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Aug 4, 2007 10:36 AM

Which is best- Corn Fed or Grass Fed Beef?

I was just wondering what everyone thought was better. As a steak lover I know that different steakhouses use different techniques. My favorite is PL and they definitely use corn to feed their cattle. So based on that I will say corn feds better. I am not sure who uses grass but I know CraftSteak gives you a choice of either picking corn fed or grass fed. Does it taste any different?

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  1. You might give this recently active thread a look...

    I think like alot of things, when it comes to taste, it's personal preference. As far as what's good for yourself as well as the earth, grassfed seems to be the choice.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Sister Y

        I had a grass-fed ribeye from Alderspring a few nights ago and thought it was the tastiest steak I’ve ever eaten. I also like Tallgrass beef. But it’s a matter of individual taste.

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        1. The best beef I have ever had was grass fed (free-range pasture) and dry aged for 10 days to 2 weeks after butchering. Corn is a unnatural food stuff for cattle and causes a lot of stomach problems. It is usually fed to cattle just before slaughtering to bulk them up for maximum profit. The best farmers let them roam in the pasture in the summer, and feed them silage in the winter.

          39 Replies
          1. re: Kelli2006

            I have one question "What do you think silage is?" CORN. The whole plant is chopped up and then put in a pit or silo and aged. But silage is still CORN. THe problem is that most of you have never set foot on a farm large or small. You really need to find out what life on the farm really is!!!! IT IS NOT A MOVIE

            1. re: sunshine63343

              Good point. OTOH, if i understand correctly the silage is the stalk (grass) part of the corn plant, not the corn itself (the kernels), so I suppose the "anti-corn argument" would still be valid assuming it had merit in the first place, which is another question. Kelli is clearly a bit confused, since the corn is fed not to "bulk them up," but to increase the marbling which as we all know brings a lot of flavor and tenderness to the table (literally).

              As a one-time farm boy myself (chickens/eggs not cattle) I too sometimes am flummoxed by the strange ideas that get thrown around here.

              1. re: johnb

                Silage means fermented foliage.. Not just corn. Silage uses the whole stalk plant, including the corn cob, ect.. (Farmers also use alfalfa, grass, or sunflowers.) The corn gets chopped up with a special machine called a, "Corn Chopper". Once the corn has been chopped it loaded into a silo or a pit to start the fermentation process. Once the corn is fermented into silage, it has a high vitamins and minerals such as carotene and Vitamin A and is a great supplement to the cattle's diet.

                And btw corn-fed beef equals more fat. Its how most farmers put weight on a cow before it goes to market to be sold. The healthiest, best flavors of beef are from grass-fed cattle, that are given the silage (or haylage) and grain very sporadically.

                1. re: Idahofarmgirl

                  "And btw corn-fed beef equals more fat. Its how most farmers put weight on a cow before it goes to market to be sold. The healthiest, best flavors of beef are from grass-fed cattle, that are given the silage (or haylage) and grain very sporadically."

                  The fat that matters isn't the fat around the edge, as you seem to suggest, but the marbling inside the meat. That's the fundamental reason for the corn finishing, not to "put weight on a "cow" (sic) --if you're a farm girl, why do you call them cows--they are steers--we're talking about steaks here, not ground beef. And most folks are of the opinion that the fat is where the best taste comes from, along with the juiciness and tenderness from that marbling, not from grass, silage, or other grains. Of course, grass-fed beef is becoming more politically correct these days, the latest food fad, and certainly has its adherents, but for my money "fatty," corn-finished, beef tastes the best. And that includes comparison with Argentinian beef which I have been fortunate enough to eat in Argentina. But to each his own.

                  1. re: johnb

                    grass fed beef is a "fad" to you? grass-fed was the pre-inustrial farm, pre cafo norm. it's still the norm in many areas of the country for local consumption-- it's just that the big industrial meat companies/packers have standardized the grain finishing of beef for institutional, fast food and big-distribution, and brought their advertising dollar to bear to convince the customer that the industrial, cheaper product is in fact "normal" and superior to grass-fed beef and proper sustainable farm management.

                    1. re: johnb

                      Grass fed beef isn't about politics; it's about human health and environmental preservation, too.

                      That marbling caused by corn has a very unfortunate group of health risks in it, as compared to grass fed beef. Grass fed beef tastes better to a lot of us. And beef cattle that graze don't get antibiotics dumped into their feed that cause super pathogen development.

                      Those are all practical, not political considerations for me.

