Sunday, December 26, 2010

"grass fed, grain finished"

Reading an article about the food scene in Portland, oregon, and this phrase caught my eye: 

"Most of the beef is grass-fed and grain-finished. " (6th paragraph down from "Beef heaven at laurelhurst market")

They're offering this beef as if it's something special -- unique.  But that's pretty much the definition of what a feedlot fed cow is.  It's fed on grass when born, and up to some weight, like 600 pounds.  then sold and shipped to a feedlot where it's fed grain for 3-6 months, and then slaughtered.    So this beef, in my opinion, is the same as that you'd get in any retail meat establishment.  If they're trying for something special, grass-finished would be different -- but there's a problem. 

I've been eating a steer that I raised on grass and finished on grass, and it's a different beast than I've had in the past.  Lean is the word I'd use to describe it.  The meat is good, tasty, but the amount of fat on this animal doesn't compare with that found on feedlot beef.  In fact, it's been a wake up call for me because it's so different.  I've changed my cooking habits to accommodate this -- braising the beef, for instance, instead of roasting.  Or serving rare.  Similar to what I'd do with venison, which is typically very lean as well.

Understand that I'm a fan of grass fed beef.  Truly I am.  I like the idea of a cow converting grass into meat, and I feed tons of grass to my cows, but as a typical consumer I've been trained to like the taste and texture of grain-fed beef.  I like a rim of fat around my tbone.  I like (and miss) intramuscular marbling.  Our whole meat grading system is oriented around grain-feeding beef -- most grass-finished beef would not rate high; I don't think you could get a prime rating from a grass fed animal. 

I'll even confess:  I'm tempted to grain-finish my next steer.   


Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Grass finished is much more than grass fed and hard for most to attain. The animals have to finish growing before they will marble. Most are butchered too young, wrong time of year and most grass is less than desirable all adding up to a less than stellar eating experience.

And you're right, it is a matter of taste preference.

damae said...

So I butchered my cow at two years, pastured the entire time. The last couple of months I fed oat hay and two weeks before butcher, I fed apple mash (leftovers from making apple cider).
Am very happy with the result.
MOH, would like to know more details about grass finished. . . including age, time of year, and type or quality of grass. . . .

Anonymous said...

This cracks me up! You'd think the Washington Post journo would know this stuff.

This line gives us a clue: "some of the meat is dry-aged, and all of it is seasoned a day ahead of cooking and brought to room temperature before it hits the grill."

In other words these guys know what they are doing with their meat.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that you had to eat some young lean beef. We fatten our steers on lush forage when they are four years old. The meat is way fatty - the fat is delicious - and the meat fibers themselves are flavorful. It takes class one soil, a good mix of pasture plants (weeds especially) and time.

I will point out that the beeves depicted in the cave paintings in France, certainly not fed corn, were pleasingly plump.

Robin said...

I had no idea that grass fed beef tasted different until we bought a quarter of a cow last year. At first I didn't like because it didn't taste at all like what I was used too. Now I really like it and would want the same if we get some more. It has a more complex taste... Almost makes the store bought stuff seem bland.

We had a neighbor tell us that that her friend bought a new freezer and half a grass raised cow. Once she got the meat she hated how it tasted, gave it all away for free, and sold the freezer.

Carrie Oliver said...

I'm not anti-grain but say, don't give up, yet. Why not experiment with your finishing grasses/forage and/or genetics? I've seen (and tasted) beautifully marbled grass-fed beef.

Bruce King said...

It takes 2-3 years to come up with a finished beef. If I experiement and it doesn't go well, I've got 3 years of work to repeat. Adding a bit of grain to the feed at the end of the cycle is simple and proven.

With respect to marbled grass fed beef, I've looked at a lot of grass fed beef recently to see if I could find some that looked good - wanted to ask the producer what they were doing to produce it -- but grass finished and marbleing don't appear to be compatible.