I have only ever been served grass-fed beef twice in my life. Both times, it was part of a consumer educational outreach project and the meat was cooked by an experienced chef.
As most of you all know, I am a huge beef lover… I have trained my palate to like beef of all sorts, and the grass-fed beef that I ate was no exception! It was different from the grain-fed beef that I normally eat, but it was still a very enjoyable eating experience.
As most of you all know, I am also a psychologist by nature…The human brain is a very intelligent and trainable device. Humans are very adept at training their bodies to enjoy whatever their minds desire. Food habits and tastes are a great example of this.
At the end of Tuesday’s post, I defined what separates grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef. The core difference is that the animal eats only grass during its lifetime grazing on a pasture instead of spending the last 4-6 months living in a feed yard (like mine) being fed a blend of grains and forages in preparation for harvest. I believe that both types of animal care can be done humanely and that both types of beef can taste great and be a healthy contribution to your diet. It does take more time and natural resources to prepare a grass-fed animal for harvest because the growing process is slower and less efficient.
Let’s take a look at the difference in the beef that ends up on our plate!
1. The majority of grass-fed beef has a quality grade of select. This means that there is only a slight amount of white flecks of marbling in the meat. Those of you that have been following the blog for a while might remember the post “Calf #718 Becomes Beef” which appeared at the end of the series that traced Calf #718 from birth to harvest (here is the link if you missed the post https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/calf-718-becomes-beef/). In this post, I talk about the different quality grades of beef which are determined by the amount of marbling present in the beef. Marbling is the primarily monounsaturated intramuscular fat flecks that give the meat tenderness and flavor.
A select steak can be very tasty, but it must be cooked carefully so that it is tender. I recommend only cooking a select steak to a medium-rare finish which will help the meat maintain some tenderness. I also recommend marinating the meat prior to cooking which helps with the tenderness as well. I like to marinate with Basalmic Vinegrette, but you could also marinate the meat in pineapple juice for an hour—then rinse the meat off (if you do not want your meat to taste like pineapples) and either re-marinate it in something else for flavor or just cook it. The pineapple juice will break down the muscle fibers and increase the tenderness of the meat.
2. The majority of grain-fed beef has a quality grade of choice. This means that there is a larger amount of marbling in the meat and it will be naturally more tender. Because it has more marbling, it is easier to cook and have a consistently good eating experience. Grain-fed beef has its own unique flavor that is different from grass-fed beef.
3. The type of grass that the animal has been eating determines the flavor of the grass-fed beef. It will vary depending on the type of grass pasture that the animal has been living on.
4. From a human nutrition standpoint, the fatty acid profile of a 3 ounce portion of cooked lean beef is as follows: Polyunsaturated 4.1%, Saturated 45.7%, and Monounsaturated 50.29%. The relative fatty acid profiles of grain-fed and grass-fed beef vary slightly in the breakdown of the polyunsaturated fatty acids: the level of Omega 3’s, Omega 6’s, and CLA (conjugated linleic acid). However, the differences are very small and only the difference between the two levels of Omega 3’s are statistically significant. Grass-fed beef has 1/10th of a gram more Omega 3’s than grain-fed beef. While this is statistically significant, the levels of Omega 3’s in both types of beef are very small when compared with the level of Omega 3’s in salmon.
Some people believe that grass-fed beef is the best, and some people believe that grain-fed beef is the best–to me it is a personal choice relative to preference. We train our palates to like what we want to eat…I love ALL beef!