Are you really buying what you think when it comes to purchasing grass-fed beef? Is all grass-fed beef the same, or is there more to consider before making your purchase? The truth about this type of meat may surprise you.
From understanding what goes into quality grass-fed beef and how to cook it, as well as its health benefits – learn exactly what “grass-fed” means and what it doesn’t mean so that you can make an informed decision when you do buy it.
So, what are you really buying when you purchase grass-fed beef?
Let us guide you through the facts and help answer any questions that might arise while navigating this tricky and sometimes confusing subject matter.
Table of Contents:
- What is Grass-Fed Beef?
- Is All Grass-Fed Beef the Same?
- How to Choose Quality Grass-Fed Beef?
- How to Cook and Prepare Grass-Fed Beef?
- Health Benefits of Eating Grass-Fed Beef?
- FAQs in Relation to What Are You Really Buying When You Purchase Grass-Fed Beef?
What is Grass-Fed Beef?
Generally speaking, grass-fed beef is a type of meat that comes from cows that have been raised on grass and forage, instead of grains. It is a type of cattle production that is more sustainable than traditional feedlot operations, as it does not require the use of antibiotics or growth hormones to produce large amounts of meat in a short amount of time.
Grass-fed beef has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its health benefits and environmental advantages over grain-fed beef. But let’s get in the weeds a bit (pun intended) and learn what it really means when a supermarket or supplier of beef advertises the meat as “grass-fed.”
Definition Of Grass-Fed Beef:
Consumers are told that grass-fed beef refers to cattle that are raised primarily on pasture, with minimal supplemental grains such as corn or soybeans. The animals may also be supplemented with hay during winter months when pastures are not available.
Take note that some producers may label their product “grass-fed” even if they supplement the diet with grains or other feed sources throughout the year. This practice is not supported by most experts in the field and shouldn’t be. I will elaborate more on this later in the article.
Benefits Of Grass-Fed Beef:
Eating grass-fed beef offers several potential health benefits compared to eating grain-fed beef. For example, grass-fed beef contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), both beneficial fats associated with improved heart health and reduced inflammation in the body.
Studies suggest that grass-fed meats contain fewer calories per serving than their grain-fed counterparts due to lower fat content overall which can help those trying to maintain a healthy weight while still enjoying red meat products like steak or hamburger patties.
We are told that grass-fed beef is a healthier and more sustainable option for those looking to make better dietary choices, but there are still many questions about the quality of grass-fed beef.
Are you really getting the best product possible when purchasing grass-fed beef? How do you know?
I was recently shopping at a Sprouts store here in Prescott. At the meat counter, I asked the butcher for a pound of ground beef. He asked, “grass-fed” or “regular?” The grass-fed was considerably more per pound and the regular ground beef was on sale.
I asked him what “grass-fed” actually means. He told me that “grass-fed,” did not mean nor does the designation guarantee that the animal was free-range and grazed on grass exclusively for its entire life.
He said that the animal was likely fed a mix of grass and then heavily grained just before slaughter. Well, I’ll be darned, I said. How would a consumer ever know that? He said, people never ask, they just assume it’s 100% grass-fed and free-range from the time it is born to the time of slaughter.
I have always been suspicious of claims by grocers that advertise “grass-fed” and “organic”. How would one ever know the claims are true?
It was my conversation with Sprout’s butcher that led me to write this article.
I think it’s important to look into what exactly goes into producing grass-fed beef and whether or not all types of grass-fed beef are created equal.
Is All Grass-Fed Beef the Same?
No, it is not as I learned at my local Sprouts store.
While the term “grass-fed” may sound like all grass-fed beef is the same, there are actually several different types of grass-fed beef available. It’s important to understand these differences in order to make an informed decision when purchasing and consuming this type of meat.
