You just bought a beautiful piece of locally raised, grass-fed beef, and I know you don’t want to disappoint both me and the farmer by making a mediocre meal with something so carefully raised and butchered. So here are some tips to make sure you get plenty of OOOH’s and AAAH’s at your next BBQ.
Because this beef is grass-fed, it is leaner than the grain or corn-fed beef you may be used to cooking with. Lean beef cooks much more quickly, and overdone lean beef can get dry and tough. For a nice, juicy steak or burger, its best to aim for cooking it rare to medium-rare.
To properly cook a porterhouse or ribeye (approx 1.25” thick), take the meat out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking. Once the beef is at room temperature, salt and pepper liberally, toss it into a thick cast iron skillet (or other heavy pan) that has been pre-heated (10 minutes over high heat) with canola oil, or onto your pre-heated grill. Cook over a high heat, 3-4 minutes on each side and remove from the heat. Let it rest (see RESTING) and enjoy!
If you are having trouble keeping your beef rare in the middle or are cooking a thinner cut of meat, you might want to start cooking while it is still a little cool, rather than waiting until it has reached room temperature. This will allow the outside to sear, while the middle cooks a little more slowly. Everyone’s grill/stove/pan setup is a little different, so it might take some practice to get optimal results. Don’t get discouraged – it will be worth it.
Letting your beef rest after cooking is as important as the cooking itself. This goes for all meats and all cuts. Once you pull the meat out of the pan or oven or off of the grill, put it on a cutting board and let it chill for about 8-10 minutes, longer for larger pieces of meat.
If you cut into meat right after cooking, all of the juices will run out, leaving the meat dry and tough. While meat rests, it re-absorbs these juices and the amount of ‘doneness’ becomes consistent throughout piece of meat. This is probably the most important rule when cooking all meats.
When it’s time to slice, it’s best to cut the beef across the grain and at an angle of about 45 degrees (rather than straight down, perpendicular to the cutting surface). By doing this, you will cut through as many muscle fibers as possible with each slice. In general, this will be across the short section of rectangular piece of meat (though this is not a hard and fast rule).
Dry aging is the process where an entire animal carcass or primal cut (whole rib or loin), without any type of covering on it, is placed in a refrigerated room at a specific temperature, humidity, and air velocity for 7-21 days.
During this process a crust forms on the outside of them eat, similar in texture to beef jerky. This layer is trimmed away after aging, leaving steaks that are superior in tenderness and flavor. During the dry aging process, the juices are reabsorbed into the meat, enhancing the flavor and tenderizing the steaks.
Forty years ago, most of our beef was dry aged. Yet in the early 1960’s the process of vacuum packing beef right after slaughter became the norm.
The advantage of this process was that processors could “wet age” the beef in the bag and not lose any of the weight of the beef due to evaporation and trim. During wet aging, the meat sits in its own juices causing the beef to have a wet, metallic taste. But wet aging was much more cost-effective for processors. As they changed over, consumers tastes followed — slowly, the consumer forgot what the real taste of steak was.
Currently 90% of the beef consumed in this country is wet aged. And nearly all dry aged beef that is available is only the premium cuts (Loin and Rib section). The image of Rocky in the meat cooler is pretty much myth at this point.
All of Dickson’s Farmstand meats are dry aged as full carcasses. Even your ground beef benefits from the wonderful process of dry aging.
So how big is Big Beef and our industrial agriculture system, you might ask? Just thought I’d share some interesting (read: scary) numbers on where your beef did notcome from.
Nicholas Lampert http://machineanimalcollages.com
According to the USDA’s data for APRIL 2008:
- Beef production: 2.25 billion pounds. Cattle slaughtered: 2.96 million animals
- Pork production: 2.02 billion pounds. Pigs slaughtered: 9.99 million animals
You might wonder how it is possible to slaughter and process nearly 3 million cows and 10 million pigs in one month completely out of view of the American consumer?
The secret lies in huge factory slaughterhouses. At the largest of these operations, 400 cows are processed each hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The scale and speed of these facilities often leads to poor working conditions, inhumane handing practices, and contamination of the food supply. When so many animals are handled in a factory-like fashion, one sick animal can taint thousands of pounds of meat, as weíve witnessed with the huge beef recalls in recent years.
All of the meat at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats is processed by small, independently owned facilities. These are facilities where, during a busy day, 10 cows are slaughtered. This scale allows for the safe and humane handling of all animals. Great care is taken and the risk to your food is greatly diminished.
We are proud of the dedication and commitment of our small-scale processors, and we believe in complete transparency in this system of production and distribution. We want you to meet the people who bring you your meat. If you’d like, we will schedule a visit for you at any of our facilities (though it is not for the squeamish).
To Learn More About Factory Farming :
The Meatrix : Award Winning cartoon spoofs on The Matrix movie series that highlight factory farming practices and their evils.
Factory Farm Map : Put together by Food and Water Watch. Has an interactive map showing number of factory farms and animals by region and county. Lots of other great info as well on water quality issues and sustainable agriculture practices.
