What Are the Pros and Cons of Grass-Fed Beef?

Grass-Fed Beef Has a Variety of Benefits

Cattle grazing
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Grass-fed beef comes from cattle raised in grass pastures, as the name implies. Many claim the meat has a superior taste to grain-fed beef. This is in contrast to grain-fed cattle which are not allowed to graze or forage for food on their own.

Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed beef may be healthier to eat than standard, grain-fed beef. According to the Mayo Clinic, "The difference in the diets of the cattle changes the nutrients and fats you get from eating the different types of beef." 

An article on the Mayo Clinic site goes on to explain:

Grass-fed beef may have some heart-health benefits that other types of beef don't have. When compared with other types of beef, grass-fed beef may have:

  • Less total fat
  • More heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • More conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that's thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks
  • More antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E

Lean beef that's 10 percent fat or less — whether it's grass-fed beef or another type of beef — can be part of a heart-healthy diet. 

Of course, it also goes without saying that beef that is lower in fat is lower in calories. This can be a significant issue for people who eat large quantities of beef.

Environmental Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

The environmental impact of grass-fed beef may also be lower than that of grain-fed beef: inhumane factory farming techniques, the spread of disease, waste management problems, and the overuse of antibiotics and hormones in conventional beef production have all been well documented.

By contrast, grass-fed cattle typically live their entire lives grazing in open pastures, which is, of course, the way cattle evolved. But critics charge that livestock pasture lands are hardly eco-friendly or "natural" environments, especially when forests are cut to create cattle grazing areas. Grass-fed meat is also slightly more expensive because of the additional time and effort required to bring it to market.

Grass-Fed Beef vs. Organic Beef

Beef that is labeled "Grass-Fed" may or may not be organic beef, i.e., the cattle might have been raised on antibiotics and some commercial feed. Look for the "USDA Process Verified" label that certifies the farm was inspected by the agency. The American Grassfed Association is promoting the use of its certification process as proof that your beef, bison or lamb has been raised on grass its entire life without hormones, antibiotics or grain.

How to Cook Grass-Fed Beef

Because grass-fed beef is lower in fat, it should be cooked differently than a well-marbled cut of conventional grain-fed beef. Overcooking is a common mistake; cook grass-fed beef for a shorter period of time and keep it rare, medium-rare or medium. And if you're making hamburgers, try adding chopped onions or other water-containing vegetables to the meat.

Many proponents of grass-fed beef describe techniques for ensuring that low-fat grass-fed beef retains its moisture. A few suggestions from online chefs include:

  • Sear grass-fed meat quickly so that the interior is rare or nearly raw.
  • Tenderize meat before cooking (using a non-chemical tenderizer).
  • Use olive oil or butter to ensure that the meat is moist and does not stick.
  • Cook for about 30% less time that you would ordinarily need for a similar piece of non-grass-fed beef.