On March 27th, my son and I drove ten minutes out of the city, to pick up half a side of organic 100% grass-fed beef. This was an exciting day for me, one that I had been thinking about for over two years! This is the story about how I met my 100% grass-fed beef.
Like most of you, buying organic meat was out of our budget. But, the more I read about the beef industry and its practices, the louder that 'do something about it' nagging voice in my head became. When shopping, I would glance at packages of organic beef, only to feel discouraged about the price. Adding to my procrastination, was all the conflicting information I read about "organic" beef (and milk, chicken, and eggs...but that's for another post). I realized that I should be looking for not only organic, but pastured 100% grass-fed beef...and in my local health food store...this is like gold. What's a family on a budget to do?
About Grass-Fed Beef
Have you seen the "100% grain-fed" stickers on grocery store beef? A boastful sticker must mean something good, right? Well, it turns out that grain is not the best feed for cows and "Grass-fed" is a loose term that doesn't actually mean anything.
You see, most cows graze on grass for the first phase of their life (usually 6 months) essentially making them "grass-fed". Here's where things get murky. A few months before slaughter, traditional cows are put on a "fattening up" diet. This is due to consumer demand (we've been taught that marbling = taste) and farmer profit (more weight=more money).
Now, the really yucky part: Most cows are sent to CAFO's or "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" where they are fed a high carb diet and confined to tiny spaces so they can't move and get exercise. They are fed corn feed, cookie/candy/junk food factory remnants, liquid fat, liquid protein and who knows what else. You end up with a really fat cow...one that is ready for butchering as early as 14 months. This is the 'standard'. I won't even go into the 'terrible' side of the beef industry.
There are also well-meaning farmers who don't send their cows to CAFO's and don't feed them the extra food crap. Some even provide organic corn feed. However, this is still not a good thing. Wether in a CAFO or on a beautiful organic farm, a cow is a cow... and cows are ruminants. That means that they have four stomachs and naturally digest grass by chewing their cud. Carbohydrates like corn do not digest properly in cows. It creates slime in their stomachs and traps uncomfortable gas, which leads to painful medical procedures. Corn is also very acidic and makes cows prone to stomach problems and all sorts of diseases. To combat this, cows are given a bunch of antibiotics. Ethics aside, all of these choices have consequences on our health when we consume beef.
Farmers who believe in 100% pastured grass-fed and grass-finished cows are very passionate about their farming philosophy. Not only do their cows graze happily on acres of grass during the summer, they also need to grow and store an equal amount of grass for the winter....at least two winters. Grass-finished cows mature naturally and most are butchered between 24 and 30 months. The result is a happier cow that provides healthier meat.
So, the next time you see a "100% grain-fed (aka corn)" sticker on a package of meat, know that it's really not something to brag about. Pastured, 100% grass-fed, organic beef is the healthier and more humane choice.
I came to realize, that the only way I could afford 100% grass-fed beef, was to buy direct from a farm. With a little bit of googling, I found a wonderful farmer, with an awesome food philosophy, who was able to hook me up with affordable 100% grass-fed organic beef.
On Febuary 10th, 2014, I took the plunge. I ordered a side of beef (half a cow) which would cost $4.25/lb totaling around $1300. That's a lot of grocery money in one shot! Thankfully, I had in-laws willing to split a side with us. All that was left to do, was tell the butcher how we wanted our beef cut. I spent a week learning everything I could about beef and carefully looking over "beef cut maps".... I became a beef cut know-it-all.
On our pick-up date, I had no idea what to expect. I brought two coolers and two hampers with me to carry all my loose beef packages home. Of course, my meat was given to me in 5 neatly packaged boxes :)
The true cost of 100% Grass-Fed Beef
When you order a whole, quarter, or side of beef, the price you pay per pound is for the "hang weight". Without getting too graphic, this is the big chunk of meat you see hanging in the back of the butcher shop. The butcher then ages the meat (losing moisture), cuts the meat off the bone, gets rid of some of the fat and packages everything up for you. What you are left with is the packaged weight, which is what you normally buy in a grocery store.