Natural is a tough term to reliably and consistently define these days. The term is not regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a way that is meaningful to consumers. “All Natural” on a label simply means “Minimally Processed.” This says nothing about the use of hormones, animal based feeds or antibiotics. “Naturally Raised” is thus becoming prevalent in the industry to cover that gap, but there is no fixed definition for this term either. Every producer and processor can define “natural” as they please- as long as that definition is registered with the USDA and made available to the consumer. So, for example, sometimes naturally raised means no antibiotics ever, and sometimes it means no prophylactic antibiotics administered, and sometimes it says nothing about antibiotics at all.
It is also important to note that the USDA only covers labeling claims, so pretty much any claim made in marketing materials or on a website is not verified by the agency.
Because of all of this ambiguity, we think it’s worth the effort it takes to buy your meat from a traceable, trusted source — whether that source is Dickson’s Farmstand or the farmer himself.
Beef and Lamb
- Rare — 120° to 125°F — Center is bright red, pinkish toward the exterior portion.
- Medium — 140° to 145°F — Center is light pink, outer portion is brown.
- Well-Done — 160°F and above — Uniformly brown throughout.
- Chicken & Duck — 165°F — Cook until juices run clear.
- Turkey — 165°F — Juices run clear. Leg moves easily.
- Medium — 155° to 160° — Pale pink center.
- Well Done — 160° and above — Uniformly brown throughout.
Roasts for use with :
- Lamb Cuts : leg of lamb (bone-in or boneless), shoulder roasts, bone-in loin roast
- Beef Cuts : top round roast, bottom round roast, standing rib roast, chuck roll roast
- Pork Cuts : loin roast, fresh ham, pork shoulder roast
- Poultry Cuts : whole or half chicken (or other bird)
Steaks and Chops for use with :
- Lamb Cuts : loin chops, rib chops, shoulder chops, round-bone/arm chops, leg steaks
- Beef Cuts : ribeye (bone-in or boneless), T-bone, porterhouse, NY strip, sirloin steak, flat iron, top round steak, chuck steak
- Pork Cuts : bone-in loin chops, boneless loin chops, center cut pork chops
- Poultry Cuts : boneless chicken breast, chicken thighs or legs, bone-in chicken breast
Braising for use with :
- Lamb Cuts : lamb shanks, lamb neck slices,
- Beef Cuts : short ribs, 7-bone chuck roast, cross-cut beef shank
- Pork Cuts : fresh hocks, pork shoulder
- Poultry Cuts : whole chicken (or other lean birds)
||Bob Comis operates Stony Brook Farm in Schoharie New York where he and his wife pasture raise heritage breed pigs, lamb, goat and poultry. In his posts, Bob shares his thoughts on farming, regional food systems, and his vision for the future.
[Note: Below is an e-mail that I sent to someone who is increasingly becoming an important and visible focus of the local/grassfed/pastured movement who recently perpetuated a couple of myths in a video about finishing beef that I am trying to bust. I am keeping the couple anonymous because I did not/have not yet asked their permission to publicize any part of our discussion.]
Please note that the reason I am kind of keeping my eye on you guys is that you are becoming a visible and important focus of the local/grassfed/pastured “movement.” My concern is that at some point this movement is going to get big enough that industrial ag is going to start trying to co-opt it (it already has with the “grassfed” standards) or push back against it, so it is important that we have our stories straight, and unfortunately, at present, the movement’s beef narrative is built on one very important myth, which you perpetuated in the video.
The myth is that before World War II all, or even most, beef was 100% grassfed, which would mean that we are returning to traditional ways of raising beef. The earliest edition of Henry and Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding, which was for more than half of a century the standard text on the subject, that I have been able to find on-line is the 1910 edition. This is what Henry and Morrison have to say about 100% grassfed beef in 1910: “Waters of the Missouri Station states that gains are cheaply made on grass alone, but such gains are also low in selling value because the cattle are not usually fat enough to market and must be sold as feeders with sufficient margin for the buyer to profitably market them” (p. 320, section 502). Halligan, in his Elementary Treatise on Feeds and Feeding from 1911 makes no mention of finishing beef on grass alone. Rather he states, “Corn is the best grain feed for fattening cattle. In this country it is used more than any other single grain for this purpose” (p. 207). This is stated within the context of needing to feed some sort of concentrate to finish beef. What both Henry and Morrison and Halligan do suggest is that the best gains can be achieved with concentrates fed to pastured cattle. The source of the myth of grass-finished beef almost certainly comes from the careless reading out of context of statements such as this from Smith’s third edition of Profitable Stock Feeding, published in 1908: “In localities where corn is relatively high in price, and hay and grass are abundant, finishing steers on grass is often profitable” (p. 165). Of course, the next sentence, explaining the previous, states, “Cattle fed on grass require less grain for a given increase in weight than when winter-fed on hay and grain” (p. 165, emphasis added). Other texts from this period, leading up to and just after World War II, make similar arguments, illustrating clearly that the standard method for fattening beef was grain (corn), and decidedly not grass, at least in the United States. It was taken for granted at the time that statements like “finishing steers on grass” meant pasturing steers while at the same time feeding them grain, as opposed to the less economical method of feeding them grain and hay on a feedlot. The judicious use of grain (corn) would have been the standard fattening regimen even on small farms in the Northeast during this period. This is not to say of course that there was no beef slaughtered off of grass alone. It is to say that very, very little of it was. Attempting to grass finish beef in the United States is not a return to traditional ways of raising beef, it is something totally new, and it is not easy, being much more of an art than grain finishing, which is why so many people are so bad at it.