                      1. re: johnb

                        Disagree on all fronts. There is very well marbled grass fed beef available now mostly from farmers who know a lot about genetics. The photo below is of an entirely grass fed rib steak from a very good farmer. The beef had both rich marbling as well as a healthy layer of fat on the outside. No grain involved anywhere in the process. The best grass fed beef tastes far better than its corn-fed counterpart. Also, never had a steak in the US anywhere near as delicious as the Argentinian beef. As others have said, I don't think eating meat from cows raised the way they were supposed to be raised (and they way they were raised until the CAFO's came in) is a 'fad' any more than people's concerns for their health, workers rights, and the environment are 'fads' as well. Don't confuse people's recent awareness with bigger food and health issues with a passing fad. Corn-fed beef is not sustainable long term by anyone's analysis and it's good that people are looking at the issue seriously.

                          1. re: JeremyEG

                            CAFO's and corn finishing are not the same thing. It is entirely feasible to corn-finish a steer without confining it in a feedlot. BTW, I go out of my way to purchase cage free eggs, not because of taste or health concerns but purely because I don't like cage production. If you don't like feedlots, that's fine with me. I am not commenting on feedlots, health, sustainability or anything else but taste. IMO the corn-finished meat tastes better, and I have eaten both, and I didn't enter the comparison with a prior point-of-view. You can believe the contrary if you wish.

                            I would be very pleased see those who assert that grass fed beef is so much better to do it in a properly-structured blind tasting and see if they really can reliably identify which is which. I seriously doubt they can. I have posted before, and I will again, that self-delusion is often behind what we humans put forth as fact.

                            Here's a link pertaining to eggs, but it's the same idea (I'm not claiming this was scientific, but it's reasonable):


                            1. re: johnb

                              There have been lots of blind taste tests to compare grass vs. grain fed beef...



                              I think for many of us, it's difficult to separate the taste discussion from the other issues as they are so intertwined. Comparing grass fed and grain fed beef with no discussion of the environment, animal welfare, or health seems to be oversimplifying the issue. Almost like asking "Which is more fun to build? A windmill or an oil well?" An oil well because you get to be in the water. Great! Let's just make more of those. The End! There are simply too many other issues that come into play when people decide where their meat is produced and yes, what 'better' actually means.

                              And speaking of self-delusion, I think the self delusion comes into play far more often when people buy their $.99 hamburgers and convince themselves that no other costs will be incurred. That's self-delusion and I see it far less among those of us who have tried to think about how our foods are produced and make responsible choices accordingly.


                              1. re: JeremyEG

                                Read those results carefully.

                                Of your two links, one was for steak, one was for burgers. The point of marbling is lost on a burger because once the meat is ground the fact that it had intramuscular fat per se has little or no impact on taste or tenderness any longer. Only the fat/lean ratio in the grind really matters, and if you look at the end of that article you will see that in the "supplementary" test of plain store-bought ground beef at a 85/15 ratio did very well. In fact most everybody agrees that 80/20 is the ideal ratio, and a proper 80/20 ratio would probably have done better. The reason the "low quality" beef did poorly was obviously that it didn't have enough fat in the grind--he practically =admits that without saying so. The grass-fed did well, because it did have lots of fat, as was pointed out. That is to be expected. In short, this test does nothing to prove that grass-fed is better, only that fat is what matters.

                                With respect to the Slate test, Alderspring is a good piece of beef. But it is not the be all and end all of grass-fed beef, and in fact is quite exceptional. The notes on it include the following remark about grass-fed beef generally (direct quote):
                                >>>The knock against it: Consistency, or lack thereof. One grass-fed rancher I spoke to refused to send me any steak for this article because, he said, it sometimes tastes like salmon. Restaurants and supermarkets don't like grass-fed beef because like all slow food, grass-fed beef producers can't guarantee consistency—it won't look and taste exactly the same every time you buy it. Grass-fed beef also has a reputation for being tough.<<<

                                The results also make clear that this particular meat was indeed tougher than marbled, feedlot-finished meat (e.g. the Niman).

                                Bottom line. Fat (marbling) as achieved by corn finishing is a component of flavor, and certainly adds tenderness and juiciness. I am not defending the husbandry practices of the cattle industry at large, but the generalization that "grass-fed beef tastes better" simply doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. If you prefer it for other reasons or because you genuinely prefer that flavor, fine, but you're on thin ice turning that into a sweeping claim of superiority.

