The DO’s and DON’T’s of Grass-Fed Meat
Chestnut Farms, a diversified, family-run CSA based in Hardwick MA, raises beef cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, and chickens for meat and eggs, and distributes to its members on a monthly basis at a variety of locations in the Greater Boston area. Their website includes a very helpful section called “Cooking Tips,” as many of their customers, new and old alike, need reminders that grass-fed meat should be prepared differently than the fattier, more marbled, corn-fed beef we’re accustomed to buying at the supermarket. Visit their website, www.chestnutfarms.org, for recipes for specific cuts of meat, as well as tips on turkey roasting. Farmer Kim Denney wrote a comprehensive guide to cooking your Thanksgiving bird. Here’s an adapted version of Kim’s general farm meat cooking tips.
Remember, grass-fed meat is much leaner than traditional, grain-fed meat, and therefore should not be cooked beyond medium, preferably rare-to-medium rare. Watch the cooking time carefully. A steak, chop, or burger can go from perfectly cooked to overcooked in less than a minute. Even four full minutes of cooking is a long time on a hot fire! Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for perfect meat, every time.
DO defrost your meat in the fridge and bring to room temperature before cooking, or, for quick thawing, place your vacuum-sealed package in cold water for a few minutes.
DO add extra flavor through a marinade or rub. Use your favorite marinade for 24 hours before cooking, especially for lean cuts like chuck and top round steak. Pound your steak with a mallet if you do not have time to marinate, or use a perforating tenderizer. The pounding-in of a rub will infuse your meats with the flavors and help break down the tougher tissues before cooking.
DO add extra fat. Since grass-fed meats are naturally extremely low in fat, coat with virgin olive oil or truffle oil for a light flavor enhancement and easy browning. The oil will also prevent sticking.
DO sear the meat quickly over a high heat on each side when grilling to seal in natural juices, and then reduce the heat to continue cooking by moving the meat to a cooler part of the grill.
DO add extra moisture to ground meat while it’s cooking by topping with caramelized onions, sliced cheese, chopped olives, mushrooms, or roasted peppers after you’ve flipped it once. Or, consider folding in a beaten egg or some grated cheese when forming the burger patties. We do not add fat to our ground beef and it is 95% lean, so some moisture is needed to compensate for the lack of fat.
DO try cooking your steaks in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop—you have more control over the temperature, and you can add a pat of garlic butter at the end as the chefs do!
DON'T overcook! The main reason for tough meat is overcooking. We age our beef and carefully process our lamb and pork so they are fresh and safe to eat, even when rare.
DON'T forget that grass-fed meat requires 30-40% less cooking time than traditionally raised meats.
DON'T leave your burgers, steaks, chops or sausage unattended while cooking, or ever use a microwave to thaw your grass-fed meats—it will leave tough spots.
DON'T place meat on a grill or in a pan without some added butter or oil.
DON'T forget that meat continues to cook after it has been removed from the heat, therefore you want to stop cooking the meat just before it reaches desired doneness. It will finish cooking on its own in residual heat.