7 Tips for Cooking Grass Fed Beef
When cooking grass fed beef, it is necessary to keep in mind a few specific things that set it apart from conventional grain fed beef. Read on for 7 tips for transforming grass fed beef into a moist and flavorful meal.
Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed Beef
Grass Fed Beef is Leaner
This is due to the cattle’s diet. Grass is not only more suited for the cow’s digestive system, it also keeps its flesh leaner as grass is low in calories. A grain diet, on the other hand, has more calories, and is fed to the animal in order for it to gain weight rapidly. Due to less fat in grass fed beef, it is less tolerant of high heat cooking (it becomes dry and tough), and needs to be cooked using lower gentler temperatures, preferably over indirect heat.
A Story About Searing
I am becoming a fan of skipping the searing step completely when cooking meat and just using indirect heat on the grill for the entire time. In a recent cooking class I taught, we had a flat iron steak that was cut into two pieces. One of the pieces we seared and then cooked over indirect heat, the other we didn’t sear, and cooked over indirect heat the entire time. Out of the 8 people at the table, 6 of us preferred the un-seared steak! It yielded a more tender product that I could actually cut with my fork! The seared flat iron steak had a toughness to it that was missing from the other one. Don’t sear your next steak the next time you grill, and let me know what you think.
Tips for Cooking Grass Fed Beef
1. Reconsider Searing
There is a great misnomer out there that searing meat “seals in” the juices. This is simply not true. Sear marks are little lines of caramelization (where the moisture has left), and can leave behind a roast-y yummy flavor. However, keep in mind, the quality of flavor of this caramelization depends on the cooking method. For example, high-quality charcoal in a traditional grill will leave behind yummy flavors, a gas grill, not so much. If you choose to sear your grass fed beef, do it at a lower temperature, between 300°-500°F, to avoid drying out and toughening the meat. A gas grill has a built-in thermometer, but for a cast iron skillet on the stove, this is about 5 minutes of preheating the pan on medium. For a charcoal grill without a built-in thermometer, use these guidelines for determining temperature.
2. Internal “Done” Temps For Grass Fed Beef are Lower
Nothing complicated about this one. Rare–120°F, Medium Rare–125°F, Medium–130°F, Medium Well–135°F, Well Done–140°F. Be sure to remove the beef from the heat 10° below desired finished temperature is reached.
3. Thermometer vs. Timer
It’s best to use a thermometer to determine done-ness for thicker cuts of beef, and use a timer for determine done-ness for thinner cuts of beef. It’s hard to get accurate read with a thermometer on a thinner cut of beef, because the thermometer pokes right through the other side. For cook time, I use a general guideline of 5-7 minutes per pound of beef cooked at around 325°F.
4. Salt Meat in Advance (this goes for all meat!)
Salting meat in advance is crucial for adequate flavor throughout the finished dish. Time gives salt a chance to penetrate into the meat. Salt also breaks down the proteins in the meat, which creates a sort of “gel” that also actually helps keep moisture within the meat. Salt up to 24 hours in advance for “everyday” cuts, longer for bigger roasts such as Thanksgiving turkeys or holiday hams. One of my favorite charts for how much salt to use is in the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking. Before cooking meat, and depending on the size of the cut, remove it from the fridge for thirty minutes to one hour to allow it to come to room temperature. This will ensure even cooking.
5. Where on the Animal? (this goes for all meat!)
Understanding where on the animal the cut of meat comes from is important to determine how to cook it. If the cut of meat comes from a part on the animal that has more muscle (i.e. the animal used it for walking around), the cut will naturally be tougher and need a lower slower cooking method, such as braising, to yield a tender product. If there is less muscle in the cut of meat, quicker higher heat cooking works fine.
6. Let It Rest
Let your meat rest for 10-15 minutes after pulling it from heat. This allows its juices to redistribute and produces a moister end product.
7. Meal Planning
When buying meat for meals, I count on one pound of bone-in meat per person (such as chicken), for boneless cuts, like a flat-iron steak, I count on 1/3 pound per person. These are uncooked weights.
Grass Fed Beef Sources
Read this article for resources to buy grass fed beef, and check out some of these recipes. If you’d like meal plans that include grass fed beef, find our meal plans here.