Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cooking Tips for Grass-Fed Beef

I remember when my mom switched from Wonder white to "wheat" bread. Even though the whole wheat bread wasn't nearly as healthy as we thought it was, it was a tough change in taste and texture, especially for a kid. Now, I love a the taste of a whole grain, rustic loaf.

When making the switch to healthier, whole foods, there's a lot of "getting used to." Switching from grain-fed to grass-fed beef is no exception. My sister-in-law, Corinne, sent me these cooking tips from a Pennsylvania ranch named Spring Mountain Farms. I think it's a great must-read if you decide to start buying pastured beef and an informative "refresher" for those of us that already made the change.

Cooking tips for grass-fed beef:
1. The biggest culprit for tough grass-fed beef is overcooking. The beef is made for rare to medium-rare cooking. If you like your beef more well-done, then cook it at a very low temperatures in a sauce to add moisture.
2. Since the beef is extremely low in fat (as opposed to grain-fed which has the fat dispersed throughout the meat), coat with butter or oil for flavor enhancement, easy browning and to prevent sticking.
3. We recommend marinating the beef before cooking, especially the leaner cuts like NY strip and sirloin steak. When using a marinade, keep in mind that since the beef doesn't cook as long, the strong flavors of vinegar, beer, etc. won't cook off as much, so use a little less for grass-fed beef.
4. If you don't have time to marinate, you can coat your beef with your favorite rub or seasoning, cover in plastic wrap and pound the steak with a meat mallet to break down the connective tissue.
5. Stove top cooking is great for any steak- especially grass-fed. You have more control over the temperature than on the grill. You can also add butter in the final minutes to add extra flavor and moisture.
6. Grass-fed beef has high protein and low fat levels so it will usually require 30% LESS cooking time and will continue to cook when removed from heat. For this reason, remove the beef from your heat source 10 degrees before reaching your desired temperature. Your beef can go from perfectly cooked to over-cooked in less than a minute so watch it carefully!
7. Let the beef sit covered in a warm place for 8-10 minutes to let the juices redistribute after cooking.
8. Always use tongs to turn your beef so you avoid puncturing the meat, which leads to losing juice.
9. Reduce the normal grain-fed cooking temperature in recipes by 50 degrees. For example: if the roasting temperature for a normal roast is 325 degrees, make it 275 for grass-fed roasts.
10. Never use a microwave to thaw grass-fed beef. Either leave it overnight in the fridge or place the vacuum-seal wrapped package in warm water to thaw.
11. Bring your grass-fed beef to room temperature before cooking. Do not cook it cold from the fridge.. (always be cautious when leaving meat out to thaw or warm-up to avoid food-borne illness- think 20 minutes, not two hours).
12. When grilling, sear the meat quickly over high heat on each side to seal in natural juices then reduce heat to low to finish the cooking process. Remember the meat requires 30% less cooking time so do not leave your steaks unattended.
13. When preparing burgers on the grill, use caramelized onions, olives, or roasted peppers to add moisture to the meat while cooking. And remember, 30% less cooking time.

If you're new to cooking pastured meat, a great place to start is with a filet mignon (beef tenderloin). This cut of meat is the most tender and is hard to mess-up. Watch for my recipe for grass-fed filet soon and if you have any naturally-raised beef cooking tips we didn't cover today, I'd love to hear them.

There's nothing like the smell of a great grilled steak. I'm off to cook one,

-Katie