When searching to buy grass fed beef online, it is important to be well educated on the product being purchased. The quality of the food you consume may have either a positive or negative impact on your life. Therefore, it is important to take certain criteria into consideration when you want to buy beef online. Not all steaks are created equal and not all cattle are raised in the same manner or produce the same quality.
Contrary to popular belief the vast majority of cattle are not raised on a ranch. Recently, a gentleman walked by our presentation at a local market and I asked if he would like to try some beef…straight off the ranch. He sarcastically responded, “Where else would it come from?” He assumed that all cattle come from a ranch. In today’s cattle market this is not the case. Most cattle start on ranches either domestic or abroad. But the vast majority spend a good portion of their lives in a feedlot. By doing some quick research on your own, you will find that four major meat packing companies own over 80% of all the beef in the United States. Large companies typically employ the feedlot as the primary method of growing or finishing cattle.
When you buy grass fed organic beef, it is important to know how the cattle have been raised. Have the cattle been raised in a free, natural, environment or developed in a feedlot. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. This is an important distinction in the process of fully understanding the process if you elect to buy grass fed beef online or purchase from a more traditional feedlot-based approach. By design this document, “The Complete Online Grass Fed Organic Beef Guide” is to provide you with information you need to understand the world of cattle and how to select the right product for you. If you want to buy beef online, there are many considerations in making the right decision for you and your family. The objective of this guide is to provide educational information and background to clarify some of the more confusing terms and labels when buying beef online.
When calves are born, they generally drink milk from their mother, and exists as a calf dependent on grass and the mother for the primary source of consumption and survival. Cattle “producers” are the farmers and ranchers that care for and tend to the cows and calves. This natural process has gone on for thousands of years. The calves are allowed to stay with the cow for a time period (typically 6-8 months), upon which the calf is “weaned” and set out on a life of its own. Commonly, it is at this point that calves began to take very different paths and are raised in very different manners. Female calves or “Heifers” are typically kept to build herds or sold to build other herds. Male calves are often sold off as either future bulls or turned into beef steers. Steers are used as a direct source for future beef products and bulls are used for future breeding. The ownership of steers may change hands multiple times depending on the situation, until they eventually the vast majority of the steers end up in a feed-lot.
In the mid-1900s the fast food revolution started. This revolution brought about a change in the beef industry. The fast food revolution meant huge volume of beef products that needed to be produced at low prices and transported all over the U.S. Naturally, the revolution required farmers and ranchers to adopt practice to keep up with demands. In today’s market beef producers are able to produce high volumes of beef products to reach the masses. Overtime this fast food revolution impacted the small farmer and rancher financially by inhibiting their ability to cost effectively produce beef animals without the use of a feedlot. In order to meet large demand, feed lots began to pop-up. Many new practices were created to push the cattle to gain weight faster and cheaper. It also became standard practice to leverage added hormones and other alterations, to inexpensively sped up the growth process while increasing cattle weight gains.
Feedlots are designed to minimize movement of the cattle and maximize feed consumption to finish the animal quickly and cheaply. Large numbers of cattle (often millions of head) are confined to small spaces in order to maximize space, speed-up weight gain and minimize the movement of the cattle. This management technique is the cornerstone of the supply chain for the vast majority of beef consumed in the US. Cattle are “finished out” or able to be processed in packing plants at around 14 months of age. This technique is a marked decrease from the 24-26 months it takes to finish out on grass alone.
Supplying large volumes of beef helps to feed the masses but has had an impact on the future of the cattle industry. In fact, the average age of a rancher is now around 60. All trends show the older generation of ranchers are not being replaced at a necessary rate. In effect, these and many other issues has meant the concept of buying beef from a “family farm” has greatly diminished in the last several decades.
Hormones and Antibiotics
A popular technique to assist with the speedy growth process is to use hormones. Calves are implanted with hormones to provide an additional boost to the growth process. In short, by adding hormones cattle grow larger and at a faster rate in order to maximize cattle size and the time necessary to fully develop the cattle. This practice helps to reduce cost and increase the volume of the cattle produced.