Also, you seem to state in the video that feedlot beef today is raised on grain from weaning to slaughter, which is incorrect. One hundred percent of Nearly all feedlot beef is raised on rangeland or pasture and finished on grain in a feedlot. The difference is that they are spending more time on the feedlot than they used to, and, of course the feedlots are much much bigger, and much much more crowded, and the animals are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and note, since I am in myth-busting mode, that antibiotics are not fed to confinement animals to ward off disease, although they likely do that to some degree, animals are fed antibiotics because mid-20th Century experiments showed that antibiotics economically increased feed efficiency, by a few percent.
Anyway, I think this is important stuff. I am hoping that I can change our narrative by talking to people in a position to spread the word, but if I am unsuccessful, I think I am going to need to write a book, or at least a long essay.
There’s a lot of hype, mis-information and misconception and out there concerning grain-fed and grass-fed beef. If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, you might get the impression that grain is the devil and eating grain-finished beef makes you a bad person. But the truth is far more nuanced. The grain-finished beef he describes (and is found in your supermarket and McDonalds) is that produced by industrial agriculture and the feedlot system and all the truly terrible practices associated (hormone and antibiotic use, animal based feeds, CAFOs, water pollution and monocultures just to name a few…). This does account of the majority of beef produced/consumed in our country.
But grain-finished beef doesn’t have to be produced in that way (and none of our products are). For example, our grain-finished beef comes from a small farm outside Albany, Wrighteous Organics, and is raised without the use of antibiotics and hormones, with access to pasture, and fed organic grains and hay raised on the farm. We invite you to visit and I’m sure you’ll agree that these animals are healthy and content. And the beef – spectacular. It’s heavily marbled, often at the the high end of ‘prime’
And what about the health impact of feeding grain to cattle? Some say that ruminants (cows and sheep) have evolved over thousands of years to only eat grass and that grains are bad for them. Its really an issue of moderation and what the goals are. In the feedlot system they ‘push’ the animals very hard, trying to get an animal to slaughter weight in 16-18 months. The feed has a very high concentration of corn which raises the ph of their stomachs and will give the animals ulcers if they are not fed antibiotics on a regular basis. In contrast, Martin at Wrighteous Organics lets the animals take their time. The feed is far less carbohydrate (corn) heavy. His animals get to slaughter weight at 24-26 months- 45% longer (and thus less profitable) than what the feedlots are doing. Like candy for humans – in moderation our bodies can process and handle sweets just fine, but in large quantities they have a serious impact on our health.
There is also a lot of hype around grass-fed being better in terms of quality. There is some excellent grass-fed beef out there (like ours), and it is tender with a big, beefy flavor. But the truth is that there is tremendous variation in grass-fed beef and often what is sold is of very poor quality. When I worked at the slaughterhouse, the worst beef we cut was invariably grass-fed (not to say we didn’t also cut high quality grass-fed as well). The reason for this is that grass-fed beef is far harder to do well than grain-fed beef. With grass-fed beef, genetics are far more important. Not all breeds of beef will do well on a 100% grass diet. We’ve spent 60 years breeding animals in this country to do well in the feedlot system, it’s going to take some time to build a herd that does well on a pasture based diet. For this reason, you’re seeing some older varieties being reintroduced such as the Murray Gray, Red Devon and smaller Angus and Hereford varieties. Secondly, quality pastures are a must for a successful grass-fed operation. With grain-fed, you can easily control what you feed your animals based on the feed mix you give them. To finish animals on grass requires extremely high quality pasture with high carbohydrate content. This will vary hugely from season to season even on the same farm. And finally, the knowledge required is much greater if a farmer is going to produce grass-fed beef well. You can’t simply go to Agway and buy a specific feed mix; you need to know your animals, pastures and how to manage the delicate interaction between the two in order to produce a high quality product. We’re just now rebuilding this knowledge base in our country.
There is a prevalent myth that before the 1940s all beef was grass-fed and its a post WWII phenomenon to finish beef on grain. But in fact we’ve been finishing beef on grain for quite some time. Farmer Bob Comis has written a great article on this topic. Bob runs a pasture based farm in Schoharie NY (and does not raise beef) so provides an independent perspective on the topic.
There is also a lot of marketing lately of “grass-fed, grain-finished beef.” I believe this is purposefully misleading the consumer. In our country, that’s just called beef! Even in the feedlot system, most animals are raised on rangeland for the first half of their lives before being sent to the feedlot.
Now I don’t mean to advocate one product over the other. Simply to debunk the myth that all grain-finishing is bad and all grass-fed is good. I support both production methods as long as they are done responsibly and with consideration for the health of the animal and land and produce a great quality finished product that consumers will enjoy.