A Key Difference Between Grass-Fed Beef and Grass-Finished Beef:
Though grass-finished beef and grass-fed beef are alike, there is one fundamental and important difference. While grass-fed cattle are raised on grass for a good part of their lives, they are finished on grain to fatten them quickly in the weeks leading up to slaughter. In stark contrast, grass-finished cattle are raised solely on grass and forage, from start to finish.
As with grass-fed beef, grass-finished beef is often leaner and healthier than grain-fed beef, but it may also have a slightly different taste and texture.
I have friends that will buy and eat only “grass-fed” beef thinking that they are eating beef that has been raised solely on grass and forage. They picture the cattle slowly walking through picturesque lush green fields, peacefully grazing, until the beast is slaughtered and the medium-rare steak jumps from the BBQ grill to their plate.
What I can’t wait to tell them is what I have believed all along. Unless the beef is certified as having been 100% “grass-finished,” organic and free range, then it isn’t entirely “grass-fed.”
Organic vs Non-Organic Grass-Fed Beef:
Organic grass-fed beef comes from animals that have been fed only organic feed and forage throughout their lives. This means they were not given any antibiotics or growth hormones, nor did they consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Non-organic grass-fed beef does not necessarily mean it was produced with GMOs or other additives. But it could be from animals that consumed nonorganic feed at some point during their life cycle.
Free-range cattle are those that roam freely over large pastures and graze on natural vegetation such as native plants and weeds.
Then there are the feedlot cattle that are confined in small pens where they consume mostly grains like corn and soybeans. This can affect the nutritional content of the meat compared to free-range cows who forage on wild vegetation naturally found in their environment.
Are Claims of “Grass Fed” Deceiving? Unfortunately, many producers use misleading labels claiming their products are “100% grass fed” when in reality they may have supplemented with grain at some point during production or even used GMO feeds without disclosing this information clearly on the packaging or advertising materials.
Therefore, it is important for consumers to research farms/ranches producing these meats before making a purchase decision so they know exactly what they’re getting.
The USDA has set standards regulating labeling claims related to animal feeding practices, including requirements around labeling terms such as “grass-fed” which must meet certain criteria before being used by slaughterhouses processing livestock intended for human consumption.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust that I am being told the truth about feeding practices and labeling. Again, how would we ever know for sure? This is why I buy my beef (and not necessarily grass-fed or grass-finished) at locally sourced ranches right here in Prescott, Arizona like Gourmet Beef. The meat is reasonably priced and delicious.
Slaughterhouses are also required to follow food safety regulations regarding handling and storage procedures prior to sale. It is up to them to make sure there is safe consumption by customers buying these products through retail outlets and stores nationwide.
Grass-fed and grass-finished beef can be a healthy and sustainable choice, but it is important to understand the differences between organic and non-organic grass-fed beef, free-range vs confined feedlot cattle, and deceptive labeling practices.
To be absolutely confident you are getting quality grass-fed beef or grass-finished beef, research the farm or ranch where your meat comes from, look for certifications and labels on packaging, and ask questions at your local butcher or grocery store. If the ranch or farm is in your local area, pay them a visit and ask them to show you around.
How to Choose Quality Grass-Fed Beef?
When it comes to choosing quality grass-fed beef, there are a few key things to consider.
The all-important first step is researching the farm or ranch where your meat comes from. Knowing how the beef was raised can help you make sure that you’re getting the best possible product.
Look for certifications and labels on packaging such as “USDA Organic” or “Animal Welfare Approved” which indicate that the animals were raised in accordance with certain standards of care.
If these certifications aren’t available, ask questions at your local butcher or grocery store about the source of their meat and what kind of animal husbandry practices they use. Ask how long ago the animal was slaughtered so you know if it’s still fresh enough for consumption before buying it.
Some store butchers may not even know where the meat is sourced from or what certifications it has. It’s a real education to question them.
It is also essential to differentiate between organic and non-organic grass-fed beef when making a purchase decision.
Organic grass-fed beef must adhere to specific criteria set by the USDA, including being fed only certified organic feed (free of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics) and given access to pasture during the grazing season.
