Grass-fed beef is a staple to the paleo diet, rich in healthy Omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamins, and anti-oxidants. Omega-3s are vital to cell, heart, and brain health. Grass-fed beef also has less total fat than it’s conventional counterpart. Traditionally raised cattle eat a grain heavy diet, predominately GMO corn which increases the fat content and makes for heavier cattle. I’m not a calorie counter, but a grass-fed steak is about 100 fewer calories than an identical grain-fed steak due to these differences in fat. Cattle are not meant to eat grains which changes the nutritional profile in the protein and fats that we consume.
Aside from health & wellness, my husband and I are drawn to a primal lifestyle because of the focus on environmentally friendly and clean living. Gary studied environmental science and policy in college, so sourcing humanely and sustainably raised animal proteins has been important to us for quite some time. By nature, true grass-fed cattle are sustainably raised, living and feeding in their natural environment. The practice is better for the environment, reducing energy costs and pollution associated with common grain farming methods. Since I cant’ afford to buy all of our food from the best possible sources, we choose to prioritize quality animal proteins, including grass-fed beef, over some of our produce purchases.
Choosing Quality Beef
Use the following list to prioritize your beef purchases.
1. 100% Grass-fed/Pastured-raised Beef or Wild Hunted
This is the mecca of beef. You can eat both fatty & lean cuts, organ meats, and marrow. Save the bones to make nutritious beef broth. Look for labels that read 100% grass-fed as products labeled grass-fed without the 100% prefix may be finished on grain and does not have the same nutritional profile as 100% grass-fed beef.
2. USDA Certified Organic Beef
Organic beef is raised on pasture for the majority of the growing season but feed may be finished or supplemented with organic grain such as non-gmo corn. Antibiotics, growth enhancers, confined operations, and feed additives are prohibited. Omega 3 levels will be lower than 100% grass-fed, but it is substantially better than conventionally raised beef. Like grass-fed, you can consume all cuts.
3. Local Beef
100% grass-fed or organic local beef is ideal, but even conventionally raised local beef can be a good option. Most small local farmers raise their cattle on pasture for the majority of the growing season, even if they are not following organic spraying and feeding practices. The quality is much better than CAFO beef, supports your local community, and is usually much cheaper than other options. Conventionally raised local beef is a great choice for someone looking for a middle of the road option.
4. CAFO Raised Beef
CAFO raised beef is the meat that you will commonly find in the grocery store. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations is the practice of confining animals during a growing season, usually longer than 45 days. The animals are confined in small areas without vegetation and are fed grains and animal by-products to fatten them up before going to slaughter. Due to the unsanitary cramped and confined living areas animals are at increased risk of disease and illness, resulting in increased anti-biotic use. CAFO’s increase the risk of water quality problems to surrounding areas due to concentrations of animal waste, pathogens, antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. CAFO’s also affect air quality, decrease surrounding property values, and raise animal welfare concerns. Conventionally raised CAFO meat should generally be avoided but can be consumed if you have budget or availability limitations. Opt for leaner cuts and trim excess fat as this is where are large amount of toxins are stored.
Cooking Grass-fed Beef
Grass-fed beef has a deeper flavor than conventionally raised beef and needs to be cooked a bit differently due to the differences in fat. When you are spending the extra money on quality proteins, make sure you are taking the few extra minutes to learn to cook them properly.
- Cook slow and low, dropping your normal cooking temp by 20-30 degrees. Grass-fed beef is leaner so it cooks about 30% faster than conventionally raised beef. Don’t ruin your expensive cut of meat by rushing the process.
- Grass-fed beef is best cooked medium rare (125 degrees F) or it may dry out. If you like it more well done turn the temp way down and cook very slowly making sure to baste appropriately.
- Sear steaks & roasts on all sides to seal moisture and finish on lower heat, basting with ghee or olive oil for added moisture and flavor. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Braise, slow cook, or pressure cook (hello InstantPot) tougher cuts of meat.
- When thawing leave meat in package to preserve flavor and juices.
- Use a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking. Note that recommended internal temperatures are less than conventional beef.
Buying Quality Beef – How to Save Money
- Cheaper cuts like roasts, shanks, and stew meat are delicious when slow or pressure cooked. They tend to stretch out easily for multiple meals!
- Grass-fed ground beef is versatile, cheap, and available in most grocery stores. Buy in bulk when on sale and freeze in serving or meal size portions. Aldi carries 100% grass-fed ground beef for $6.99/lb. I’ve seen it on sale in grocery stores as cheap as $4.99/lb.
- Shop locally and buy in bulk. Buying a cow share is the most cost-effective way to purchase any type of beef, but it requires an upfront investment. A 1/4 beef will last the average couple approximately 1 year and fill a standard sized freezer. You can put together a group of friends, known as a ‘cowpool’, and purchase a full cow to reduce overall costs. Buying a cow share allows you to choose your animal and see it through the entire process, including picking your specific cuts from the butcher. Locate a local farmer via LocalHarvest, EatLocalGrown, EatWild, word of mouth, facebook, and craigslist.
- Invest in a deep/chest freezer so you have more space to buy in bulk. Check craigslist for used freezers.