                                1. re: johnb

                                  restaurants and supermarkets don't like grass-fed? *bullshit* ;) that sounds like a sweeping generalization based on the limited selection in someone's parochial area. in some areas of the country you can certainly buy grass-fed beef at the supermarket, or even at target, for goodness sakes-- and it's extremely common to find grass-fed burgers and steaks in restaurants. raising cattle that produce characteristically tender, flavorful, high-quality grass-fed beef is not the esoteric art you make it out to be, either, otherwise it would hardly be profitable for the hundreds of farms and ranches that do it successfully. ime, restaurants and grocery stores "like" what their customers like.

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Look carefully. It was a direct quote from the article he cited to support his case. If you don't agree, fine, but he cited it in support of his (and your) viewpoint.

                                    1. re: johnb

                                      I've been buying grass fed and finished beef for years and have had exactly one slightly off tasting steak in all those meals. None were ever dry or lacking in adequate marbling, though it's not the same type and degree of marbling one gets from unhealthy feed lot practices. If it didn't taste good, I would eat something else before I'd eat feedlot or corn fed beef.

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        Where are you located? Where do you get your beef from? Glad you have such a good supplier!

                                        1. re: JeremyEG

                                          I'm in metro NY and I buy OBE beef at Fairway on LI.

                                          1. re: mcf

                                            There are various grains in the OBE beef pastures. Also, their website mentions that they are looking for suppliers of grain as well as supplements. Another thing this conversation misses is that much "grass-fed" cattle gets raised in feedlots as well - they just don't get grain feed. The industry isn't stupid; it knows how to respond to any trend with a pretty package. One more thing: a 100% pastured steer will emit 50 kilos of methane during its lifetime. A fed steer will emit 26 kilos of methane during the same. Don't believe everything you read or hear. Plus the economies (and efficiency) of scale in a world in which demand for beef increases by the year necessitate some form of large-scale, organized, industrious feeding system. I, myself, prefer grain-fed beef, but I like both and try to eat more grass-fed for its health benefits. However I tend to push for ways to improve the feeding operations as the best reasonable solution, and people like Temple Grandin are really doing good work in that department.

                                  2. re: johnb

                                    Hey John,
                                    You misunderstood my post. I was only responding to your claim that people can't tell the difference without being told which is which. That's not true in most cases (and sometimes people end up preferring corn fed depending on the sample). There are hundreds of blind taste tests written about all over. The links are to show that many can tell the difference whether they end up preferring corn or grass fed in the end. The links are not to show some scientific proof of anything except that often, people can tell the difference between the two types of meet regardless of which one they prefer.

                                    Also, I disagree with your burger comment. I've had corn fed and grass fed ground beef ground to about the same fat/meat ratio and I do not find the flavors to be the same (of course depending on the supplier). The fat ratio is one thing but I think there are other reasons for the differences in flavors as well. Brgr, the take-out burger joint near my place switched entirely to grass-fed before they even started marketing it that way because customers preferred the flavor to the corn fed ground beef with the same fat/meat ratio. I don't think that's scientific proof of anything (often hard to find when it comes to something as subjective as taste!) but certainly the thousands of people who dine there can tell the difference and many prefer grass fed.

                                    1. re: JeremyEG

                                      Well, you're certainly right about one thing. Those two "blind tests" were definitely not "scientific." In fact, they were both so poorly structured that anyone who has even the most cursory understanding of how to do a valid such tasting can see that the results cannot be relied upon for anything at all. In spite of your comment I have looked for other comparisons but have not come up with anything reliable. Please post links if you have any--I'd be interested.

                                      Corn finishing and factory farming, which seem to be one and the same in many minds, are not the same. Cattle were finished on corn and other grains long before industrial agriculture took hold, on farms where cheaper grass was available just over the fence. The reason it was done was that it produced more tender, more juicy, and, to many, better-tasting meat. That hasn't changed. In the last few years you and many others appear to have engaged in a campaign to demonize industrial farming including typical beef production, and have cited a number of reasons for this. Many of these reasons may well be valid, and I agree with many of them. However among the reasons that have been bandied about is the claim that grass-fed beef is clearly, across the board, greatly superior on the plate. I disagree. Both kinds can often be good and often be bad. I don't think there is much if any valid evidence to support the position, which is purely subjective anyway. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true. This does not in any way impune your position that factory farming has many bad characteristics. We agree on that; hell I've not eaten veal for 30 years because I object to how it is produced, and I'm getting close to the same position on pork. I'm only saying that that one particular supporting argument you have offered is, at best, overstated.

                                      This horse has been pretty well beaten to death, so I'll now get off my soapbox and shut up.

                            2. re: johnb

                              There are a lot of interesting facets to this discussion, but one of the more interesting, to me, is the common supposition that more marbling = more flavor. Interestingly, many blind taste studies have found confounding results. Lots of folks have actually picked medium marbled beef as the most flavorful.