Much like humans, antibiotics are utilized to treat illness. Large quantities of cattle coming in and out of feedlots are often exposed to many types of illness. In order to get in front of the illnesses cattle are often mass treated to “get in front” of sickness. The concept is to mass treat all the cattle with antibiotics upon entry (when the immunes system is challenged) to help their bodies fight off potential health issues. Upon maturation cattle are sent to packing plants to be processed and sold as products to grocery stores, meat markets, restaurant suppliers, and other outlets.
Tip: Be sure when you want to buy beef online that you take the time to understand origin of the beef being purchased. Where did the cattle come from? How were they raised? Are you buying beef from a single source animal or pieces and parts from animals all over the country? Find out types of medications and methods were used in the growth process. This will help you make a more informed decision.
The term grass fed, typically means that the cattle are “on the grass at all times.” Better said, the cattle are free to roam on pastures, graze, and eat whatever grass and other edibles they can find on whatever current pasture they are in. In order to maintain the optimal condition of the forage and grasses cattle have to be rotated to allow pastures to regenerate and provide the maximum benefits to support a healthy and natural growth cycle.
The downside of cattle being on grass at all times is that it takes lots of land and additional time in the growth process which increases the expense of raising the animal. Therefore, most often when you buy grass fed beef online you will notice increased costs that have been passed on to the consumer. The upside is that these cattle are raised or finished in a much more natural environment. Typically, their bodies experience less stress and don’t require the same level of human intervention, as do the feed lot cattle. Instead, these cattle live a very natural life.
Beef products that come from the grass are often leaner and provide additional health benefits to the consumer. If raised properly the beef will result in a much more natural tasting animal that is healthier for you to consume. However, the downside is that this process takes more time and is often more cost prohibitive to the consumer. This limits the number of producers that are able to offer this type of beef to the public and the consumer price is most often higher.
Cattle that are finished out on the grass are generally a healthier choice. This finishing technique relies on cattle sustaining a diet of high quality grasses on large quantities of land. This method requires lots of space and man power to effectively raise cattle in this type of situation. Cattle lead a much less stressful life with choice grasses, but most often the cost to gain weight is much higher. This directly affects the consumer and limits the availability of obtaining this type of beef, both in cost and supply. Additionally, in many cases it takes around 24-26 months to finish out an animal (comparable size)on grass alone. In some cases a less healthy or lower quality animal will take several months more to be processed, especially in large herds. When processing an older animal often times the beef will be less tasty and often described as tougher. What’s more, the consistency in taste and quality of the beef will vary from animal to animal based on time, conditions, and breed.
Grass fed cattle often present a big challenge for ranchers which limit the products offered to consumers. The cost requirement for vast amounts of land and the high risk for ranchers to retain animals for long periods of time, poses major challenges. Let me explain the risk (affects the prices of products) carried by ranchers in a grass fed environment. Imagine if you were offered a job where you get only one paycheck per year. That may be fine if you knew how much you would be paid. You might be able to effectively plan and ration funds. But what if you were not guaranteed a certain amount. In fact, if you hold out for 6 months you risk losing 40% of your pay check. That illustration is not an exaggeration. Live cattle markets peak-and-valley continuously. In most recent times, live cattle prices dropped 40% or more. If a rancher’s cattle are ready at the wrong time, a large percentage of operating capital stands to be lost. This concept is important because it drastically affects the consumer in the prices paid for grass finished beef.
Tip: Be a “value conscious customer” shop for value, don’t just purchase the most expensive or cheapest. Do your homework. Higher cost does not always mean higher quality or better beef. In fact, view the chart below and as you can see there is a certain point where you can pay more than the quality, or the quality levels off but the cost continues to climb.
This term often represents what the calf has been exposed to during their growing process. Unnatural interventions such as hormones, medicines, mass-antibiotics, etc. means that the animal should not be considered organic. An organic steer is one that has been raised in a natural environment, out in peaceful pastures with plenty of room to graze, shade, sun shine, water, and most importantly, fresh forage. Corn products and grains are not harmful to cattle and often provide benefits to cattle weight-gain, as long as the feed supplement is all-natural and considered a smaller percentage of the overall cattle diet when combined with plenty of fresh forage in the pasture.
