Your guide to lean, grass-fed beef

Here's the skinny on where to buy it and how to cook it right

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A RANCHER WE LOVE

Ed Jonas works his Blacktail Mountain Ranch with one idea in mind: to produce the healthiest, tastiest beef in the world. Jonas, an East Coast lawyer turned Montana cowboy, has bred two of the leanest cattle breeds ― the Scottish Highland and the Piedmontese ― to create what he calls the HighMont.

Nutritional testing of HighMont beef shows that it's lower in cholesterol than turkey, with a fat content roughly a third that of regular beef. No wonder local physicians endorse it for their red-meat-loving patients (it's on the menu in some Montana hospitals). What's even better is the deep, minerally, beefy flavor.

Jonas's approach to ranching is simple and candid, and he encourages anyone who's curious about it to "come to Montana and see for yourself." Year-round, the cattle roam on open pasture, drink from a mountain spring, and receive all the personal attention Jonas can give.

"I help deliver them (at birth), raise them, bring them to be processed, and then package and ship out orders," says Jonas. "You can't get fresher meat than that."

Info:  Ground beef $6 per lb., New York strip steak $20 per lb.; blacktail mountainranch.com or 406/844-0404.

WHERE TO BUY GRASS-FED BEEF

Some markets sell grass-fed beef but often only have a few cuts, and suppliers (and quality) can fluctuate. Also, some beef marketed as "grass-fed" is finished on grain. Best bet for 100 percent grass-fed meat in a wide range of cuts? Order from a rancher approved by the American Grassfed Association (877/774-7277), or try Eatwild.com (866/453-8489).

Other producers we like 

As with Blacktail Mountain Ranch, these producers can all supply beef in small quantities.

Hearst Ranch Beef, San Simeon, CA, INFO: 4 lbs. ground beef for $24, 3 lbs. rib-eye for $74, 3 lbs. New York strip steak for $79; 866/547-2624.

La Cense Beef, Dillon, MT, INFO: Ground beef $9 per lb., 9.5-oz. rib-eye for $19, 7.5-oz. New York strip for $17.50; 866/255-4985.

Lasater Grasslands Beef Matheson, CO, INFO: 5 lbs. ground beef for $25, four 10-oz. rib-eyes for $60; 866/454-2333.

Nick Ranch, Santa Margarita, CA,  INFO: Ground beef $6.75 per lb., rib-eye for $18.75 per lb.; 805/438-4875.

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