Beef that's conscientiously raised, good for you, and incredibly tasty ― now that's something to sink your teeth into.
A "new" alternative to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is increasingly available in supermarkets and from sources online.
Grass-fed operations are easier on the environment than grain feedlots are, and easier on the animals too (grass is, after all, a cow's natural diet). Grass-feeding also gives the meat a truer beef flavor that's not masked by the marbling of fat typical in grain-fed beef. Plus grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fats and higher in omega-3s and other essential nutrients.
3 HOT COOKING TIPS
Because it's so lean, though, it cooks in a flash (marbling slows heat conduction). So before you grill that grass-fed rib-eye, check out these 3 keys to success:
1. Lower the heat Grass-fed beef cooks fast. Instead of searing burgers and steaks, put them over a medium flame.
2. Add moisture With a larger cut (like a roast) that needs a longer cooking time, marinate or braise the meat to keep it from drying out.
3. Don't overcook Rare to medium rare grass-fed beef is tender, but medium to well-done is tough and chewy.
Grass-fed burgers with chipotle barbecue sauce You'll have plenty of the spicy, tangy sauce left over. Have it with grilled chicken or ribs.
Grilled grass-fed rib-eyes with herb lemon butter Nothing shows off the natural, clean flavor of grass-fed beef like a thick, juicy steak.
Herb lemon butter Compound butter (butter blended with flavorings) is a great and simple way to add taste and texture to a dish.
Vietnamese-style steak salad Lemongrass nicely complements the clean flavor of grass-fed steak.
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.