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Grass Fed Beef

I see and hear people talking about grass fed beef and how much better it is than grain fed, and I am wondering could you really tell the difference?

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  1. It has more to do w/your health than taste. Cows were meant to eat grass, not genetically modified corn (or any corn for that matter), other animals and all the other garbage that goes into feed lot feed. This stuff makes the animals very ill and then they're pumped full of antibiotics along w/growth hormone. It's pretty disgusting. This is why other countries refuse our beef and we weigh more and are sicker than other developed nations (that and the other atrocities happening w/our food supply). The same thing is done w/chicken. I suggest you see Food Inc. and read Michael Pollan's books.

    4 Replies
    1. re: inbiz

      I would quibble a bit with the first sentence, but everything else is true. I think grass fed beef has a slightly different taste (more, well, beefy) and a fairly substantially different texture (chewier) than corn fed. It is definitely true that grass fed beef has less "marbling" than corn fed. It needs to be cooked more slowly in order to prevent it from drying out (because it doesn't have as much fat).

      1. re: mtullius

        Agreed, though I think it's more than a slightly different flavor- I believe it's a significantly different flavor. A far better flavor honestly. We actually switched all our beef at home to grass fed since we've got a really good farmer at our farmer's market in Bloomington. (Fiedler FYI)

        1. re: chetatkinsdiet

          I am a HUGE fan of their flank steaks, in particular.

          1. re: chetatkinsdiet

            Pls let me know where you get your grass fed beef in Bloomington? Thanks!

      2. I think you would notice a significant difference in a side by side comparison. As inbiz suggested, if you haven't read Michael Pollan's books, they will shed some light on why you are hearing more and more about pastured beef and other meat. I'm lucky enough to have a couple of good sources locally. The pastured beef cooks more quickly - careful not to overdo it! I'm in favor of spending more for and eating less meat.

        1. Here's a fun little secret. Beef is like wine, it varies by farm, growing region, breed, quality of genetics), specific diet, husbandry techniques, aging time & techniques... and the relative talent of the farmer, trucker, slaughterhouse, and butcher (not to mention the chef).

          In other words, it's not as simple as grass-fed vs. grain-fed or Choice vs. Prime or any similar retail label. (It does matter across the board if the cattle were raised and handled in low stress conditions, which includes no added hormones or other growth stimulants, as stress can absolutely ruin the flavor and texture of beef.)

          In four years of tasting beef for a living (I created a company to help people discover all this natural variety and connect more closely to the farm), I have tasted steaks and burgers from dozens even hundreds of farms including 100% grass fed beef from one farm in Idaho that tasted like a classic steak-house steak (we christened it "Gateway Beef" and another from the Puget Sound region (same crossbreed, BTW) that has a far more adventurous personality (I called this one Outdoor Adventure Beef). Grain-fed beef can also vary in texture, personality, impression, and specific flavor notes. The great this is, if you can tell what's on your plate and it is artisan quality beef, you can figure out which flavor profiles you prefer and then buy more of it.

          Bottom line, if you can, try to do some blind taste tests with beef from different producers or producer groups. If you want my cheat sheet for identifying artisan quality beef, feel free to shoot me an email.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Oliver Ranch

            Great point. Same deal with goat milk, and cow's milk... particularly notable in the raw cow milk I've had.

            One side note I was curious about is whether there are cuts available of grass-fed beef that are fairly fatty... what cuts would you recommend for that, or any varieties?

            1. re: Cinnamon

              Sorry for very late response! I've found several grass-fed beef producers who turn out nicely marbled beef and with a good fat cover. I'm a bit of a fat hound myself so for a steak I like the sirloin and rib-eye. One good first step is to find a good butcher (someone who can look at a carcass and tell you what it is, where it was raised, how he/she would age it and why) and ask them to point you to the farms that produce grass fed cattle with a good fat cover.

              If this wasn't your question please just let me know.

          2. Look at the sidebar. Chow has found some related discussions, such as one titled 'grass fed beef, Icky', and another 'which is best'.

            Some believe it is better, and taste confirms it. Others apparently find that it is too different. It may depend on what you like about beef.

            1 Reply
            1. re: paulj

              Ha! My husband's cousin was just talking yesterday on Facebook about her first try with grass-fed beef in Tacoma, WA. "Now i thought i was doing the right thing by spending way too much money on grass fed steaks but there was something not right about them. im going back to my much cheaper grain fed cows." I asked her why and she said it was too gamey and the texture was different.

            2. Interesting. I wish we could see more threads like this.

              1. There is definitely a taste difference, and to a lesser degree a texture difference.

                It's a bit more "beefy" in the way that buffalo is a bit more "gamey" than beef.

                If you grew up eating corn or grain fed beef, grass-fed beef will taste weird, even a bit "off". It certainly can be described as an acquired taste.

