You've made the decision to switch your family from "regular, ol' beef" to 100% grass fed. You know that major scientific organizations say grass fed beef is healthier because it's lower in saturated fat and higher in beneficial fatty acids. You have even read all the articles from news organizations touting the benefit to the health and welfare of the cattle and the laundry-list of ways grass-fed beef are better for the natural environment.
With good feelings about the positive impact you are making by purchasing grass-fed beef, you fire up the grill and cook your expensive steaks the way you have every time for years. The results are disappointing – grey, gamey meat that has a weird, fishy flavor. Worse, the tender, delicious steaks you bought in the store are now tough as shoe leather and completely lacking juiciness. Even after slathering the steaks in sauce, the strange flavors still come through.
So, what gives? The Bearded Butchers are going to dive in today and explain the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef and let you know the best ways to cook grass-fed beef to get the best flavor.
What's the Difference Between Grass Fed Beef and Grain Fed Beef?
In the U.S., we have a wide variety of labeling laws that permit processors to make claims about the meat they sell. Many of the labels seem to indicate quality, but the rules for labeling are often not understood by the average person. In fact, most of the labels we see on grocery store meat tell us a surprisingly small amount about what we are eating. Grass-fed beef is one of those misleading labels.
It might surprise you to learn that almost all cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed for the majority of their lives. Prior to slaughter, most cattle are fed a grain-based diet to increase the fat content and improve the flavor and texture of the meat. So when you buy a 100% grass-fed steak, you are simply buying an animal that wasn't finished on grain.
What Causes Grass Fed Beef to Taste Different?
The difference in the flavor of grass-fed vs. grain-finished beef is due entirely to the animals diet. When you taste grass-fed beef, you are getting the flavor of what the animal was eating. Just like the old saying "you are what you eat," your beef will have a different flavor depending on what it was fed. While the "100% grass-fed" label instructs you that the animal was not finished on grain, it doesn't tell you what type of forage the animals were eating.
The gamey or fishy flavor you find when you cook grass-fed beef is the result of specific types of grass the animals eat. When a steer is finished on grains, the fat is essentially flushed of undesirable flavors, replacing them with the creamy, whitish fat we are familiar with. A grass-fed steak will have yellow fat, less marbling, and a deeper red color because the animal doesn't build a fat layer prior to slaughter.
Does Grass Fed Meat Cook Differently?
Grass fed steaks will be leaner than grain finished ones, so you'll have to adjust the way you cook your meat accordingly. The best thing you can do to cook grass fed steaks that are truly delicious is to take your time and treat thes steak a little different. There are numerous tricks you can use to enhance the natural flavors of grass fed steaks without highlighting the gamey flavor you're trying to avoid. We are going to share a few of our favorite ways to bring out the natural and delicious flavor you want and let you know some ways to get tender, juicy, beefy grass-fed beef.
Don't Use a Marinade
This might fly in the face of conventional knowledge, but using a marinade can make your grass-fed beef less juicy and tender. Why? Marinades don't actually penetrate very far into the meat, meaning the moisture is largely retained in the surface. You can use a marinade to kick up the flavor of your grass-fed beef, but don't expect a little wine or vinegar to compensate for the leanness of the beef.
You may want to consider using a dry-rub instead. One of our favorite ways to dry-rub grass-fed beef is also super-simple. Our Bearded Butchers Seasoning Blends are perfect for flavoring grass-fed beef because they are also perfect for wild game. When you grill up venison steaks, you know there is going to be a gamey flavor, and you adjust your seasonings accordingly. Do the same with grass-fed beef, and you'll get delicious flavors without the grassy, gamey flavor you don't care for. Try our original blend for classic flavor or take your grill game to the next level with our chipotle blend.
How Do You Make Grass Fed Beef More Tender?
So if a marinade isn't the answer, then you know some other trick must work. And you're right! Here are some of the best ways to get tender, juicy grass-fed steak. Not only do these tricks work for grass-fed beef, you can use them on any lean beef to increase the juiciness.
Injecting the Beef: One way you can increase the moisture in your meat is to use a marinade injector. This little device looks like the worst syringe your doctor would ever pull out of a drawer, but it's the perfect tool for getting liquid into your meat. Instead of soaking that meat in marinade overnight, dry age it in the refrigerator. This helps to tighten up the surface, keeping the juiciness inside. Then, just before grilling, inject that steak with your favorite marinade recipe.
Reverse Sear: You were probably taught to cook a steak by putting it on a grill with really high heat for a minute or two, flip it over for a couple minutes, then drop the temperature until the steak cooks to the desired doneness. A technique we love for a variety of reasons is the reverse sear. It's a simple way to get tender, juicy steak that is perfectly cooked each and every time. The downside is that it takes a little longer than the traditional method.
Remember at the beginning when we said you'll want to take your time? This is why. Instead of starting your grill at a really hot temp, take it way down – like 250 degrees or so. You almost want to smoke the beef low and slow, right up close to the perfect temperature. Shoot for an internal temperature around 120 to 125 degrees for a rare to medium-rare steak, or ten degrees more for well done. Use a meat thermometer to accurately measure the steak in the thickest part, ensuring you aren't against the bone which throws the temp off.
Now that your steak is at the perfect temp, pull them off and crank up the grill to a high heat. You're aiming for around 500 to 550 degrees on your grill. When you have the temperature right, put the steaks back on but don't walk away. After about one minute, flip your steak. You'll get the perfect sear with that delicious crunchy bark, but the steak will retain moisture better than a traditional sear.
Rest Your Meat: This is a simple step many people get impatient with. After that steak is done grilling, put it on the counter or in the oven and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. The longer you wait, the better, but don't wait so long that your steak is cold. A rest period of between 15 and 30 minutes allows the surface of the meat to cool, forcing the moisture into the meat rather than out of the meat. Now, when you slice your steak, juice doesn't run all over the cutting board. But when you bite into that steak, it's the perfect juiciness, tenderness, and deliciousness you were aiming for in the first place.
Know Where Your Beef Comes From
Grass-fed beef will always have a pronounced grassiness, much like the flavor we get from wild game. If that's not a flavor you enjoy, you might be better off buying grain-finished beef. If you are selecting grass-fed beef for nutrition reasons, you may just be paying more for marketing hype. It's important to remember that the majority of food labels don't actually tell you much about how an animal was raised, housed, or slaughtered – and it's far too complicated of a process to capture in an easy to read label. Instead, you should try to contact a professional butcher (like Whitefeather Meats) where we can tell you anything you want to know about where the meat you are buying came from, how it was raised, and how it was slaughtered.
The Bearded Butchers are dedicated to providing as much information as we possibly can to help you understand how to best process and prepare meats of all kinds. To help you, we maintain a blog and YouTube channel with lots of free, high-quality information. The Bearded Butchers and Beardedbutchers.com are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This means that The Bearded Butchers may receive a commission if you click on a link above and make a purchase on Amazon.com.