Help me out: Grass-fed steaks

Cow in field2
 Here's a quick question that came up from our meal on Sunday afternoon… are we the only ones who are finding our grass-fed steaks to be incredibly tough and practically impossible to eat?

Up until recently, we just haven't really bought steak, and have stuck to more utilitarian (and cheaper) cuts like ground beef, roasts, stew meat, etc. A couple of months ago, we decided to purchase a 1/4 of a cow, and with that came a large amount of steaks (t-bone, chuck, sirloin, everything).

Now, I will openly confess that I am not a great steak cooker. In fact, any tips you have would be very welcome (by not only myself, but my husband as well!). However, it does not seem to matter what we do with these steaks. They are just not pleasant to eat!

I talked to my SIL about it today, as they buy their meat from the same place, and they have had the exact same experience. So I'm curious, are others of you out there buying portions of grass-fed cows and finding that the steaks are tender and enjoyable, or are they tough in general? We prefer to only buy the most naturally raised meat, but we want to enjoy it, too!

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25 Comments

  1. So funny to read this as I was just considering buying 1/4 grass-fed cow. I’ve been struggling to afford it (mostly gr bf) and thought maybe I should just buy in bulk. But I’ve hesitated for just the reason of which you speak – we’ve found the steaks to be tougher! And I can’t fathom buying THAT much of it if I can’t seem to cook it right or if it really is that tough. I’ve tried marinating in buttermilk but it didn’t seem to help too much.
    Sorry that I haven’t any suggestions! But at least I know now that it’s not just me and maybe I should stick to stew cubes and gr bf! I’ve also noticed that my free-range chicken seems tougher too. Hmmmmm…Kind of a bummer since I can hardly stand the idea of store bought meat any more.
    Andrea

  2. No, no, you aren’t the only ones! The only grassfed steak I have *really* enjoyed eating comes from cows that were grassfed for the bulk of their lives and then corn finished. This winds up defeating the whole purpose of grassfed meat, though, so this isn’t something we opt to purchase. ;o) I’ve heard similar thoughts from many people and assume this must be due to the fact that corn fed beef is sweeter tasting than it’s grassfed counterparts, and also more fatty, thus producing a certain taste to which we’ve all become accustomed.

    Have you tried marinating your steaks in a acidic marinade of some sort? This does make completely grassfed steaks more enjoyable, at least to me and my husband. It helps make the final product more juicy and tender. We also have found cooking them on the griddle inside, with a bit of coconut oil, to be much yummier than any other cooking method, including grilling. My husband also experimented with making steak sandwiches, marinating the meat as I mentioned above, and then slicing it very thinly–think Philly cheesesteak style. This is probably my favorite way to eat grassfed steak, and this meat can make more than just sandwiches, just add to a salad or other dish as well.

  3. mom24, just so you know, it’s only the steaks that we aren’t pleased with. Everything else is wonderful (though I do make sure to slow-cook my roasts and stews to make them more tender).

    Amy, thanks for those tips. I’ve tried marinating a roast in buttermilk, but hadn’t tried it with the steaks yet. I will, for sure. I have thin sliced them once, and that was actually pretty good, so maybe I will try doing that more often. I need to find a way to use up about 12 more packages of steak!

  4. We purcchase a 1/4-1/2 cow every spring. The steaks are tougher, but the ground beef is so wonderful. For the steaks I marinade them in apple cider vinegar, garlic, and parsley for 30 min-1 hr before broiling. Hope this helps!

  5. We have found that you have to slow cook it. I cook the roast at 180 all day. The steaks are usually 2-21/2 minutes each side. It will still cook when you take it off the grill. Currently we get our meat from http://www.bellebrook.com. They have some great cooking suggestions on their website for lean meat. It has taken some getting used too. They do feed they cows the last 120 days.

  6. Yep, makes perfect sense, for a couple of reasons. Grass fed cattle are range cattle, they are using their muscles to walk – which will make for a much tougher meat. Standard cattle are pretty confined in a feed lot, to “finish” them, before they go to the packing plant. That’s why veal is so tender.

    Also, if the cattle are walking to graze, and eating grass, they are putting less fat on. It’s the fat (both on the outside of the meat, and the marbling in the middle) that gives meat both it’s flavour and it’s tenderness. It’s the same issue if you eat venison – venison like deer or elk, you actually need to slowly cook with a bit of fat added in.

    Couple of suggestions. Always trim the fat off your meat after you cook it.
    Brush a bit of kosher salt and some olive oil on your meat. This will help with the dryness.
    Always sear your meat on high heat – about a minute a side. This will help to lock in the juices.
    Always let your meat rest before you eat it. Take it off the bbq or the grill and let it sit, loosely covered, for about 5 mins. The meat will reabsorb the juices.
    Overcooking causes dryness, as does turning too many times. You should only turn your meat 2 – once to sear the other side, and then once to cook the other side, when you have flipped it.
    Obviously, if you like your steak well done, it’s going to be drier than medium rare.

    Finally, if that absolutely doesn’t help, try marinating for about 30 mins. A marinade is composed of 1/3 oil, 1/3 acid (vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, wine etc) and 1/3 spices. You can move stuff around, just keep the proportions.

  7. My parents get theirs from a friend and the steaks are wonderful!! You can cut a T-bone with a fork šŸ™‚ Must be the Oklahoma beef… It is also processed a few miles away, don’t know if that makes a difference..

  8. We had the same problem and I definitely do the slow-cooking with the roasts, but the steaks were more difficult. We’re really snobby about our steak and it’s our favorite “treat” so we had to find a way to make it work. My husband played around with it a lot and came up with a really tasty solution – a salt rub. He rubs lots of sea salt all over the steaks when he takes them out of the fridge and lets them sit for 20-30 minutes. The salt needs to be really caked on there. Then he washes it all off and puts them on the grill. They don’t take nearly as long as “normal” steaks and we eat them really rare. The flavor is much better and they are more tender and not salty as long as you wash off all the salt before cooking.

