Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/Juicy steaks, hot off the grill, are some of the best things about summer, right up there with corn on the cob and running through sprinklers. Lately, though, weâve all become a bit more mindful of the meat we eat. The mantra of the day? Eat less meat â and make sure itâs sustainably sourced. That’s where grass-fed beef comes in.For conscious carnivores who crave beef, the best option â for your health and for the environment â is meat from pastured cattle raised on grass from start to finish. Theyâre rich in good fats, and managed in a sustainable way. And if you use the meat as a supporting player, rather than the main attraction, you can serve more people while spending less â without compromising pleasure. Still, even if you can recite all the benefits of choosing beef raised against the grain, how confident are you at cooking it? Not so much? Well, there’s good reason for all the confusion. At the same time that you hear advice to reduce the heat 50 degrees to compensate for grass-fed beefâs leanness, youâll see photos of steaks on the grill with shooting flames. So, to get you primed and ready for the start of grilling season, let’s set the record straight and take the misleading warnings one at a time:The 30 percent rule. Iâd love to track down the first person who introduced the notion that all grass-fed beef cooks 30 percent faster than conventional beef. Letâs do the math: If a standard 1-inch-thick T-bone grills to medium rare (130 degrees before resting) in about 8 minutes, or 4 minutes per side, then a grass-fed should cook to the same temperature in 5.6 minutes. right? Nope. In that time, my T-bone was only at 112 degrees. The take-away is that there is no hard and fast rule for timing a steak â any steak. Though in theory heat penetrates more quickly through leaner grass-fed meat, time and temperature are always relative. Your grill, the internal starting temperature of the steak and the thickness of the cut will ultimately determine the grilling time. So, yes, you’re going to have to baby-sit your steaks a bit. High heat is bad. It’s all over the Internet, even on authoritative sites, that you shouldn’t expose this heat-sensitive beef to extremes of temperature. I say, isn’t that the whole point of grilling? The stripes from the grate (or diamonds if youâre showing off) and the coffee-colored sear on the exterior are why we wait eons for the coals of a charcoal grill to be ready, or spend good money on a quality gas grill. High heat is the mission, though there is a big difference between a char (no cancer-causing HCAs, thanks) and a spectacular sear. With grass-fed beef, the key is to limit the exposure to high heat so that the meat juices, in limited supply, do not escape, which is what happens over extended cooking times. Keep the steak over the hottest part of the grill for 3½ minutes max. Cooking beyond medium-rare is worse. Truth be told, any beef is better when cooked to medium-rare (132-135 degrees) for two physical reasons: the meat stays juicer and the proteins stay more supple. But what if you or an important guest (ie your mom, like mine) prefers medium, or even medium-well? You can please her without any extra trouble whatsoever, simply by sliding that steak over to the coolest reaches of your grill until it achieves temperatures of 140 degrees to 145 degrees (higher than that, and youâre asking for trouble). A low-heat finish over indirect heat makes it all possible. Do remind your guests that grass-fed beef retains a redder color when cooked to the same temperature as standard steaks. Bottom line: Grilling grass-fed beef isnât that different from grilling conventional beef, so donât be afraid to pick up some locally raised steaks for your barbecues this summer. Mix up an easy spice rub or marinade, give them a quick stint on the grill, and youâll have a juicy, beefy dinner in minutes. Note: Beware of false grass-fed claims, which are rampant. USDA requirements for labeling beef grass fed are loose. Be sure to ask your farmer or butcher, and you can check third-party certifiers like the Food Alliance ( foodalliance.org )
Grilling the Grass-fed way Cooking over a live flame puts on a good show, and grilling steaks is a cakewalk once youâve done it more than once. Being equipped helps, too. Start with a great grass-fed steak (see Adventures in Steak, below), a hot grill of your choice (charcoal with briquettes, hardwood charcoal or gas) and a few essential tools: a timer, tongs for flipping and a platter for the cooked steaks. A digital instant-read thermometer takes the guesswork out of determining the moment your steak is within five degrees of your ideal serving temperature. (The internal temperature will continue to climb after you remove the steak from the grill; this is called carry-over cooking). Stay relaxed and attentive, just like in your yoga practice, as you monitor those searing steaks and youâll be a hero of the grill. Before: While your grill preheats, or about 30 minutes in advance, pull the steaks from the refrigerator to take off some of the chill. Use a paper towel to pat them dry on both sides and season them well â both the meat and the fat â with kosher salt. Note that most people severely undersalt their meat, so donât hold back. Pepper is optional. Scrape and oil the grill so that it shines and move your hand about 6 inches above it to find the hottest areas (ideally 450 degrees to 475 degrees). Aim your steaks for those areas and swiftly lay them down. Set your timer for 3 minutes for rare or 3½ minutes if youâre going for medium-rare or beyond. During: Do nothing but stand by. Moving, prodding and