In situations where fresh forage is not provided, cattle will often be treated with additional unnatural interventions (medications, hormones, supplements, etc.) to keep the animal alive and growing. By terminology it would be difficult, impractical and/or impossible to buy organic grass fed beef online from a feedlot. Cattle were meant to consume fresh forage and roam in large spaces not confined spaces. Without the adequate space interventions must occur removing the ability to organically grow the steer.
Tip: Be sure that you fully research the origin of the cattle and understand the feeding practices, environment, and growth processes when you buy organic meat online. Be sure the extra expense brings you enough value to justify.
Taking a look even deeper you will see that what goes into a cow’s body has a major effect on the nutrient composition of the beef (that is what you eat). Generally speaking, grass fed beef has less fat than its corn fed counterpart, but the real difference is in the composition of the fatty acids. A few statistics to illustrate the difference:
Tip: When choosing to buy grass fed beef online or beef from other sources it is important to consider the health benefits as part of your decision process. Health is important, but it is also important to consider budget constraints.
Our Feeding Technique
At www.JT2beef.com our cattle are on the grass at all times. We believe that cattle should be raised as they were meant to be raised. Choice grasses, both fresh water and surface water as well as shady trees on a hill tops. This stress reduced environment creates a better tasting product. Cattle are able to graze and grow in an all-natural and organic way. In order to improve the marbling and ensure a consistent quality and taste, we supplement with smaller amounts of all-natural grains. Our average finish time is around 18 months. This allows us to process younger more tender animals with flavorful marbling at just the right amount. All while providing the hormone-free, antibiotic-free product that is feeding on grass at all times. The method in which cattle are raised truly effects the taste, flavor, and texture of the beef. By utilizing our techniques of the cattle living on lush grasses, while periodically supplementing all natural protein, our beef consistently taste great with rich flavor and high quality, while offering the health benefits of being on grass at all times.
General Benefits of Beef
Lean cuts of beef provide health benefits to drive your body throughout the day. In fact, a 3 OZ serving of beef provides many needed nutrients that help you to be your best everyday:
An often neglected statistic states that consuming lean beef as a part of your daily diet improves cholesterol levels. Don’t forget to pair the consumption of lean grass-fed organic beef with an active lifestyle to ensure heart health. Research shows that all lean cuts of beef have less than 10 grams of total fat, the breakdown is 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5 OZ of cooked servings of lean beef.
Breeds of Cattle
Beef has been the food of choice for centuries. Quality beef provides an excellent source of protein while adding many other necessary nutrients. Over the centuries, many different breeds of cattle have developed in order to most effectively supply needs in the food chain. In fact, there are over 250 recognized breeds of cattle, not counting the limitless number of cross bred cattle that have become popular. Crossbred cattle are created when combining two breeds together to produce or maximize the best traits of both breeds. This technique has been utilized to improve heard size, quality of beef, and many other cattle traits.
Traits of Different Breeds
Different breeds offer quality and volume for specific food products. For example, a common characterized breed is the traditional black and white splotched cows. This breed is called a “Holstein.” The most effective use of the Holstein breed is for milk production. Their bodies produce high levels of milk and are bread to provide high quality and high volume of milk. Many sources point to this breed as the highest producing milk animal.
These breeds are raised specifically for beef production. Yes, you can eat a milk producing animal. However, typically the quality of meat, marbling, and volume of meat produced by a dairy animal would not match that of a beef breed. Beef breeds are utilized for beef production because of their high yields of consumable beef and quality flavoring. Just as a dairy farmer would not focus a milk operation on beef animals a beef rancher would not focus on dairy animals. This is important to remember when it comes to taste and quality of the beef.
Best Beef Breed
There are very few, if any, scientifically reliable studies that accurately differentiate breeds purely based on taste. However, “marbling” is most often factored into the taste of a steak J.D. Tatum et al. 2008. Producing Flavorful Beef. Online (last retrieved on 3/30/11). Marbling is a term that generally describes the amount of fatty deposits contained in a beef steak or cut of meat. Different breeds tend to produce varying levels of marbling. The Brahman breed is known for being leaner with less marbling whereas an Angus breed is known for containing more marbling. Often times marbling is associate with beef flavor therefore the breeds that typically contain more marbling are often considered the more flavorful. In this example it is very hard to compare fairly between the two breeds because it is difficult to find a well marbled Brahma steak that matches the Angus steaks marbling. Thus certain breeds are often chosen for marbling.