                              There are also 2 very different flavor components at work - one is the flavor added by the fat in marbling. And while there's no denying that in general, fat enhances other flavors, there's clearly a limit. I mean, at some point, the flavor of the fat dominates. And we don't eat steak to taste fat.

                              Which leads to the second major flavor profile in steak - beefiness. Here, I think some some folks (as I do) that grass fed beef tends to be "beefier" than corn fed. Just like wild-caught salmon is deeper in flavor than farm raised. Just like milk (and thus cheese) from cows fed different pasturages have very different flavors. Like honey from bees that pollinated different crops picks up different flavors. So steers fed different foods will have muscle that tastes a bit different.

                              As for the argument that corn is an "unnatural" for cattle is undeniable. And that it causes physiological issues is also undeniable. What it means for steak flavor, however, is very complicated.

                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                A good example is flank steak; lean but very flavorful. Minerality, beefiness, whatever it is, a lot of flavor comes from other than marbling, which I like, but not to excess. I've had buttery tasting flank steak that's grass fed to the finish, so it's not all about the fat, very true.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  I think your description of the flavor is on the nose. I liken the flavor of a grass-fed flank steak cut to slightly liver-like, but in a good way (I know some are really turned off by the flavor of liver).

                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    I've experienced the live like flavor you describe on occasion, but so far, never with grass fed or flank steak. I don't know what it comes from, and I'm not sure I want to. ;-) But flank is still a great example of a really flavorful lean cut of beef.
                                    But a nice grass fed ribeye, bone in, is still my favorite.

                                    Flank makes GREAT home ground burger meat, btw.

                                    1. re: mcf

                                      Had some nice tender slices of grass-fed flank steak back in August. That slightly (what I described as) liver-like flavor (somewhat subtle - slightly mineral/beefy) was ever-present in my dish. Taste buds (and sense of smell) tend to be very personal (as you know), so YMMV.

                                      Never thought of using flank in ground burger meat, but it sounds like a great component - do you use that cut exclusively, or add other cuts?

                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                        You're right; we all have receptors sensitive to different flavor components.

                                        I experimented with single meats (brisket, sirloin, brisket w/ short rib, chuck, flank, and in various combinations) and found that despite being lean (I hate sirloin burgers for this reason), the flank was moist and very flavorful. Also, I found my home ground burgers retained too much moisture, even if wrapped in paper towels in the fridge a while, and that ruined the texture and sometimes made the patties crumbly. Much less so with flank, and with less blotting than the others.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          Interesting, I have some wonderful grass fed flank in the freezer, and I'll be sure to try it. I wonder if anyone has made meatballs with flank as well as another meat? With flank steak's rich flavor and the fat of good heritage pork, I'm wondering if there isn't a spectacular meatball or meatloaf in there somewhere!

                                          1. re: JeremyEG

                                            Interesting indeed! Though I wonder at which point you start to lose the flavor of a flank steak in a meatball, given the other ingredients in meatballs, and the sauce cover. On meatballs, while I think there are certainly ways of making very good ones, there's a reason (at least a partial explanation) things like meatballs, meatloafs, and sausages were "invented" - being able to use a cut of meat that is not tender, and/or fatty and/or sinewy.

                                            Personally, I'm not sure I'd use something like a flank steak to grind up and mix with other ingredients and serve with a sauce. Ditto with a heritage pork - standard mass-produced pigs make plenty of fat - you can always grind more into the meat if you'd like.

                                            Now, I could see making a "special" meatball to serve as an appetizer, or as a stand-alone, but probably not for your typical spaghetti and meatballs application.

                                            1. re: foreverhungry

                                              Yes good point. Since I started eating only farm raised/pastured/heritage meats, I actually find meatballs to be almost a special occasion dish! I know that sounds funny but when I get the best stuff (sometimes even some ground pork belly in the mix), it's really one of my favorite meat dishes. And you're right that a heavy sauce would mask the flavors of the meat. Instead, I use stock and simmer them gently. What you get is an extremely rich broth that really tastes of the meatballs themselves. I sometimes throw in a light vegetable like some cherry tomato or spinach but never anything too instense. We usually eat them with some crusty bread and we're good to go.

                                              I never thought meatballs would end up being such a treat for us and our guests but they really can be!

                                              1. re: JeremyEG

                                                What you're describing is almost an Italian Wedding Soup - meatballs simmered in a chicken-ish broth, with addition of some greens - endives, spinach, etc.

                                                I agree - a good meatball should be able to stand on its own, or in a simple and light preparation like stock-based soup.

