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Monday, October 27, 2008 

Cooking Grass-Fed Meats

Robert over at the White Trash BBQ Blog posed a question to me in a comment on my last "Friday Food Porn" post.
He asked: "Do you cook grass-fed meat differently than you cook grain-fed?"
This is an excellent question, and instead of replying to his post, I thought this would make a much better post for all to see. Farmer Girl and I are big proponents of grass-fed and family-farm raised meats. For the past seven or eight years we've raised some of our own animals because we feel strongly that this food is healthier and better tasting. At this very instance, for example, we've got five Tamworth pigs sleeping in their shed north of our house. Right behind me, a homemade hoop house contains some twenty turkeys. About three weeks ago, we put up some 25 chickens in our freezer. The only one of the three food groups (that's beef, pork and poultry for those keeping score) that we haven't raised ourselves is beef. At this point, our farm is a touch small for an animal that size. So, last spring, we used George Bush's tax rebate to purchase half a cow from North Hollow Farm two valleys over from our home in Rochester, VT. We purchased this meat, pounds and pounds of it, knowing that we'd have to treat it a little differently than we treat the grain-fed stuff you get at the supermarket.

My introduction to the difference in cooking grass-fed meats came from an exceptional little cookbook called "The Farmer and the Grill: A guide to grilling, barbecuing and spit-roasting grass-fed meat", by author and farmer Shannon Hayes. It's a little paperback cookbook, weighing in at only 164 pages. But the information about grass-fed meats is very good. Most importantly, on page 21 you find the key to cooking grass fed meats properly - don't use the USDA recommended temperatures for some meats! For example, the USDA recommended temps from rare to well done are 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the temperatures she suggests for the same range are 120-140 degrees. Similar differences can be seen for veal, lamb, goat and pork. Interestingly, the big pieces of meat that we cook for competitions (pork shoulder and brisket) stay at the same temps most of us cook them regardless of grain-fed or grass-fed.

One of the main reasons we cook our meats as hot as we do is out of concern for our health. In the past several years, we've seen a rather large amount of food poisoning by e-coli and other pathogens. One of the biggest downsides to the way meat is most commonly farmed in the USA (feed lot, grain fed) is that there is a much greater opportunity for disease and ill health. One might assume that cooking grass-fed meats at a lower temp would be risky. Not so, according to at Cornell University which determined that grass-fed animals have far fewer E. coli than grain-fed animals!

But health issues aside, the reality is that grass-fed meats just can't handle the high-heat and high internal temps that grain-fed meats. If you buy a good piece of grass-fed beef and use the USDA temps, I guarantee you'll be disappointed, and you'll head back to the supermarket for that nice-marbled grain-fed beef. Having been converted to the value of grass-fed meats, I can assure you that if you stick with Ms. Hayes suggested temperatures, you'll find yourself quite pleased with what you cook. It does take some practice and repetition to re-learn how you cook beef, though. Just as an example, the pictures my "Friday Food Porn" below actually show a couple of steaks that I seared too much! So, I'm still working on it.

For more information on the benefits of grass-fed meats, I would suggest you go to the following locations:

One last note about Shannon's cookbook - the section which talks about how to properly cook sausage is fantastic. I had no idea how wrong I had been cooking my links until I read this book. There is no doubt in my mind that her suggestions had a lot to do with our 2nd place trophy in Sausage at Merrimack in 2008.



I love grass fed beef - and I love cooking it - it's soo much easier. I always order from La Cense. http://www.lacensebeef.com The beef is so well packaged, comes right to my house, and has the juiciest, most flavorful taste that I've found on the market. And I have a lot of respect for that company because they are doing a lot to educate the masses about the importance of sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. They started this great online social community at http://www.grassfedparty.com Check it out. Great article!

This looks suspiciously like spam to me, but I'm leaving it up becau8se it still says some decent stuff.

However, if you want grass-fed beef and are living in New England, I would urge you to look into your local beef producers before going with a company like Lacense.

Here at Howling Hog we do as much as we can to buy locally. It pumps money into your local economy and it helps ensure that farming will remain active in your community. Plus, I think there's a value on knowing who produces your meat personally.

Buy local!


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