This installment of School’s in Session is from a blog post I wrote a few years ago. Read on to learn some more about grass fed beef and be sure to visit your favorite farmer on Sunday! The cookbook mentioned in the post, “Free Range Farm Girl: Cooking Grassfed Beef”, is available under the Book and Bean tent – stop by and have a look!
One of the many things I love about the market is the number of farmers who raise meat. As we began our journey toward a more local, seasonal diet, we began to learn more and more about the conditions of factory farmed animals. And we made the decision to not eat grocery store beef, chicken, or pork anymore. And we’ve really fallen in love with grassfed beef.
The USDA, in 2007, defined grassfed as “meat that comes from animals whose diet, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning, is derived solely from forage (grasses, forbs, cereal crops in the pre-grain state, and browse).” The benefits of grassfed meat are numerous. There are environmental impacts. Grassfed animals don’t require grain and therefore there is a decrease in the number of grain based crops grown. Growing grain for animal feed requires a large input of fertilizers, water, and land. Not to mention the fossil fuels that are burned during the transpot of the grains all over the country. A small book could be written on the health benefits of grassfed meat, but I’ll touch on a few. They are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to healthy heart and brain function. It is also a source of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), which is a nutrient important for battling and preventing cancer. Studies have shown that grassfed meat is three to five times higher in CLAs than their factory farmed equivalents. I could keep going, but it’s quite clear that grassfed meat is pretty awesome.
There is a bit of science to cooking grassfed beef correctly. If you’ve ever picked up a grassfed steak and cooked it in the same way you might a factory farmed steak, I bet you were disappointed. One of the big no-nos of cooking grassfed beef is a high flame/temperature. By lowering the temperature of the oven, or cooking over indirect heat on the grill, you can maintain the juiciness of the steak.
I recently picked up a cookbook, written by Dr. Shannon Hayes, on cooking grassfed beef. Entitled “Free Range Farm Girl: Cooking Grassfed Beef”, Dr. Hayes advocates low cooking temperatures for grassfed beef. While we have been programmed to cook factory farmed meat to “doneness”, it’s not as critical with grassfed beef. Most of the food borne pathogens that occur in beef come from E. coli. This is a concern of grain fed cattle, as their stomachs become hyper-acidic from their grain based diet. Obviously, it’s important to cook the meat to a temperature that you feel comfortable with, but Dr. Hayes consulted a food safety expert and found her recommendation of cooking to a lower internal temperature is perfectly safe.
She has a “super-slow method” for cooking roasts that I couldn’t wait to try. I visited Frank and Liz at Hawthorne Valley Farms and picked up a three pound eye of round roast. Dr. Hayes method involves cooking the roast at a temperature of 170 degrees. I admit, I was a bit of a skeptic. Because the temperature is low, juices remain undisturbed during cooking and the roast is juicy and flavorful at the end of the cooking time. So, I gave it a go! It took about 2 hours for our three pound roast to cook. We were quite thrilled with the results! A juicy, flavorful roast that ended up lasting us for four meals (while we are not vegetarians, we do try to limit our meat consumption and try to make meat more of a compliment than a centerpiece).
Super-Slow Roast Beef
1 beef roast
dry rub of choice (we used a mix of equal parts garlic powder, salt, and pepper)
Cook the roast uncovered in a 170 degree oven. Cook for 30-40 minutes per pound, depending on the cut. Fattier cuts tend to take closer to 40 minutes, while leaner cuts will be closer to 30. Monitor the internal temperature. An internal temperature of 120-140 will result in a flavorful, juicy roast (I cooked ours to 130).