On the other hand, non-organic may not have any restrictions on feed sources or grazing requirements. Moreover, free-range cattle are allowed more freedom than those kept in confined feedlots, so if possible look for free-range options when shopping for grass-fed beef products.
Be aware that some companies may falsely claim their products are “grass-fed” but actually use grain-based feeds as well – so do your due diligence before buying.
By taking these steps into consideration when selecting quality grass-fed beef, you can be relatively assured that you are getting a safe and nutritious product while supporting sustainable farming practices.
When it comes to choosing quality grass-fed beef, doing your homework is key.
Now that you know how to choose quality grass-fed beef, let’s explore some tips for cooking and preparing it.
How to Cook and Prepare Grass-Fed Beef?
Here are some tips on how to prepare grass-fed beef for maximum flavor while preserving its nutritional value.
Low and Slow Cooking Methods are Best:
Grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed beef so it requires different cooking methods to avoid drying out or becoming tough.
For tougher cuts, the best way to cook grass-fed beef is by using low-temperature settings with slow cooking times such as braising or stewing. This will help the meat retain moisture while also allowing time for flavors from herbs and spices to infuse into the meat during the cooking process.
For steaks, I keep it simple–just salt and pepper and then grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes on each side. Grill time depends on the thickness and how you like the temp of your steak.
Flavorful ingredients such as garlic, onions, herbs, and spices can provide a delightful taste without overwhelming it with too much.
For optimal results, use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of your steak after searing both sides on medium/high heat until the internal temperature reaches 130°F (medium rare).
Then remove from the heat source immediately followed by a resting period prior to serving. This will allow carryover cooking to take place resulting in perfectly cooked steaks every time.
Cooking grass-fed beef requires a little extra care and attention, but with the right techniques, you can enjoy all of its health benefits while still enjoying delicious meals.
FAQs in Relation to What Are You Really Buying When You Purchase Grass-Fed Beef?
Is there really a difference in grass-fed beef?
Yes, there is a difference between grass-fed beef and other types of beef.
Grass-fed beef has higher levels of healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
It also contains more antioxidants than grain-fed or feedlot beef. Additionally, it has lower levels of unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol.
Grass-fed cattle are raised on pasture rather than in feedlots, so their meat tends to be leaner with fewer calories per serving.
Finally, the flavor profile of grass-fed beef can vary depending on the breed of cattle and type of forage they consume; some describe it as having a sweeter taste than grain-fed or feedlot varieties.
Is grass-fed beef worth the extra cost?
Yes and no. My friends would say, yes, it is worth the extra cost. It’s true that grass-fed beef offers a higher quality of nutrition and taste than grain-fed beef, but only if it’s truly grass-finished as explained above. Organic 100% grass-finished, free-range beef does have a richer flavor that many people prefer over grain-fed beef.
The increased cost reflects the additional labor required to raise cattle on grass instead of grains, but overall it is an investment worth making for those who value their health and enjoy great-tasting food.
What is special about grass-fed beef?
Other than the health benefits mentioned above, grass-fed beef requires less energy input since it relies on natural resources rather than processed feed grains. This makes it an environmentally friendly choice for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint while still enjoying delicious meals.
What does 100% grass-finished beef mean?
100% grass-finished beef means that the cattle have been raised on a diet of only grass and forage, without any grain or other supplements. The animals are typically allowed to graze freely on pastures rather than being confined in feedlots, which results in a more humane production process with less environmental impact.
When it comes to buying grass-fed beef, you really need to be aware of what you’re getting.
As I explained above, not all grass-fed beef is the same and some claims may not be true.
It’s important to choose quality grass-fed beef and grass-finished beef from a trusted source, understand how to cook and prepare it properly and reap the health benefits that come with eating this type of meat.
With careful consideration when purchasing your next cut of grass-fed/grass-finished beef, you can ensure that you are truly getting what you are paying for.