Monday, May 19, 2008

Cooking Grass-fed Beef

Tips For Cooking Grass Fed Meats

Posted by Al Rosas on Growers & Grocers.

I’ve been telling people grass is good for years. As The Organic Chef and an organic grass fed beef farmer, it’s only natural that I’ve heard just about everything a person could tell me about grass fed beef.Here I’ve chosen three “myths” about grass fed beef to debunk:

1) All beef is grass-fed

2) Grass-fed beef is tough

3) Beef is beef and grass-fed beef is no different nutritionally

1) This is the same as saying that all cows are milk fed. Is it true? Yes. But we all know that this is only until they are weaned. Most commercial cows eat grass for a few short months until they are old enough to be sold to the feed lots. Any goodness from the grass that they did eat from that little time spent on pasture is completely erased the moment they hit the market. From that point on, they go from the quiet comforts of their mother and herd to the deafening noise of the market and the all too often jolt from the free flowing cattle prod. Over crowded conditions, lack of food and water and, in most cases, not even enough room to lie down, and that is just at the livestock market. Once they reach the feed lot, matters only get worse. This is a place where the duty of the veterinarian is not to care for the well being of the livestock, but to merely keep it alive long enough to get to slaughter. I challenge anyone to find a picture of a feedlot that contains a single blade of grass in ANY of its feed pens. Call me crazy, but this isn’t my idea of grass-fed. A good tip to learn if your beef is really grass fed: The fat in truly grass fed beef runs clear, and there is very little of it!

2) Grass-fed beef can be tough if you don’t prepare it properly. It requires a little skill and if it is done incorrectly, the result is tough beef. Commerical beef producers have found ways to tenderize meats through chemicals, gases, puncturing, feeds and many other little tricks to make you a better cook. When you are cooking grass-fed beef, remember to sear and brown the outside. Browning equals flavor - no brown, no flavor. Not burned, just caramelized. This can be done on a grill or in a pan even under a broiler. From that point, the heat needs to be turned down low. I like to finish my beef in the oven at 275 degrees until I’ve reach the desired internal temperature of 145°. To have it your way, just follow the temperature guideline below:

130°-140°= Rare

140°- 145°= Medium Rare

145°-150°= Medium

150°-155°= Medium well

155°-160°= Well done

A resting period for beef is crucial and especially so for grass-fed beef. Five to ten minutes will suffice. There is no need to let the meat get cold, so cover it as it rests, aluminum foil is just fine.

3) All beef is not created equal. Grass is Good - Really Good. A widely cited 2001 report by The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimates that the quantities of antimicrobials administered to livestock and poultry for non-therapeutic purposes (growth promotion and disease prevention) far outweigh the amount of antibiotics used on humans. According to UCS estimates, humans use approximately 4.5 million pounds of antibiotics annually. This figure includes all antimicrobials applied in courses of medical treatment (50 million cases or 3 million pounds), as well as in topical creams, soaps, and disinfectants (1.5 million pounds). In comparison, antimicrobial use in the three major sectors of livestock - beef, pork, and poultry - is estimated at 24.6 million pounds annually, eight times the amount used in human medicine. By those numbers, non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in livestock agriculture accounts for 70% of total antibiotic use. The study in the Feb. 18th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that all levels of antibiotic use were associated with increased risk of breast cancer and death from breast cancer. What does this all have to do with grass fed meats.

Organic meat would seem safe, considering no hormones or antibiotics are administered to these animals, but is that really enough? With recent E-Coli scares from even organic meat producers popping up, how are we to know? Understanding why and how E-Coli has become so harmful to humans is key. When an animal is grain fed, either organic or commercial, the stomach acids in the cattle strengthen. Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma makes it clear: “The recent strain of E. Coli 0157:H7 is believed to have evolved in the gut of feedlot cattle. These are animals that stand around in their manure all day long, eating a diet of grain that happens to turn a cow’s rumen into an ideal habitat for E. coli 0157:H7. (The bug can’t survive long in cattle living on grass.) Industrial animal agriculture produces more than a billion tons of manure every year, manure that, besides being full of nasty microbes like E. coli 0157:H7 (not to mention high concentrations of the pharmaceuticals animals must receive so they can tolerate the feedlot lifestyle), often ends up in places it shouldn’t be, rather than in pastures, where it would not only be harmless, but also actually do some good. To think of animal manure as pollution rather than fertility is a relatively new (and industrial) idea.”

Grain fed animals, it appears, develop newer and stronger bacteria in response to the overly acidic environment produced by massive grain feeding. The human body cannot kill these strains as they naturally would in similar but weaker strains the human body carries naturally on its own. These “Super Bugs” in the cattle manure that comes from feed lot cows is then often used as fertilizer on vegetables. When the meat is processed for human consumption, the super bugs find their way into our diet and our bodies, causing illness and sometimes death.

Grass feeding cattle does not promote an acidic environment within the stomach. Humans can easily combat and kill and E.Coli that is present in the gut of a grass fed animal. The digestive system in grass fed animals runs at 7 pH versus 4 pH in grain fed animals. E. Coli 157 will not survive in the stomach of a grass-fed animal due to the high pH. Furthermore, since cattle raised in feedlots are not fresh from the shower, we should be even more concerned. Feedlot animals are forced to stand all day in confined areas in their own manure and cannot help but be covered in it. Grass raised cattle are not confined and less likely to be covered in their own manure. At the end of the day, pragmatically, the only way to cut down your risk of becoming ill from a virulent strain of E. Coli is to eat grass-fed meats.

In the Grass Farmer’s April 2006 issue, Dr. Tilek Dhiman of Utah State University spoke at the American Grass Fed Association’s seminar and reported:

Some of grass fed’s benefits in comparison with the grain fed products are:- 500% More CLA

- 400% More Vitamin A

- 300% More Vitamin E

- 75% More Omega-3

- 78% More Beta-Carotene

In grass fed meats studies:

- 11 out of 11 found CLA decreases cancer

- Four out of five have found a decrease in body fat

- Two out of two have found a decrease in heart disease

- Three out of three found a decrease in adult diabetes

- Six out of six have found increased immunity to disease

- Two out of two found an increase in bone density

Here at Rosas Farms, we’ve been working with physicians and scientists and are working on proving a link between higher estrogen levels in men and what they eat. The bottom line is grass fed beef is good, it’s more difficult to prepare at first, but the health benefits outweigh any amount of work in the kitchen. I’m sure you’ll learn to love it as much as I have.