                                                I've also - albeit too rarely - made meatballs in a stock, like you describe, or a light wedding soup, and you're right, it's a great reaction from guests (and my taste buds).

                                                What I don't get is people fawning over their nana's secret family recipe (it's a meatball, people) and then drowning the poor thing in a thick tomato sauce. Either the meatball isn't that good to begin with, or you're abusing the poor thing by burying it.

                          2. re: sunshine63343

                            Silage doesn't have to be CORN. The farm I worked on for several years (as a teenager, in Canada) used alfalfa and timothy as silage.

                            1. re: Dan G

                              Correct, we feed hailage. But my point was that fed in the right stage corn, oats, beans can be grazed or cut for silage and then feed to cattle. Some of these grass fed programs include high protien grassess or grains in their cattles diets. They have to or they would not get their animals finished under the 30 months of age.

                              If you are looking for a lean, tender beef research the breed Piedmontese.

                              1. re: Dan G

                                I grew up on a farm and the silage we made was alfalfa and oats. NOT corn. Corn would not have even been a consideration on our farm. Our beef was amazingly delicious from very happy cattle who grazed on grass in the spring and silage in the winter. All our animals, including our pigs and sheep, were happy and delicious animals. Although I was not impressed when my black lamb, Ebony, ended up on our table.

                                1. re: chefathome

                                  If I had one wish that would be to go back in a time machine where animals ate naturally their original food...cows eating grass, chickens eating worms, insects, etc. Corn has ruined everything.

                                  Like I said before, if you recall just in the 70's alone the hamburger and steaks you ate alone at fast food franchises was so much better than today. And the eggs I ate back then when chickens weren't eating corn feed their yolks were deep orange and super fresh.

                                  So imagine if you can go back to 50's or early 1900's , everything including the seafood which at the time never saw a drop of oil spills or toxic chemicals thrown in the ocean or rivers how amazing the crabs and shrimp would be.

                                  1. re: zoey67

                                    "So imagine if you can go back to 50's or early 1900's , everything including the seafood which at the time never saw a drop of oil spills or toxic chemicals thrown in the ocean or rivers how amazing the crabs and shrimp would be."

                                    Even in the early 1900's there were large amounts of chemicals being dumped into rivers and streams, and on into the oceans. Today there is far less of that than at its peak, probably around WWII and up to the Clean Water Act. As to oil, for millions of years there has been a huge amount of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico and other areas due to natural seepage, and even today natural seepage accounts for a significant amount of oil "pollution," perhaps as much or more than there is resulting from spills. So seafood has been putting up with pollution long before the present day, including the period when you suggest everything was hunky-dorey. If the crabs and shrimp truly were amazing then compared with now, I'm skeptical that the difference, if real, has much to do with such pollution.

                                    Regarding eggs, you refer to the 70's as a time when yolks were deep orange due to a lack of corn in their diet. I grew up on an egg farm in the 50's, and already by then corn was a major component of their feed, so I'm unclear what sort of eggs you were eating in the 70's and how they differed from those today. I'm also unclear as to the connection you or positing between the chickens' diet and the eggs' freshness at that time.

                                  2. re: chefathome

                                    I'd have a really hard time eating an animal I'd named, too! And I'm a confirmed meatatarian.

                                2. re: sunshine63343

                                  >>"'What do you think silage is?' CORN.<<"

                                  Um, no. Silage is any fermented, high-moisture fodder. It can be made from corn (the whole plant, not just the grain), but it can also be made from sorghum, oats, or alfalfa. In Austria, beef finished on sileage made from sugar beets is highly prized; those in the know claim that the meat is sweeter. I tend to agree; some of my favorite beef pastured on the sides of Haleakala, Maui and finished on sileage made from pineapple and sugarcane. Happy cows, and all.

                                  So sileage is NOT corn. Corn is only one of the things that sileage can be made from, and even when it's made from corn, the stalks and leaves are included so the diet is better-suited to a bovine digestive system than the straight corn fed in CAFOs.

                                  1. re: sunshine63343

                                    Silage is the ground and fermented immature corn stalk and not just the corn kernels. I buy very little meat at a grocery because I prefer to buy a
                                    side of a Hereford or Angus from a friend and have it custom slaughtered, wrapped and delivered.

                                    I grew up in NE Ohio and many of my friends lived on farms so I was recruited to help with chores during harvesting. I am also well versed in how to utilize the business end of a Holstein and the first motorized vehicle that I drove was a John Deere.

                                3. For those who missed it, here is Slate's taste test of corn fed and grass fed beef (grass fed won):