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Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed

Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed

Shopping for meat can bring a lot of buzzwords that might be confusing. There are two main types of beef to choose from, grain-fed and grass-fed. After processing, the beef can be labeled, and from there, dry-aged. It might be difficult to figure out why grain-fed or grass-fed matter, why they are different, and even if there are benefits to one over the other, so we will break down what these terms mean and when to choose which type of beef.


Cows raised for their meat start their lives the same, whether they will be grain-fed or grass-fed. They drink milk and eat grass until around 7 to 9 months, and then are either kept roaming for grass-fed or moved to feedlots to be grain-fed. Grain-fed cattle are then rapidly fattened with grain feed typically made from soy or corn, and occasionally supplemented with dried grasses. Grass-fed has returned to popularity in recent years and is fairly common practice in Australia for beef such as Australian wagyu. Grass-fed cattle take much longer to mature: up to 20 to 24 months for grass-fed compared to an average of 15 months for grain-fed.

 Credit: Pure Black Grass Fed Angus 


There are some differences to beef nutritionally depending on how the cattle are raised. Grass-fed beef tends to be leaner, with a richer or more pungent flavor. Grain-fed beef has a higher fat content and more marbling, which creates a fattier and more tender piece of beef, depending on the cut. Many people prefer the milder flavor of grain-fed beef to grass-fed as that is what they have been used to eating, but that can be totally up to personal preference. Choosing beef for the fat content is certainly necessary for some cuts of steak.


Grass-fed beef does tend to have slightly higher amounts of minerals, vitamins, and nutrients than its grain-fed counterpart, although in some cases the difference is minimal. Grass-fed beef is high in A, B, and E vitamins, creatine, and bioavailable iron; and eating beef helps keep iron levels up. Grass-fed beef also contains a higher content of Omega-3s and has much less monounsaturated fat than grain-fed. The differences in nutrients are usually low enough that the choice falls to flavor over vitamins and minerals.


Once the beef has been processed, it often goes through a grading system, with labels such as “USDA Super Prime,” which refer to the breed of cattle, the location, and the method used in raising the cattle. This grading system is primarily used in the United States and is optional for cattle ranchers. USDA Super Prime is the highest grade, judged on two metrics: the marbling and the maturity of the cattle. This grade has the highest amount of marbling and is considered the best quality meat. Only 0.04% of beef raised in the United States reaches this grade.


Grass-fed or grain-fed beef can both be dry-aged, which is a controlled-decay process of exposing the beef to oxygen, allowing it to break down which creates an incredibly tender and well-marbled cut of meat. Aged beef has a more concentrated beef flavor due to the moisture that has evaporated during the dry-aging process and the mouthfeel of the cut of beef becomes incredibly tender. Grass-fed beef will have an intense flavor, and the fattiness of grain-fed beef becomes accentuated in dry-aged steaks.

Credit: Stockyard Beef - Premium Australian Grain Fed Beef


Choosing the right cut of beef for your purpose becomes even more customized to your specific tastes when you take into consideration the way the beef was raised, the grade of the beef, and how it was aged. Your recipes can be taken to the next level with the right steak, and the tenderness of a dry-aged steak cannot be replicated with unaged beef - everyone will be raving about the melt-in-your-mouth texture and intense beef flavor.

Everything You Need to Know About Dry-Aged Steak

Everything You Need to Know About Dry-Aged Steak

A little age never hurt anyone—unless we’re talking about our increasingly creaky knees and ever-more foggy memory, or sorer-by-the-day lower backs. Okay, scratch that. For us mortals, age hurts, period. But when it comes to such culinary delights as wine, cheese, and red meat, age has the power to enhance flavor and deepen our enjoyment.

This is especially the case for dry-aged beef, which is known for a richer flavor and more tender texture—as well as a heftier price tag—than its fresh-cut counterparts. But what is it about dry-aging that works such magic on meat?

Even if you appreciate what a dry-aged steak does for your tastebuds, the nuances about how it delivers such a transcendent experience may escape you. That’s why, with the help of food scientists and chefs, we’re unpacking exactly what dry-aged beef is and how dry-aging works.


What is dry aging?

“An unsexy way to explain it is that dry-aging, in a nutshell, is a controlled decay process,” says Katie Flannery, butcher and COO at Flannery Beef. “You’re exposing the subprimals to oxygen, which allows natural enzymes within the meat work,” she says. “They’re aerobic bacteria, so they need oxygen to survive. They come alive and start breaking down the molecular bonds of meat.” This, in turn, alters the flavor and texture of the cut.

What dry aging looks like is literally a room full of moldy carcasses. In the dry-aging process, meat hangs in a humidity-controlled environment in a way that exposes all of its sides with unimpeded airflow around the entire cut. “Then there’s the good mold that finds its way onto steaks, which will slowly start to break down and increase the amount of evaporation,” says Chris Pandel, executive chef at Swift and Sons in Chicago. “You’re puling moisture from the meats over time. As that happens the mold will extend its life and grow. It’s like the mold on blue cheese—it’s good mold not bad mold.”

Of course, before that slab of beef makes it to your plate, all of the mold will be trimmed away, leaving just “tenderized, funky, delicious meat,” Pandel says. He describes the flavor of dry-aged meat as having a nuttiness to it that you won’t get in a wet-aged steak. Likewise, it’ll be more tender and have a different mouthfeel.


How does dry-aging change the taste and texture of meat?

Moisture loss is one aspect that changes the flavor of dry-aged meat. “What that does is essentially concentrate the remainder of the tissue,” says Harold McGee, food scientist and author of Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. “Meat is about 75 percent water. If you lose a few percent to evaporation … what’s left will be more concentrated, so the flavor will be more concentrated.”

For those who know their way around a kitchen, Flannery likens the process to reducing a stock to a demi-glace. “You have that pot on your stovetop. As more and more moisture evaporates, the flavor of the liquid is getting more and more concentrated. With beef, as water evaporates, the natural beef flavor intensifies,” she says.

But chemical changes also affect the flavor. “During the aging period, some of the flavor compounds and other molecules in the meat undergo chemical change that will increase some flavor components while reducing others,” says Joe Regenstein, Professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Muscle cells are made of lots of different materials, and chief among them are the proteins that enable the muscles to contract, and the molecules that fuel this process, such as glycogen, DNA and RNA. During dry-aging, these large, flavorless molecules are broken down into smaller, flavorful fragments, explains McGee.

“All of those molecules are relatively large, and when they’re broken down by the enzyme activity, they form fragments that are more flavorful than the original large molecules,” he says. “Some proteins get broken down into amino acids. They can be a little bitter, savory, such as in MSG, and the DNA/RNA material can get broken into other molecules that are savory and enhance the savoriness of MSG. And glycogen broken into sugars which are sweet.”

Dry aging transforms the texture of meat as well. “Meat has a very complex internal structure that can be difficult to bite through. By breaking some of these proteins down, the teeth can now more easily go through the meat,” Regenstein says.


Source: robbreport.com