Question about bargain grass-fed steaks vs. higher-quality ones
I'm asking this on behalf of my husband. When he was growing up it was always his understanding that grass-fed beef was cheaper and had inferior taste to grain-fed beef. His family ate a fair bit of beef. So far as he knew, most of it came from the supermarket meat counter on a foam tray wrapped in plastic--not necessarily bargain stuff, but not high-end. And, to his understanding, it was mostly grain-fed. On the rare occasions they did get grass-fed, he says he could always taste a grassy flavor, which he didn't care for. I didn't know what he was talking about--I ate a lot less beef before we met, and rarely cooked it myself. But his father brought us a big package of t-bone steaks once, marveling about the great deal he got...and sure enough, when we cooked them I saw what he meant. The flavor was just...off. Unpleasant.
So he has never wanted me to buy grass-fed beef, even when I told him that a lot of the high-quality stuff anymore is going to be that. He was sure that the grass diet was creating the flavor he didn't like. But now I've snuck it up on him a time or two (we grilled a couple of really nice grass-fed filets tonight) and then told him, and he readily admits that this stuff doesn't have that grassy flavor.
So he wants me to ask: what makes the difference? Was it always something else about besides the grass about those bargain grass-fed steaks that gave them that flavor--something that's different with the pricier grass-fed steaks (usually natural, often organic, and frequently from a good butcher rather than a supermarket) that I've been buying?
There are a number of reasons that the meat tasted "grassy". Good grassfed - grass finished beef has a 'beefier" flavor than store bought meat or feed lot finished beef. Grain finished meat will ALWAYS have less flavor than grass finished. The off flavor can come from finishing on too much protein or from in proper processing. Since the meat was always cheaper it was most likely the cull animals, in other words the rejects and they probably weren't finished at all but skinning under-performing animals. A properly finished grass fed meat will always be rich in beef flavor with NO off flavor. I will be participating in a conference later this month in an effort to educate more producers on how to properly raise and finish cattle on grass. It is not rocket science but it does take a different outlook and objective than grain feed or commodity beef. Does that answer your husbands question?
I find it produces a circular argument when people claim grain/ grass finished beef tastes "better" or "beefier". Peoples likes and dislike are those alone and never objective.
Grain finishing was the standard of excellence for the beef industry in the years following the second World War. As is true with much production quantity overcame quality. The less responsible parts of the industry pushed beef production with early grain, antibiotics, and growth hormones. The feedlot became a place to grow cattle, not finish them.
Pasture grass is seasonal. As a result, grass finished beef is seasonal. Out of season grass finished beef is less tasty. It is also expensive because it requires roughly 3 seasons to get a steer to market weight on pasture grass and off season hay and silage.
Taste wise grass finished beef stands up to grain finished only when grass is in season.
Subjectively, I prefer grain finished beef.