  9. I don’t have personal experience with this but there is an article in this month (sept) Sunset magazine which I happened to pick up tonight right after reading your question. You could check out the article but the basic tips for steak are to cook over medium heat (not as hot as typical) and not to overcook them (rare to medium rare is good, but medium to well done is tough)

    Hope this helps!

  10. We’ve had grass fed before and loved the steaks. Sometimes it’s in the butcher process as well. I’m not an expert, just know ours were great. To cook tough steaks, you can do them in the crockpot with broth, water or a cream soup and cook it slow and long. I’ve done a coke and kiwi marinade before and the meat was falling apart. But only let it sit for less than an hour if you do try that one. We stay away from pop now, but it was interesting to try it!
    Best of luck I hope you figure something out!

  11. A close friend of mine got a whole cow earlier this summer that she has been sharing with my family. Without a doubt the steaks are the best I have ever had. They aren’t tough, but juicy and tender. I know that where she got the cow they were just raising hers and one other, so maybe that somehow makes a difference? I don’t know.

  12. I encountered this problem a few years ago when we started buying grass-fed beef. The best (and simplest) fix I found was to lie the steaks out on a meat board 30 minutes before cooking, pound furiously with meat mallet on both sides, then rub coarse sea salt and lemon juice or vinegar into both sides. Let meat rest for remainder of 30 minutes. After this I usually sear meat in cast iron pan to desired doneness. I may use a little olive oil or butter if in the mood. I find this produces a nice tender steak with minimal effort.

  13. We buy ours from friends, and it’s the best beef we’ve had since we were kids (when most of the beef here was grass fed!)

  14. We haven’t had steaks from all pastured (meaning no grain finished) cows, but I just wanted to offer that we don’t use the chuck or sirloin as steaks. I put them in the dutch over or slow cooker and treat them either like a roast or cubed and they come out tender and shredded, which we like for many dishes. Good luck with the rest of your cuts!

  15. I have bought organic, fully grass fed steaks from several reputable sellers and they have all been terrible. After paying upwards of $14.00 a pound for them, it was like adding insult to injury šŸ˜‰

    That said, the roasts, ground meat, stew meat are all great.

    Our compromise is to do grass fed for the majority of our meat and buy the occasional steak from a local, relatively “clean” conventional beef source.

    IF you do get a quarter cow, learn from our experience and ask for a huge portion of the round steak to be ground. Apparently most of a cow is round steak, and it gets very old after a while. . . .

  16. Hmmm, I buy steaks from the same place as Steph and at first had the same problem…and the DH and I blamed him for being a bad bbq-er! He will be thrilled to know it wasnt really his fault. However, the last time we got them, I found a solution that worked well for us. I marinated the steaks in the fridge…all day. We’re talking 8 hours here. That steak was tender and chalked full of flavor from the marinade.

  17. These are all great suggestions, ladies! Thank you so much! I’m going to try them out as I use up the remainder of the steaks in our freezer!

    Jess, I’m curious which steaks you bought. The frozen ones in the larger package, or the fresh ones from the counter? Those ones tend to be a lot nicer than the ones that came in our mini-pack. I think from now on, we’re only going to buy those ones instead.

  18. We always buy grass-fed beef and yes the steaks are always tough. I have found that if you take the steak out the day before and let it thaw good and put it into a healthy marinade that night before bed, it is usually much nicer when cooked the following evening. I make my marinade from EV Olive oil, Good apple Cider vinegar, lots of freshly pressed garlic and whatever fresh or dry spices I feel like adding, usually spices with an Italian theme.

    If I don’t have time to marinade the steaks but really want to use the meat I stick it in the crock pot with some acidic medium (tomatoes in some form), and seasonings and cook it up. I know that seems like a “waste” of a good steak but when you have a hungry family to feed and steak is all that is left from you 1/2 of a cow and you forgot to take it out the day before to thaw and marinade….. the crock pot works!

  19. The September 2008 edition of “Wise Traditions” by the Weston A. Price Foundation has an article titled “Achieving Culinary Success with Grass-Fed Beef”. A number of factors detract from the taste and tenderness of grass-fed beef:
    * high stress at slaughter (high levels of stress chemicals lead to dry, tough, dark meat)
    * fast refrigeration after slaughter (doesn’t give relaxing enzymes time to work)
    * insufficient aging (needs to be 2-6 weeks)
    * cutting too much fat off steaks and roasts
    * visible marbling only accounts for about 10% of variation in meat tenderness.
    So the way the grass-fed beef is handled before it ever gets to the kitchen makes a big difference.

    Acidic liquid marinades only nominally tenderize meat, because they only penetrate a few mm into the meat. However, they are useful in providing a safe environment for the meat to continue its natural aging process. Marinades allow time for meat to safely age longer first in the refrigerator and then out at room temperature.

    For steaks, a herb paste is recommended. For 2 rib steaks, pound 6-7 cloves of garlic in a mortar with fresh thyme, marjoram, pepper corns, a dab of coarse prepared mustard, and a couple of Tbs of raw olive oil. Coat the steaks with the herb paste, cover looosely and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Let the steaks finish marinating at room temp for about 8 hours before cooking them. Aging enzymes work better at room temp. Grass-fed beef cooks more quickly than conventional beef. Check on the meat’s progress by monitoring its internal temperature. Mechanical tenderizing before marinating can also help with tissue breakdown.

    Other cuts of meat benefit from moist-heat cooking methods such as gentle stewing, praising and pot roasting.

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