                At first, I didn't really take to grass-fed beef. But it soon grew on me and now I cherish the taste of a nice grass-fed piece of T-bone.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I can't say I've ever had bison that is even the slightest bit "gamey".

                2. You will have a v. hard time finding a source in the US that raises cattle 100% grass fed. Its pure economics...easier to gain weight with corn/grain means more $....small problem with digestion problems but that's where antibiotics come to rescue.
                  I have tried a number of sources and none of the US raised beef (all claimed grass fed) tasted any where close to what you will get from South America...and yes..there is a HUGE taste difference.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Pollo

                    "You will have a v. hard time finding a source in the US that raises cattle 100% grass fed."

                    that's a rather astonishing statement--especially because-- where the op is from, if we can believe his handle, he can walk into any co-op grocery and get a 100% grass-fed steak and cook it at home, or he can go to most of the better restaurants in town and get a 100% grass-fed steak or burger. also available at farmer's markets, farmer direct, from small-farm meat csas (such as sunshine harvest farm http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M11356 ), and, of course, available at ubiquitous local grocery stores like lunds/byerly's. . . grassfed beef is all over the place in areas where this is the way beef is commonly raised. perhaps you should order some from the op's area. here's an extremely successful company (based in minneapolis/mpls) that gets its 100% grass-fed beef from hundreds of small farms in the upper midwest. the quality is quite high and they supply many of the restaurants in town with grass-fed beef.

                    http://www.thousandhillscattleco.com/

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      You do have to watch the marketing language on the packages, though. There are some that will say just grass-fed, that are actually finished with grain at some point in their lives. Maybe Oliver Ranch can expand on that and what to specifically look for - the 100% sounds ideal, offhand.

                      1. re: Cinnamon

                        sometimes you'll see: grass-fed, grain finished.

                        on completely grass fed beef, "100% grass-fed" is usually *very* prominent on the packaging, and there are some brands that are exclusively 100% grass-fed beef.

                    2. re: Pollo

                      SMALL problem? Antibiotics? Read The Omnivore's Dilemma and then come back and tell us how "small" the problem of feeding ruminants corn is. It's a HUGE problem. HUGE.

                      I thank God I can get grass-fed Alberta beef now. Corn-fed US beeves are an ecological and human disease nightmare waiting to explode, and it all has to do with price supports for corn and what the hell you do with massive oversupplies of it. Terrible, terrible policy, shocking really.

                      1. re: John Manzo

                        I was beeing sarcastic....like you said it's a huge problem...

                    3. Grain fed for me, thanks. At least, grain finished, which is more accurate. Almost nobody raises beef cattle exclusively on the feed lot, or even primarily (as opposed to the dairy industry, which in many places is primarily on the feed lot). And hay is almost always added as a supplement to mitigate the harmful affects of the low-fiber diet of grain. The advantage of grain to ruminant farming is its high protein content, to which hay, as opposed to regular grass, contributes. In dairy farming, it promotes greater milk production, in meat farming, more aggressive muscle production. The only contribution to fat production is because not all of the proteins and carbohydrates can be utilized at any point in time, so the excess calories must go somewhere, and that's fat production. But not necessarily marbling per se. So a meat farmer must carefully avoid too much overfeeding, or else large globs of fat, as opposed to marbling, will be the result (of course, some results are breed-specific). Also, grain concentrate is not cheap, so the most economically optimal farms must balance the economic advantages of cheap pasteurage with the weight gain and meat structure from grain and hay, to achieve the most viable farming techniques.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: ganeden

                        No argument here....just the little issue of pumping the cows with antibiotics...and that is a problem....

                        1. re: Pollo

                          I hear alot about the "antibiotics" that are fed to cows, so my question is does anyone consume cheese from "antibiotic" cows and how do you know if a cow has had any "antibiotics"?, does the producer have to tell the butcher or the final consumer?

                          1. re: Mpls Pig

                            cheese (ice cream, butter, sour cream, etc) made from the milk of dairy cattle which are given antibiotics is extremely common. most big brand cheese will contain antibiotics because hundreds of gallons of milk from a variety of sources are mixed together to make the product.

                            if you are interested in cheese and dairy products *not* made with milk from antibiotic treated cows, you should first be willing to pay a little more for these products. ask your local cheesemonger in a nicer establishment with a good fine cheese selection (locally in msp: lunds uptown or lunds northeast, surdyk's, france 44, wedge co-op, seward co-op, mississippi market co-op, etc) which brands and flavors to look at. look for a label that says "from cows not treated with antibiotics." as i stated in my above post, you happen to be very lucky to live in an area that has many small farmer co-ops and dairies that produce some great small-batch cheese and many of them have very good controls on the small-farm milk that their products are made from, so you should have lots of options to choose from :)

                            if there is nobody around to ask and you want to be absolutely sure that you are getting "clean" cheese (in food lingo this term means cheese made from milk that does not contain antibiotics or artificial growth hormones)-- get a certified organic product, since organic producers are prohibited from using antibiotics.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              So what happens when an "antibiotic free" cow gets sick? do they let it die, or give it medication and if so do they have to report that?