The marketing of a particular breed can also have a big impact on the expectations of the public. In recent years the Black Angus breed has really come to the forefront. This is due to effective marketing of the certification programs and “exclusive labeling.” (https://www.certifiedangusbeef.com/cuts/grades.aspx)
Our Breed of Choice
In order to offer the finest quality beef…straight off the ranch, it is also important to consider growing conditions. Cold weather breeds that have been bread to sustain harsh winters would not grow and produce at the same rate in warmer wetter climates. In East Texas we typically experience lighter winters with heavy rain fall and very harsh and hot summers. This creates an environment that can produce sickness and lack of weight gain due to the hardiness of the animal. Therefore, we focus on crossbred cattle. Our beef…straight off the ranch operation is focused on black hided cattle with a heavy influence of Angus (for marbling) but often have a bit of Brahman and/or Herford. By cross breeding we are able to raise cattle that grow well in our environment while producing high quality beef. Additionally, we only process beef steers at early ages. We do not leverage heifers, cows, bulls, or steers that have out lived their prime. Additionally, we do not process dairy cattle or other breeds not optimized for beef consumption. Our cattle are hand selected. Even in certain breeds there are animals that are considered higher quality than others due to their confirmation, muscle content, etc. The quality of the live animal will greatly increase the product you consume.
Tip: When purchasing beef on-line, research the type of animal processed, quality of the live animal, and the age. Certain breeds or types tend to create variances in products. Additionally, look for high quality beef steers to get your best bet for high quality flavor and value.
A customary method for tenderizing beef is called aging. There are two types of aging. Dry aging and wet aging. In today’s fast paced manufacturing market very little aging is done. This is because the aging process reduces the percentage of consumable beef. Fresh beef taken straight from processing increases the yield for the packer (retains water and less waste). Often beef sides are immediately processed and packaged to maximize the weight and profitability (added water weight).
Wet aging is a process consisting of aging the beef in plastic bags or containers and allowing the beef to sit for a time period of 7 days or so, in order to create a more tender cut of meat. This speeds up the process and reduces the shrinkage because none of the moisture in the beef does not escape. But trimming is still necessary to take out all of the edges that are not consumable. Trimming will reduce the yield of the side
Dry aging is a process where the beef is hung for a period of time 10+ days in a climate controlled environment. The longer the aging process the more flavor but less volume is consumable for the beef. Dry aging naturally shrinks the volume of the beef, due to the release of moisture. However, the main benefits to dry age is to intensify or concentrate the flavor. So in the dry aging process the beef in not only tenderized the flavor is increased.
Our Aging Process
At www.jt2beef.com we dry age our beef about 14 days. This time period allows us to create a very tender cut of beef as well as intensifying the flavor for each cut. This process may yield less product for sale, but it has consistently set us apart from other products. On average, our hanging weights (the weight of the steer once processed but not packaged) are consistently between 55-60%, while our box weights are typically 80%, which is less than most published weights. This is due to the dry aging process increasing the quality, tenderness, and taste.
Tip: Aging is a consideration. Understand the aging process. Fresh beef typically means more water weight. There is additional value in purchasing grass feed beef on-line that has been aged. The flavor and tenderness will be maximized.
