What You Need to Know:
- Research shows grass-fed meat is higher in beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
- Look for meat that is 100% grass-fed and grass finished (bonus points if it’s also organic and local).
- Grass-fed meat cooks quicker than conventionally raised meat.
- There are some excellent online retailers that will ship high-quality organic grass-fed beef to your door.
By Jessica Hamlin
In the ’80s, the slogan “Where’s the beef?” was popular but these days, the question has evolved to: “What’s in the beef?”
The debate about whether or not to eat meat is ongoing but among those who do choose to eat meat, there’s another layer of controversy: Is it really better for you and for the environment to eat grass-fed meat, rather than conventionally raised grain-fed meat? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
What Is Grass-fed Meat?
The USDA’s previous grass-fed standard required that “ruminant animals be fed only grass and forage, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.” Animals could “not be fed grain or grain by-products” and had to “have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.”
Then, in January 2016, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service withdrew the standard, claiming they did “not have the authority to define labeling standards and determine if marketing claims are truthful and not misleading.” Some saw this as a loss for consumers, making the term grass-fed more ambiguous and opening the door for some producers to label meat “grass-fed” even if the animals’ diet didn’t adhere to the USDA’s previous standards.
As a shopper, if you want to make sure the beef you’re buying is 100 percent grass-fed, you have a few options: Look for a seal that says “USDA Process Verified” on a grass-fed label; this means the producer submitted to a special inspection by the Agricultural Marketing Service. (Other organizations, including American Grassfed and Food Alliance, also do inspections and give out certifications.)
The Benefits Of Chewing The Cud
Health: Most conventional meat comes from animals fed corn and soy—both of which are usually genetically modified—and other items that may not be specified. So if meat is not grass-fed or organic, it’s likely to have been fed GMOs. In some cases, farmers feed conventional cattle items like secondhand candy as a cheap way to fatten them up before they enter the food supply.
As for grass-fed meat, three decades of research cited in a Cal State University study suggest that “grass-based diets can significantly improve the fatty acid composition and antioxidant content of beef.” It also suggested that grass-fed beef is higher in vitamin A, E, and cancer-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione since its grass-fed diet encourages the creation of those nutrients. Finally, its been shown to enhance healthy fats like conjugated linoleic acid isomers (which may help reduce body weight and high blood pressure) and omega-3 fatty acids. Most Americans are deficient in omega-3s, which help combat anxiety, inflammation and a host of other ailments.
Grain-fed cows also tend to be given more antibiotics, which can result in them developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can result in contaminated meat. “When it comes to meat, I say eat less and buy the best quality you can,” registered nurse and certified holistic health coach Carrie Russell tells Clean Plates. “Grass-fed meats are naturally leaner and the fats in them are more nutritious.”
Sustainability: Opinions differ on whether grass-fed or grain-fed meat is better for the environment. Grass-fed cattle tend to require more land and take longer to raise since they don’t grow as fast as grain-fed cattle. However, the Environmental Working Group opines that grass-fed meat is greener, in part because large-scale confined feedlots are detrimental to air and water quality. Plus, cows are often pastured on land that isn’t suitable for large crop production, so pasturing cattle is a way to utilize that land for food. And grain-fed cattle produce more methane since grain is harder for them to digest.
Flavor: Turns out a cow’s diet can also affect how its meat ultimately tastes, something immediately apparent when you taste a steak from, say, Greensbury. Across the world, chefs prefer it for its richer, beefier, more complex flavors. One thing to note: grass-fed beef can cook up to 30 percent faster than conventional meat so watch your cuts as they cook, and check for doneness with a meat thermometer sooner than you would for grain-fed beef.
Great Online Suppliers Of Grass-Fed Meat
Alderspring Ranch’s grass-fed certified organic beef is raised and produced by the Elzinga family on their Idaho ranch. “We start with being certified and inspected organic, and then go beyond the requirements of organic certification,” says Caryl Elzinga. Alderspring’s cattle eat only diverse pasture grasses and wildflowers and are “never in a feedlot or confinement of any kind.”
Belcampo owns a California farm where animals are humanely raised, and the company also runs the butchering, processing and packaging process. The meat is then sold at Belcampo’s stores and restaurants. Belcampo has created a “full-circle eco-system” in which animals rotate daily so a variety of animals are grazing on different types of pasture. While their fresh meat is currently available for shipping only to San Francisco, Belcampo ships other items nationwide like their organic grass-fed beef jerky, as well as candles made from grass-fed beef tallow.
