Because pastured animals are not confined, they move much more than their feedlot counterparts and therefore have more muscle integrity all over and more collagen in the more well-exercised muscle groups. This does not imply that grass-fed beef is tough. Quite the opposite, it is remarkably tender when cooked properly. Rather, they are never mushy, as grain-fed steaks often are, and the grass-fed beef is much more flavorful! They are reputed to have less marbling (intra-muscular fat), but this is actually a function of breed and management. Scottish Highlands are reputed to marble exceptionally well on grass. However, it needs a little different treatment on the grill, stove, or oven than grocery store beef.
According to Shannon Hayes, author of Grassfed Gourmet, there are four basic principles for cooking grass-fed and pastured meats:
- Put away the timer, get a good meat thermometer and be prepared to use it!
- Turn down the heat. (Grass-fed beef is best between 120° and 165°F.)
- Learn when to use dry-heat cooking methods and when to use moist heat methods.
- Ease up on the seasonings and sauces.
The chuck is the shoulder area, which receives a lot of exercise. Roasts from this area should be cooked ‘low and slow’, preferably with a moist method. London Broil is the most common steak from this primal cut and it can handle the grill, frying pan or broiler.
The brisket is generally cut into roasts or stew meat. Slow, moist or dry (such as smoking) cooking methods are the name of the game!
Shanks are the foreleg of the animal. Braising is the best method.
Rib cuts, such as prime rib, Delmonico steak, and rib-eye roasts, are particularly tender and flavorful. They do well with high heat methods, but are best when done no more than medium-rare.
The plate is the center of the underside, and due to a large amount of connective tissue, can be tougher. Skirt steaks are optimal for acidic marinades and short ribs can either be marinated and grilled, Korean-style, or cooked slowly.
Flank steaks are also great for marinating!
This region is full of wonderfully tender steaks and roasts: porterhouse, T-bone, tenderloin, and strip loin. These steaks are great for higher heat methods, so long as they are not overdone.
The sirloin varies widely in tenderness. Roasts and stew meat from this primal cut should be cooked slowly with moist methods. Steaks, however, can be cooked faster with more direct heat.
The round is the entire upper, rear leg. It’s a lean and less tender primal, with many flavorful cuts. All of the roasts from this area do well when cooked slowly, especially with moist methods. Eye of round is an exception, in that slow, dry methods serve are best. London Broil and minute steaks come from the round primal. They do well with marinades.
Though they’ve become unpopular, organ meats are the most nutritious cuts of beef! They are well worth the effort to learn how to cook and incorporate into your diet. Liver is best cooked hot and fast to rare. Beef tongue rewards a low, slow, and moist cooking method with an incredibly tender and flavorful meat. The heart is great as a stew meat or marinated and grilled quickly.
We love Shannon Hayes’ books, Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She also posts cooking tips at grassfedcooking.com. Additionally, Good Meat by Deborah Krasner is one of the most complete and informative books available on grass-fed and pastured meats.