Cuts of Beef
There are many things to consider when searching for the right cut of beef for your next dinner party or gathering. The first consideration in selecting the perfect cut of meat is to look at the color. Look for a cherry red color. Beef that is vacuum packed or sealed in a bag will often have a purple color. When oxygen is exposed it will turn bright red. In steaks, you want to look for white flakes in the cut of beef. Straight grass-fed beef often has a yellow coloring to the marbling. Either way, marbling is a good trait when it comes to cuts of steak. Ground beef should retain a very similar color, however, the leanness of the ground beef should be assessed. This is important, the more fat contained in the ground beef the less actual beef. The less fat in ground beef the better for higher quality. The texture of the ground beef should be pleasing to the eye without an abundance of fatty deposits or unsightly portions. Don’t be afraid if you see dark spots contained within the ground beef. This indicates that the beef has been aged. However, be careful if you see dark spots and the beef is advertised as fresh and not aged, this may be a sign of other issues. There are many cuts to choose from. At www.jt2beef.com we classify or categorize certain cut types in terms of value, and supply
The most expensive category would be “primal cuts.” These cuts of beef are what you would think of when you want to go to a nice steak house. Typically, these cuts are Ribeye, T-bone, Sirloin, and the variations of these basic cuts in the primal family. Often these are the most expensive cuts of beef because there is less volume of these cuts on a processed steer. Generally, you can expect about 24% to 26% of a steer to produce primal cuts. Due to the lesser proportion derived from a steer it will drive the price of this cut above the others. Thickness of cut is a choice. At www.jt2beef.com we focus our primal cuts around 1 inch thick. Thickness is important. Cutting steaks very thin are great for well-done steaks (no color in the middle) but it is nearly impossible serve a thin cut rare (red, cool center). Whereas, a very think cut it will very difficult produce a well-done steak without burning the outside layers of the steak.
The “bulk” cuts such as roasts (arm, rump, chuck), briskets, and ribs represent different use cuts. Whereas a primal cut may come out around 12 ounces most of the bulk cuts such as a roast will come out as 2-5 lbs. depending on bone-in versus bone-out and the size of the cut. Arm roast is one of the least known bulk items. However, this cut is very versatile and is considered to be the most lean cut of roast. Be careful when cooking one that you do not overcook the arm roast and toughen it. Tip: an arm roast is great on the grill! The trick is to sear it by direct heat for 5 minutes on each side, then slow cook on indirect flame for 15-20 minutes each side. Add seasoning and you will find an amazing dish that is very versatile from a stand-alone to a sandwich. Brisket is typically only offered as a boneless option. A typical brisket taken from one side of a steer will be a minimum of 7 lbs. Briskets are best cooked low and slow – smoking is a great option.
Finally, the “multiple use” category are cuts such as ground beef, cutlets, stew meat and other specialty items. Most of the volume when processing an animal will come in the form of the bulk and multiple use cuts. Make your choice based on the size of those being served and the type of dish you want to create. For example, a Sunday dinner may be well suited for a roast that feeds multiple people. When inviting the couple next door over, you may want a few T-bones. For an office Christmas party, you may want to tackle a nice brisket. Of course burgers are always a hit and are often a more cost effective dish.
Lean Ground Beef
Ground beef is the most commonly used cut of beef. This is due to the versatility and multiple uses of the product. When buying organic beef online consider the fat content. A typical process in manufactured environments is to separate meat form fat and measure of add fat to the beef. When you see 80/20 ground beef or 75/25 that speaks to the percentage of beef and the second percentage of fat added to “cheapen” then ground beef.
An alternative processing technique is to take the beef straight off the bone. In this case there will be no designation as to the ratio because it is dependent on the single source animal being processed. There is great value in consuming beef from a single source animal. This is because pieces and parts from various quality cattle are not mixed. Instead, a single animal is processed and packaged. Grass fed organic beef that has been on the grass and the beef taken straight off the bone will typically be in the range of 85% to 90% beef and 10-15% of fat. Grass fed beef is much leaner than manufactured foods where fat from many animals is specifically added back to it. Typically, you will not find the fat content of grass fed beef or beef straight off the ranch. This is because the beef is not manufactured, instead it is all natural and taken straight off the bone and immediately ground. The fat content may vary slightly from animal to animal but it typically hovers around the 90/10 range. There is no combining, measuring or cross contaminating animals, just simply beef straight off the ranch just like the old days.
Tip: Make sure you know the origin of the cattle? What is the source of the cattle you are purchasing your beef products from? Ask about coloring, preservatives, or additives during the packaging process.