The $4.25/lb I paid for my meat, ended up costing me about $7.08/lb...but that's:
$7.08/lb for ground beef (my health food store = $8.48/lb)
$7.08/lb for most roasts (my health food store = $13.97/lb)
$7.08/lb for ribeye steaks (my health food store = $19.95/lb)
Keep in mind that 100% grass-fed beef has little fat and no additives pumped into it, therefore there is very little loss of volume during cooking....so while the initial investment is large, over time I believe you do save money and end up with a healthier product.
We finally do and thankfully the whole side fits in my medium size freezer! After the in-laws get their share, our quarter comfortably fills up about half my 9 cubic foot freezer.
Which brings me to my old freezer. As I waited for my beef to come, I had nightmares about the freezer breaking down without us knowing about it for days! (Our GFCI tripped once while on vacation. Let's just say, I'm still scarred!) I end up buying a freezer alarm which has definitely given me peace of mind, and also informed me to set my freezer colder.
When I ordered the freezer alarm I also purchased a $24 programmable ThermoWorks Cooking Thermometer (that you leave in your meat while cooking) and a $24 ThermoWorks ThermoPop Super-Fast Thermometer. Both of these items are a must for perfect cooking and grilling and are my new favorite kitchen tools.
March 28, 2014: Our first 100% Grass-Fed Ground Beef Meal
As we all stood staring at it, my son said one word: "Tacos". I agreed.
As I began cooking the ground beef, I couldn't help but notice the occasional whiffs of a farm. Was it my imagination? I began to get worried.....$650 worth of worry.
I had read different opinions on the taste of 100% grass-fed beef. People either loved it or found it too "gamey". My chef friend K, told me it was an "acquired taste" but that "it was so good". This worried me as I'm not a fan of gamey tasting meat. So there I was, spatula in hand, my heart sinking. Had I just made a really bad decision?
Let's just say, it's a good thing I was committed to acquiring the taste.
April 1, 2014: 100% Grass-Fed Beef Stew:
First, some very important tips I learned about cooking 100% grass-fed beef:
- Let your meat completely thaw in the fridge.
- Allow it to rise to room temperature for about an hour before cooking
- Cook it slow and low.
Because of my indecisiveness over the taste of the tacos, I decided to stick with a flavorful dish .... Beef Vindaloo, an Indian stew. I took out my stewing meat. I should mention that when I put in my meat order, I debated getting any stewing meat at all.
AMAZING! In fact, I kept saying, "it's the best stew I've ever had". The meat was so rich and tasty. There wasn't a bunch of fat in the sauce. It was perfect!
I'm really thankful that I have 4 more packages in the freezer, but part of me wished I had ordered more :(
April 5, 2014: Tacos....again.
This time I don't notice the smell at all, but as the family arrives home, they all comment on how good the meat smells. I don't think I've ever heard this 'compliment' before. I don't notice the gamey taste either. The next day my daughter tells me she actually preferred the gamier meat from taco night one. To me it was perfect.
This was a last minute supper decision, therefore I cooked the meat from frozen. Again I don't notice any smell or gamey taste. Am I just getting used to it?
April 16, 2014: 100% Grass-Fed Roast:
I decide to attempt a roast. As I look through my freezer I notice a Crosscut roast. What is this? Even Google can't tell me. I take it out Tuesday thinking it would be our Wednesday dinner. It was still partially frozen on Thursday. Is my freezer too cold? Does 100% grass-fed beef take longer to defrost?
By Friday I had a beautiful piece of meat ready to go. I let it come to room temperature for an hour and then cut off a big chunk of fat. As I do this I remember reading something about the big chunk of fat on another beef cut. Maybe they are the same?