                              ,

                              1. re: Mpls Pig

                                well first of all, the grass fed cattle tend to be healthier, especially if they are not inbred for one characteristic and one characteristic only-- see also the modern holstein, bred *only* to produce a tubload of milk before burning the whole animal out after several years. . .

                                do grass-fed cows occasionally get sick? well yeah, of course. believe it or not many committed grass-fed farmers do homeopathic remedies on their own cattle, the way that farmers used to do before there were antibiotics. i recently watched some farmer friends of mine treat an eye infection in one of their cows this way, and the cow is fine now.

                                if a cow gets really really sick and a vet says she needs antibiotics, what normally happens is that the sick cow is separated from the rest of the herd, treated, and then sold when she's well again-- because she can't go back into the clean herd. it is normal in farming, whether conventional, sustainable, organic, what have you, to occasionally "cull" the less healthy members of a herd and either sell them or butcher them.

                          2. re: Pollo

                            Far more of a problem with feedlot milk production. Antibiotics are added specifically because of the close proximity of cattle one to another, in a feedlot situation, to guard against contagion, and not to mitigate problems associated with the feeds themselves. Because of the short time beef cattle are finished on grain, it's simply not a significant problem, in my opinion. But it certainly is true that on the range itself, there is little problem with close proximities, and therefore a smaller chance of contagion, and therefore less potential antibiotics use.

                            1. re: ganeden

                              Proximity has nothing to do with it. Antibiotics are added (in feed) to improve weight gain for meat cattle and when an animal comes down with (usually) intestinal problems (dairy cattle).

                              1. re: Pollo

                                I guess we'll agree to disagree, because fear of contagion is the reason for antibiotic introduction, and not to control typical ruminant flora. It is true that disease results in weight loss or decreased weight gain, and ultimately that's what the grower wishes to avoid, but it's a causation question- put cattle in close proximity for any reasonable length of time, there will be disease and contagion, and weight loss due to the disease, and therefore the desirability of antibiotics to mitigate weight loss (or lack of weight gain).

                                1. re: ganeden

                                  Contagion has nothing to do with it. Antibiotics are given to beef cattle when they are fed grain, which they cannot properly digest, leading to intestinal infection. Doesn't matter whether you have 1 steer or 1,000 -- it'll get sick if fed lots of grain, unless it's given antibiotics.

                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    Couldn't it be both?

                                  2. re: ganeden

                                    Yes, maybe in the begining that was the case/reason for giving antibiotics to cows but then it was soon realized that cattle given antibiotics (prophilactic doses) were gaining weight at much better clip that antibiotic free cattle. So guess what has come out of that little observation - antibiotic industry for animals.....milions of lbs per year....

                          3. I've lived in Latin America and Asia since the mid-70s. Every time I go back to the US and eat beef, it seems mushy and tasteless.

                            Grain fed cattle also produce much, much more methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - than do grass and legume forage fed cattle.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Sam, actually, the methane production is a direct result of the breakdown of cellulose by the ruminant's flora, so I would think that grass-fed would produce more methane than grain-fed.

                              1. re: ganeden

                                Good quality grass and legume forages result in less methane than grain. We (at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, one of the 15 international not for profit ag reserarch centers) are working on reducing methane emissions from ruminant livestock.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  "2. Feed high quality forages – Higher quality forages help to decrease methane emissions due their higher efficiency of
                                  use in the animal. A trial was conducted with lactating beef cows to evaluate methane production on two types of
                                  pasture (McCaughey et. al., 1999). An alfalfa-grass pasture (13% CP, 53% NDF) and a grass pasture (9% CP, 73%
                                  NDF) were used. Methane production was about 9% higher for cows on the grass pasture which is a lower quality
                                  forage." In other words, the higher the nondigestible fiber (cellulose), the greater the methane production per unit of milk production, indicating to me that richer sources of feed (such as those found on feedlots) actually reduce methane production. On the other hand, the digestive system of the ruminant is designed for a minimal (and considerable) amount of nondigestible fiber for optimal performance. So I agree with you, assuming the research is correct, that quality, higher nitrogen pasteurage reduces methane emissions relative to low nitrogen, high nondigestible fiber pasture, but it suggests that feedlot production (grain feeding) with less nondigestible fiber would be even better at mitigating methane production.

                                  1. re: ganeden

                                    You're certainly correct in what you say.

                                    We have included grain supplements as a way to reduce emissions, but have consistently found that higher quality forages reduce methane emissions much more than the grain supplements. We have not, however, worked with pure grain diets as do the feedlots. I've no idea aboutr the effects of a grain diet on the natural ruminal microflora.

                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Like high-octane feed, to reduce engine knock.

                              2. I have a relating post here,
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/400836