Updated: Sep 8, 2022
I get this question more than any other question as a beef producer! You're not alone! While we do not sell meat (yet), it's really important to me that our customers know how to best prepare the meat that did come from cows purchased from us to get the absolute best result possible. Grass fed beef is different for all the right reasons. Plain and simple.
If you're new to our grass fed beef, first let me just welcome you to one of the most flavorful, nutrient-dense, chemical-free beef products that exist. You'll notice some differences right away and I'm here to explain them all.
What will be striking right away upon unwrapping your steaks is that the meat looks very dark in color. It does not look like the bright red\pink you see in grocery stores. It is more of a deep reddish, even slightly purple color. This difference is the result of roughly 2 years of using all of those muscles to roam and graze. It also has to do with their diet. "You are what you eat" comes into play heavily here. Due to the 100% grass diet they have, they're not getting that traditional meat "marbling" that is highly desired in the most tender cuts of meat. If you know anything about steak, the lack of marbling sounds like a bad thing, but I can assure you it's not in our case and here's why. On our ranch, cattle are not standing at a trough in a feed lot packed around hundreds or thousands of other cows. They are constantly moving their bodies, roaming to the next patch of grass. They follow a pattern of grazing and chewing throughout their days here. Our cattle graze between 7 and 12 hours per day. That's a lot of walking, hence the building of lean muscles. When they aren't grazing, they're chewing.
Grass is what a cow is designed to eat. Their 4 stomachs (with the help of millions of microbes in a delicate pH balance) are masterful at breaking down those tough plant fibers and unlocking all of their nutrients for the cow to grow healthy and strong. Let's talk more about marbling. Our beef could never ever be graded as Prime. Why? Because grading meat is based on marbling. Our cows don't put on as much fat as traditionally raised beef, therefore have MUCH LESS marbling. However, the fat that our cattle put on is different fat. Let me explain...
At the end of a feedlot cow's life, it could be consuming upwards of 30lbs of grain per day. Take into account that feedlot ranchers can monitor nutrients closely and add or subtract key elements to optimize growth, but often the cattle feed mixtures are made of cheap ingredients and include lots of byproducts in order to drop producer costs as low as possible. Imagine feeding 500 head of cattle 30lbs of grain per day. You'd want to keep your costs low too! Soy and corn are two that are commonly found in cattle feed along with grains that are essentially carbohydrates (which end up stored as fat--the glorious--or not so glorious--marbling!). These inflammation-inducing products are known to be heavily processed and heavily sprayed with pesticides.
Because feedlot cows are fed such a high-energy, low fiber diet, they must be constantly monitored and/or medicated to prevent or treat health issues. A high-grain, low-fiber diet causes the cow's digestive system to become too acidic and ultimately fail, so to offset this problem commercial cattle producers give daily rations of feed often mixed with baking soda. In fact, the largest use of baking soda in the nation is the cattle industry. It's interesting what needs to happen to get that desired marbling and it's not as grand as it seems. It comes from lethargy coupled with cheap, processed, pesticide-laden grain, soy, and corn feed. It's fed in excess (along with added injected hormones) to pack on the pounds in just around 1 year. Whatever nutrients you put into an organism's body become the building blocks of that organism. It is fact. Let that sink in.
Grass fed beef has less fat overall, but the fat content is higher quality as it contains between 2 and 5 times more of the Omega-3 fatty acids than traditionally raised beef. Omega-3 fatty acids are the "good fats" and are essential, meaning you must get them from your diet. It is said that getting enough of them in your diet can lower the risk of many chronic diseases. In short, our cows grow longer (around 2 years), they move around much more, they eat a 100% natural, nutrient-dense diet with much less stress and inflammation within their bodies (and bonus: zero added hormones!). Not only that, but the pastures they graze from are only fertilized by the cattle's own manure and never sprayed for pests. Occasionally Mr. Against the Grain will spread some of our chicken manure over the fields, but he's only done it twice since we began this journey 7 years ago. This way of beef production is so much more sustainable for the environment and healthier for not only the cows, but us too!
Now that I have (probably over) explained why there is less marbling, let's talk about what to do next. It's really quite simple.
First, thawing your steak completely is key. Next, I make sure to marinate at the very least one hour. Once I have marinated as long as I need/want, I always pull the steaks out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature before grilling. This helps ensure that the beef cooks the way you'd expect it to, especially since the butcher tends to leave the bone in, which can retain the cool temperatures much longer than you think. Then, I season and cook the steaks either on the grill, in my cast iron skillet, or on my cast iron stove top griddle/grill. No matter the cooking apparatus you use, make sure it is HOT, like high heat HOT. And here's the trick--DO NOT COOK FOR TOO LONG. I can't tell you how many steaks I ruined when we first became homesteaders and were eating our own grass fed steaks. They turned into rubber shoes. I wish I was kidding. Cooking a short duration at a high temp will give you that delicious outer crust and leave the inside juicy and tender. I always liked my steaks medium-well before grass fed. BUT, I learned very quickly to love them medium-rare or medium. They come out so incredibly tender for not having as much fat. Trust me, try this and it will make a huge difference. Finally, once the steaks reach medium-rare (just a few minutes for thinner steaks), I pull them off, add a pad of butter (or ghee) and let them rest for about 10 minutes, covered with foil. This allows any juices to redistribute throughout the meat and keeps all the juice from spilling out when you cut into it. So simple and so delicious!
Now, obviously, there's a disclaimer I have to make that eating raw and under cooked meat can increase the risk of food born illness. Everyone that cooks is well aware of this, but practicing safe handling of your raw meats will ensure you don't get sick. Plus, ours is pretty darn fresh if I do say so myself! Ranch to table for the win! I hope this helps you enjoy your grass fed beef even more and as always, please let me know if you ever have any questions!
Bless from the ranch!