I google images of "Cross Rib Roast" and ding ding ding!....my roast looks exactly the same.....square with a big piece of fat. I realize that cuts of meat can go by many different names. How confusing!
I learn that this particular roast is best braised. (as opposed cooked dry and slow.) I coated my roast in coconut flour and seared it in coconut oil. I placed it in my crock pot along with some veggies and spices. My roast is ridiculously good! On this day I realize I can never go back to conventional beef.
April 23, 2014: 100% Grass-Fed Burgers:
At this point, I wished some of our ground beef would have come to us unfrozen. I imagine myself spending a whole weekend making burgers and freezing them for summer BBQ's. (In this very serious daydream, I'm wearing my apron from Greece, I have endless amounts of time, and Journey's "Separate Ways" is playing in the background.) Unfortunately all the beef came frozen, so I have to make burgers as I go.
I caramelized onions and garlic, and added it to my ground beef, along with eggs and spices. I formed them into patties and cooked my burgers to the recommended 160 degrees. The burgers were good, but they were really dry. Hmm. I'll need to find a recipe that makes them more moist. It's a good thing I didn't make a hundred burgers.
May 6 , 2014 : Kheema Pav:
I notice one of my favorite bloggers, The Tiffin Box, posts a recipe that looks amazing: Turkey Kheema Pav. Don't tell the turkey people, but I used ground beef instead (I also added a little organic ketchup to the meat mixture).
100% grass-fed ground beef is very lean and substitutes perfectly in a ground turkey recipe. The kids love it and I make another batch the next day.
May 10, 2014: 100% Grass-Fed Steaks:
The kids are gone today. I don't dream about going out for a romantic meal with my husband. I dream about grilling the steaks sitting in our freezer.
The only disappointing part of ordering bulk meat is that you get very few steaks. This was a huge adjustment for us as we were BIG steak eaters. Whenever I saw a good sale on steaks, I would freeze a whole load of them. Looking back, I feel a bit callous, taking the best, leaving the rest, like I wasn't respecting the cow. This experience has made me more mindful and grateful for our cow and every part of it so far has been delicious. But, I do miss having a good steak.
As the kids planned their day, I began planning our "steak date". Which steak should I pick? I rummaged through the freezer looking for the more expensive cuts (does that make me a horrible mom?). I settled for a rib steak and a strip loin. I put the packages in my fridge so they could defrost by Saturday. I was nervous. My in-laws (whom we split our half cow with) ate all of their steaks and found them tough. I kept warning my husband that these steaks cook differently and that he better not ruin them!!! No pressure :)
Saturday, I carefully unwrapped our steaks. Like a woman who's just been told she's expecting twins, I was excited to find two steaks in each package!!!! With four steaks it was going to be a yummy weekend. I googled everything I could about grilling 100% grass-fed steaks. The consensus seems to be:
- Completely defrost in the fridge
- Bring to room temperature
- Season with lots of salt and some pepper.
- Sear quickly over direct heat.
- Cook off direct flames until medium rare (or 125 degrees).
- Let rest for 10 minutes
dry brined" them as they came to room temperature. This time hubby grills my steak to 132 degrees. It is extremely tender and flavorful...perfect! The kids are home, so we only have half a steak each. But you know, having a little bit of perfection is much better than a whole lot of mediocre!
I am so happy I made the leap to buying 100% grass-fed organic beef direct from the farm. Every once in a while, I can taste what I used to think was "gamey", except now I find it full of flavor and depth.
My farmer now provides me with my farm-fresh eggs and soon I will have to make room for 10 grass-fed pastured chickens and 2 heritage chickens in my freezer! Most importantly, finding my farmer has made me feel good about the journey my food makes from farm to plate....and that, my friends, is priceless.
Ask your local health food store/healthy butcher who supplies their meat. Contact the farm directly.
Ask your local health food store/healthy butcher who supplies their meat. Contact the farm directly.
Google "organic grass-fed beef" or "grass-fed beef" + your city