For all my Paleo Lovers:
If you are even reading this article right now, you are familiar with the terminology in the title above. Being able to use the term “Grass Fed” in the same sentence with beef has become the darling child of the industry in recent years. As such, it has also become almost meaningless.
Although the term conjures up idyllic scenes of pastoral beauty, what are we really after when it comes to eating beef as part of a healthy, sensible, and interesting diet? Much has been written and researched about the health benefits, and environmental benefits of having cattle on pasture as opposed to a feedlot.
Before we go further, what does the term “finished” mean in beef? It means that the animal is physically mature in skeleton and muscle and that it has some fatty tissue as well. This fatty tissue will be both exterior of the muscle (fat cover) and also interior of the muscle (marbling). Much (not all) of the flavor and tenderness of the beef will be related to the fat content of the beef.
The term “Grass Fed” as it is now commonly used can refer to one of two possibilities:
- The animal has been on grass or pasture prior to being put on a grain finishing ration, or
- The animal is being butchered right off of the pasture while it is still in its growth or immature stage.
The result of the first scenario is a beef product no different than regular feedlot beef. The result of the second scenario is a very lean beef product that contains very little fat.
Now let’s look at the term “Grass Finished”. This is a much more descriptive term for what we really want. It means that the animal has been allowed to grow to a physically mature stage and then kept on grass until it begins to put on exterior and intramuscular fat. (The word grass is also a catch all term referring to grass, legumes, and other green vegetation and the hay made from such). No grain is ever fed to grass finished cattle. In most breeds of cattle this process will take 24 to 36 months. Much longer than the typical feedlot cattle period of 18-20 months. This is the “biggie” factor in the price difference between true Grass Finished and the less desirable grass fed. It is the factor that makes the eating experience and the health benefits of true Grass Finished so much superior.