Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed: Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

May 16, 2016 | By | Comments (6)

Credit: JeepFoto/Getty

Demand for grass-fed beef is growing, and for many good reasons. If you’re in the market for some, here’s some vital info:

It’s a healthy, relatively lean protein source. It has less total fat than grain-fed beef (the kind most often sold in supermarkets), perhaps as much as 50 percent less. Similarly, saturated fat in a grass-fed steak is around half as much as a grain-fed steak. It has fewer calories, ounce-per-ounce, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidants as well. To be fair, conventional beef clearly bears valuable nutrients and beneficial fats, but the composition breakdown is indeed different.


Gras-feed beef | Photo: Randy Mayor

It looks different from grain-fed beef. Breed and diet play into this, but speaking broadly, a grass-fed strip steak will appear to have less fat marbling (streaks throughout the red portion) than its grain-fed counterpart, and the fat itself will be more yellow than the white fat on grain-fed. Lower marbling attests to its lower calorie and fat content, while the yellow tint indicates higher beta-Carotene levels (the stuff that helps make carrots orange).

It tastes different from grain-fed beef. Flavor descriptions vary, depending on the taster and the beef itself (the cow’s breed and its particular grass diet—did it eat alfalfa? Bermuda grass?—will influence taste). But it’s fair to say it won’t taste the same as the grain-fed beef you may be used to eating. And this is critical to bear in mind. Because if you buy grass-fed beef expecting health benefits and grain-fed flavor, you may become disillusioned. Folks who don’t like grass-fed taste sometimes describe it as gamey. Grass-fed fans call it beefier, bolder-flavored, and pleasantly mineral. Know this: it’s not as “gamey” as true game, like venison, antelope, or elk, or as strong as some cuts of lamb. But however you describe it, you will notice a difference.

It’s more expensive than grain-fed beef. Which stands to reason. Labor and operating costs tend to be higher at grass-fed cattle ranches. A lot of work goes into ensuring that the cattle eat the right grass (without depleting parts of the pasture), and in the right amounts (so they gain weight at the proper rate, which according to some ranchers is 2 pounds a day), and the end product is priced accordingly.

You need to cook it differently. Cliffhanger: details to come in another post next week.

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  1. shopthit

    Reblogged this on Shopthit.

    June 26, 2016 at 3:08 am
  2. Grass-Fed Beef: Cooking Tips | Cooking Light

    […] FAQ: What’s Different Between Grass-fed Beef and Grain-fed Beef? […]

    May 28, 2016 at 8:01 am
  3. Johnny

    Yes There is truth to that Elaine! Watch Out when stomach problems arise! Never stand behind the cow because You will be covered.Ask My Brother ! What I give them for Stomach Problems is Pepdi bismo or mylanta and I pour down their throat or I put a hand fuil of antacids for them to chew on and that seems to work too !

    May 19, 2016 at 6:26 pm
  4. Debbie

    Yes it seems that grass fed beef lead a more natural life.They graze year round on open pasture, in less crowded conditions. They live longer, taking 3 to4 years to reach butcher weight. However they do live outside year round in sometimes harsh conditions. In the winter or non grazing months their diet is supplemented w/ dried grasses and hay. Grain fed beef eat a combination of grains and hay. If the balance of roughage and grain is not proper then the cattle can develop bloat and excess gas.Trying to fatten beef too quickly can cause some of these issues. I agree that the grass fed cows are given a more humane lifestyle all in all.

    May 19, 2016 at 4:09 pm
  5. Debbie

    You should know that most beef is grass fed to a certain age and about 3 to 6 months prior to being butchered, pulled off of grass and fattened on a high grain diet. This is where the beautiful marbling and the amazing flavor comes from. I choose to eat beef less often and choose the superior taste of grain fed beef.

    May 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm
  6. Elaine Turnbull

    I have been told that the grass-fed beef is a more HUMANE way to raise beef; that corn is not truly well digested by cows and causes them sometimes severe stomach discomfort. Is there any truth to this?

    May 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm

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