This retail brand’s grass-fed offerings include goat, organic beef and buffalo and New Zealand lamb. Thousands of stores nationwide sell Blackwing meat including Sprouts, Fresh Thyme, Lowes, Dierbergs, Festival Foods and more. They also ship to all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
This subscription service curates boxes of grass-fed beef and other meats from the West and Midwest. Their boxes ship all over the U.S. except for Hawaii and Alaska, and shipping is free.
Greensbury partners with one of the country’s largest suppliers of organic grass-fed beef, Rastelli Food Groups, to deliver organic, grass-fed meat across the U.S. All of their organic, grass-fed meat is sourced from a collective of family farms in North and South Dakota and is free of hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. Raised sustainably and humanely, cattle eat a balanced diet of organic alfalfa, hay and flax and roam open pastures.
From burgers to filet mignon, Omaha Steaks offers an array of grass-fed non-organic beef options that are also aged and hand-trimmed. All of their meat is raised and processed in the United States. Omaha Steaks products are available via delivery to all 50 states or at their stores nationwide.
Pasture Perfect sells grass-fed beef from New Zealand and Australia free-range cattle that is hormone and antibiotic free. Once raised and processed, Pasture Perfect’s meat is imported to their facilities in the U.S. You can find grass-fed items like their American Style Kobe Burgers and franks in stores including Sprouts.
This producer of beef, lamb and bison counts the New York Jets among its clients. You can find U.S. Wellness Meats products in small chain grocery stores or get it shipped anywhere in the 50 states.
Or, if you prefer getting those grass-fed benefits without having to cook, check out convenient options like EPIC savory grass-fed meat bars, bites and jerky trail mix, Vital Proteins grass-fed collagen peptides and Kettle & Fire grass-fed beef bone broth.
Pro Cooking Tips
- Temperature Test: Always remove your meat from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before cooking. For quick thawing, if you have a sealed package, run it under cool water for a few minutes.
- Ramp Up The Flavor: Use additional oils, flavorful cooking liquids, homemade marinades or dry rubs to tenderize, add moisture and flavor and seal in the meat’s juices.
- Lock It In: When grilling or roasting, sear over high heat first to brown the outsides, locking in moisture and flavor before turning down the heat, or cooking in the oven.
- Low and Slow, High and Dry: When using recipes for non-grass-fed beef, bring your cooktop gas or electric temperature down a notch or your oven temperature down 50°F.
- Leave It Be: For an uber juicy steak, don’t poke your meat while it’s cooking. Use tongs, rather than a fork or knife, to flip your steak. (Puncturing the skin allows moisture to escape.)
- Medium Rare Is Hot: Grass-fed beef can quickly become tough and dry so for optimal juiciness, flavor, and tenderness, medium-rare (or medium) is your best bet. Aim for an internal temperature of 125°F to 130°F.
- Let It Rest. When cooking with grass-fed, remove your beef from the heat source just before it reaches the desired level of doneness. While the meat is resting, the internal temp will rise another 5-10 degrees, and the juices will re-integrate.
Grilled Flank Steak with Grilled Vegetables
- 1 1-2 pound grass-fed flank steak or hanger steak
- Sea salt and fresh black pepper, plus more for asparagus
- 2 pounds of asparagus
- ½ pound of green onions (You can use whatever veggies you like; these are just our favorites)
- 1-2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- Bring meat to room temperature at least 30 minutes to an hour before grilling. Season the meat with salt and pepper about 30 minutes before it goes on the grill.
- Preheat a grill (I prefer natural charcoal or hardwood briquettes) to medium-high heat.
- Lay the meat on the hot grill and let it sit there for 2-3 minutes, depending on the exact temperature of your grill. We like our meat medium rare but if you want it cooked more just leave it on longer. As soon as it is seared and browned and lifts easily off of the grill grates, flip the meat on the other side and let it finish cooking for another 1-2 minutes.
- Remove from the grill, place it on a platter or cutting board, tent the meat with foil, and let rest for 10-15 minutes. This rest time helps the delicious juices redistribute throughout the meat and creates a tremendously juicy and tender steak.
- While the meat rests, grill your veggies: Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender and lightly charred, about 4-5 minutes.
- Cutting against the grain, slice the meat into portions and serve with asparagus.