piercing the steaks will prevent the formation of an outside crust and release the juices you want to preserve. Notice the moisture beading on the surface and a slight curvature in the meat as the meat fibers on the hot side contract. Use tongs to flip the steak and reset the timer for 3 to 3½ minutes. Wait, watch, breathe.If you have a digital instant-read thermometer, check the temperature during the last 30 seconds of cooking. If youâre going for rare, remove it at 125 degrees, for medium-rare 130 degrees â give or take a degree. To go beyond medium-rare, use your tongs to slide the steaks over to the coolest part of the grill, close the cover and wait for one to three minutes longer. This way the steaks will stay moist while continuing to cook to medium (pull them off at 135 degrees) or well-done (about 140 degrees before resting). Immediately transfer the steaks to your waiting platter, preferably warmed by the sun or a very low oven. Start by poking the steak with your index finger when it’s raw, so that you’ll get the feel for the meat. After six to seven minutes of grilling, test it again. If it feels firmer, it’s probably medium-rare â or so close that, if need be, you can put it back on the grill (even if it’s turned off) for another minute to cook it further without any shame. Once it’s overcooked, however, there’s no return. After: While you pull together the rest of the meal, let the steak rest for just five minutes. This is particularly important for grass-fed beef. You need those precious juices to disperse throughout the muscle fibers so that every bite is juicy. To serve a bone-in cut, use a boning knife to trim the bone away from the meat and use your sharpest knife to slice the steak against the grain before serving. For boneless cuts, trim away exterior fat if you like, and slice tender, fine-grained steaks into 1/2-inch thick slices. For coarser-fiber steaks, slice against the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices for the most tender eating experience.10 Reasons to go grass-fed 1. From birth to slaughter, beef cattle consume only native grasses, legumes and other forages (plus stored hay in winter where necessary) for a wholesome and complete, muscle-building diet.2. Animals live unconfined, ideally with opportunities for natural social interaction and excellent physical and psychological comfort.3. Their muscles are lean and their fat contains a recommended balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (2:1 or even lower), on par with wild game.4. Pastured beef (as well as dairy and poultry) is one of the few sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another essential fatty acid (âgood fatâ) found to have significant health-enhancing and cancer-preventing properties.5. Compared with conventional grain-finished beef, grass-fed is consistently higher in beta carotene, vitamin E, B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, and the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium.6. Cutting out the feedlot brings more money directly to the rancher and supports family farms and their communities.7. Rotational grazing methods promote soil regeneration and biodiversity and are a promising avenue for increased carbon sequestration.8. Far less fossil fuel is used in producing this beef, and animal waste is a valuable plant fertilizer that is dispersed over the rangeland, not collected in polluting manure lagoons.9. The texture of the beef when raw is resilient, like a well-toned and relaxed muscle, less watery and, when cooked, is more substantial and satisfying.10. The flavors are more concentrated and varied with mineral, mushroom and umami qualities â all dependent on the composition and quality of the pastures where the animals grazed.Adventures in Steak Steaks from the middle â the rib and loin sections â used to be the definition a great steak. Not anymore. The seam butchery revival (which preserves the muscle groups) has redesigned the menu, offering more steaks from the chuck, such as the flatiron, as well as beefy, coarse-textured steaks like the bavette from the bottom sirloin and plate. And for whole animal eaters, there are novelty items for grilling, too, like the heart.For most cuts you can visit your local meat counter since it’s prime steak season. For less common cuts, youâll need to seek out a dedicated butcher shop. Classic steaks: These are the steakhouse steaks, especially rib steak (rib-eye when boneless), T-bone and porterhouse (pretty much the same cut, though porterhouse has a larger tenderloin muscle; the term âporterhouseâ can also indicate a thick-cut steak), strip loin (aka New York steak) and tenderloin steak (aka filet mignon, not a favorite of butchers, FYI, because it lacks flavor).New steaks: Recent discoveries from the chuck include flatiron (aka top blade steak), teres major (aka shoulder tender) and chuck-eye steak, a bargain cut just one slice away from the pricey rib section.Bistro steaks: Along with old favorites like flank steak and tri-tip, there is skirt steak, both inside and outside, hanger steak and bavette (aka sirloin flap or flap meat).Novelties: Though theyâre not technically steaks, these are great grillers for the adventuresome: beef heart (trimmed and sliced), tongue (boiled for two minutes, then peeled and sliced), back ribs and flanken-style short ribs (the thinly cut ribs are also called Korean-style)
â Lynne Curry is a freelance writer who became a born-again carnivore when she moved to the Wallowas from Seattle in 2001. She is the author of “Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat With Recipes for Every Cut” (Running Press, May 2012), a grass-fed-beef manifesto.