Grass-fed beef is healthier, heartier

Published 11:59 pm Friday, November 7, 2008

That trip I talked about last week to Rhode Island was really to learn more about grass- fed beef and the Red Devon breed in particular, which is being touted as the “gourmet beef on grass.”

The health benefits of grass-fed AND grass-finished beef are numerous. Some beef sold as grass fed is not grass finished and you need to ask questions. One of the first things people notice about grass-finished beef is the fat color. It is more yellow than the grain-fed beef due to beta-carotene, which the grazing animal incorporates into its fat and meat. It is used by the body to make vitamin A and is a powerful antioxidant protecting cells from free-radical and oxygen damage. It also helps prevent cancer cell growth and cardiovascular disease. This is also present in the rich yellow egg yolks of free-range chicken eggs. Grass-finished beef is four to six times lower in fat than grain-finished and contains only half the saturated fat, making it as lean as poultry and wild game. Omega-3 fatty acids, important to the healthy function of the brain and linked to lowering blood pressure, fighting depression, and reducing cancer, are produced by living green plant leaves. A diet too rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in the seed heads of plants (grains, corn), has been linked to obesity, diabetes, immune system disorders, and cancer. To function well our bodies require a balance between these two fatty acids, but for many of us, a diet high in grain (including grain-fed beef) has knocked that balance off-kilter. The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in grass-finished beef is almost the ideal ratio required by our bodies—like wild caught salmon. Grass finished beef also contains five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which can prevent and even reduce cancer-cell growth, and four times more vitamin E than grain-fed beef. Vitamin E helps form red blood cells, is a powerful antioxidant and aids in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, CLA, and vitamin E, all produced in living green plant tissues, are stored in the cow’s meat and fat in forms that our bodies can easily access. Supplementing a cow’s diet with grain while on pasture will eliminate all the grass-diet benefits.

Although grain-fed organs often end up as dog food, organs from healthy grass finished animals are the very first cuts of meat to sell out for human consumption. The process of digesting large amounts of grain produces high acidity, leading to livers that are riddled with abscesses. Grass-finished beef organs have none of these problems.

Meat requires a certain amount of intramuscular fat to make it tender. If it is insufficient the meat will be dry, tough, and flavorless. Meat from grass-finished cattle is leaner and consequently shows less marbling between the meat fibers than grain-finished beef—yet it contains sufficient intramuscular fat within the meat fibers so that the meat will be as tender as heavily marbled grain-finished beef. And the Devon breed in particular succeeds in tenderness.

On that day at Watson Farm, which has a large Devon herd, we enjoyed along with our cider, Devon burgers and “Devon Dogs” which the owners produce for a local farmer’s market.

We also picked up a local Rhode Island magazine called “edibleRhody” where we found this recipe for short ribs which comes from the Littl­­e Farm Catering, in East Greenwich, R.I. (“edibleRhody” is part of a group of “edible” magazines featuring local products. Unfortunately I see only six or seven from the South on the list of 44: Memphis, Atlanta, Low Country, S.C., and Piedmont, N.C., Austin, Texas, Blue Ridge, Va., and Allegheny. New Orleans, Birmingham, where are you? If you would like to check these out, go to

Braised Red Devon Short ribs

3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

4 pounds grass-fed beef short ribs, cut into 1-rib pieces (grass-fed meat can be found in Whole Foods or The Fresh Market)

½ Empire apple, chopped (¾ cups)

3 medium garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped (1 ½ cups)

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced (3/4 cup)

2 carrots, peeled and sliced (1/2 cup)

3 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)

¾ cups Merlot

3 cups natural beef stock

3 sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 300° F. Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a Dutch oven with fitted lid. Season the ribs to taste with salt and pepper. Brown the ribs on all sides, cooking two ribs at a time and transforming them onto a plate when browned.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add apple, garlic, onion, parsnips, carrots and celery and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze the pot. After the alcohol has burned off, add the beef broth and bring to a boil while stirring. Place the thyme sprigs on the vegetables and return the ribs to the Dutch oven. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 3 hours or until tender, turning the ribs every 45 minutes.

Remove the ribs and place them on a serving platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Carefully strain the cooking liquid over a saucepan, discarding the vegetables. Skim the fat off the liquid and pour it over the ribs. Serve with crusty artisan bread and local greens. I hated to throw away the vegetables just to make this look prettier so I served them with the ribs making this a bit like a stew. Neeps, our dog, enjoyed the bone.

Serves 4 as a main course.

Here is s simple straightforward recipe for beef stew. This is taken from the cookbook, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. It is inexpensive to prepare and kid friendly.


Beef Stew

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and cut into wedges

1 crumbled bay leaf

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 28-ounce can tomatoes, whole or crushed, undrained

2 cups beef broth

2 quarts water

6-8 carrots, scraped and cut into chunks

2 small turnips, peeled and cubed

4 boiling potatoes, cut into large chunks

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a shallow bowl.

Dredge the meat in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat, and brown on all sides. Add the remaining ingredients, except the carrots, turnips and potatoes. Cover, Bring the stew to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered for 2 hours.

Add the carrots and turnips, cover, and continue cooking for 45 minutes longer. Add the potatoes, cover once more, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, or until you can pierce the potatoes with a fork.

Some general comments about cooking grass-fed beef by the author of the Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook: 1. Use a meat thermometer. Grass-fed meats being lower in fat than the usual grocery store fare will cook in the oven faster. 2. Turn down the heat. Grass-fed beef is lower in insulating fat. If the heat is too high, the moisture and the fat will exit quickly which will toughen the protein. 3. Ease up on the seasonings and sauces. Learn how meats are supposed to taste.