharvest.org, your local farmers market, and your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter to find sources of grass-fed meat close to you. They might also have pastured eggs!
Still inclined to order the vegetarian meal, thinking it’s more virtuous and green? This article quantifies some of the death and destruction inherent in agriculture. I also highly recommend reading The Vegetarian Myth, which covers in depth these and other issues around food choices, agriculture and environmental health.