Fact or Fiction: Beef should never be frozen? Fiction, if packaged properly and stored at proper temperatures it is very hard to tell the difference between a cut of meat that has been frozen or was fresh prior to cooking. Two main factors in the long-term storage of beef products are packaging and temperature. Enzymes naturally break the muscle fibers down until they are not eatable. The quality of packing makes a big difference in the longevity of the beef. Additionally, the taste and texture of the beef may be altered when you have a product that is poorly packaged. For long-term storage the objective is to remove as much air as possible. If not properly packaged ice crystals will form in between the muscle fibers and expand the muscle tissue. Over time this will create a “freezer burn” effect and will cause the beef to dry and change colors. Storage temperature also plays a big factor in the longevity and freshness of the beef. The lower the temperature the longer the beef will remain usable. At www.jt2beef.com we have found that by using our vacuum sealed packaging and rapid freezing at the time of processing maximizes the longevity of the beef products. By proper storage you can store beef for 8-12 months with little to not loss or depreciation of quality. We recommend that you keep your freezer temperature between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, there are three types of packaging that are utilized when storing beef.
Paper Wrapped – This type of wrapping is a high grade thick brown or white paper. Usually the paper products are lined with a waxy substance to assist in moisture containment. This type of packaging is most effective in situations where you are picking up and utilizing the product immediately. Attempts to store beef products long-term will be challenging. This option exposes the beef directly to the open air and does not adequately protect the beef.
Plastic Paper – Another cost effective strategy utilized by most grocery stores is to place the beef in a Styrofoam tray and cover the beef with a thin sheet of plastic wrap. In most cases this type of packaging will be adequate for short-term storage in a refrigerator but will not provide necessary protection for long-term freezer storage.
Vacuum Seal – This is the most expensive option but is also the most effective. This type of packaging when done properly, at the time of processing provides the most robust protection for both cool temperatures as well as deep freeze temperatures. Be sure that the package is fully sealed and air is taken out of the product. Be careful that there are not cuts or holes in the plastic. If you come across a package weakness once thawed, check the beef to ensure it is still eatable. If you notice freezer burn then simply cut the affected area and utilize the remainder of the beef as intended. (www.USDA.GOV)
Tip: Packaging provides great value when considering on-line beef purchases. Consider paying extra to ensure your beef remains high quality as long as possible. Some things are worth paying more.
Thawing of the beef properly will help you maximize the quality of your prepared dish. Most guidelines will tell you to thaw beef in a refrigerator between 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Thawing time will be between 12 and 24 hours depending on the cut of beef, size of the cut, and thawing temperature. When you have prepared your menu in advance this process is the best and safest approach. However, many times life schedules make it hard to plan out meals that far in advance. At times some may choose to thaw beef at room temperature to speed up the process (not recommended). If you choose this method be sure optimal packaging is intact. Keep the beef in the original package to protect it from any air borne issues. Also when thawing, place the beef on a tray to limit contact and catch any melting effects. Be sure the beef is not left in the sun or exposed to the elements as there is a danger of food poisoning and other harmful effects. Do not consume the beef if it was left out too long, shows strange coloring or unusual odor. Also, stay away from cooking meat that has melted or been reduced to room temperature without proper protection.
Cooking Organic Grass Fed Beef
Beef is a very versatile meat. Additionally, there are many different dishes and creations where beef can be the center or main course. When you buy beef online consider the menu item and be sure to match the cut of beef for the menu item you desire.
When you buy organic grass fed beef online be sure that you do not overcook the cut of beef. Most of the time when you consume a “tough” grass fed steak it is due to over cooking. Because grass fed beef is typically leaner hotter internal temperatures will dry out the meat pre maturely. Grass fed organic beef is best for rare or medium rare. If you desire a well done cut of meat be sure to cook it low and slow and optimally in a sauce or marinade to add moisture. Keep this point in mind if you are new to organic grass fed beef.
Grass fed organic beef will require less cooking time and about 10 degrees less of internal temperature. Be sure you don’t leave it unattended as you might over cook. Additionally, it is not uncommon to see a pinker shade inside the cut of beef. This may not be due to being overly rare but instead may be due to more actual muscle fiber than what you may be accustom to cooking with.
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