With so many different types of beef available to you, it can seem quite daunting trying to choose the right one. Everything is labeled differently, and it can be challenging to determine what each one is or means, for that matter.
There is very little difference between grass-fed and organic beef when smoking because they have similar fat content. However, you can’t say the same for grain-fed beef.
What is the difference between them regarding smoking, cooking, nutrition values, and taste alone? If you are just as confused about which type you should be choosing, this article will help you make an educated decision next time you are in the store.
Different Types of Beef
This term is used to describe cattle that have been raised without the use of growth hormones, GMOs, animal by-products, or antibiotics.
Grass-fed pertains to cattle that have been only fed grass or hay that grows from the land. The cattle also have access to free-range year-round. No government agency verifies grass-fed beef, so look to trusted suppliers for your meat.
Aged is used to describe meat that has been butchered and is allowed to age in a controlled temperature environment. It can be dry-aged or wet-aged in a sealed package. Sometimes the meat is surrounded by salt while aging as well.
This type of meat comes from the Angus breed of cattle. It has quite a bit of fat marbling within the meat that gives the steak extra flavor and moisture.
Wagyu is another type of cattle that has even more fat marbling than Angus cattle. The majority of this cattle breed is exclusively raised in Japan, with stringent rules and regulations on how the cattle need to be cared for, treated, and raised.
Certification is an overview of marketing claims that concern quality, breed, and other characteristics like we just covered. The program varies widely depending on a lot of factors.
It is optimistic to think that all beef with a certified label has met all USDA “certified” standards because the standards are not hard rules.
There is a long list of meat providers that have a complete inspection. If you want to be sure that your beef has passed all the standards to be USDA’s “certified,” there is an online list.
Don’t confuse food safety and inspections with certification; that is an entirely separate process.
Different Grades of Beef
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set a grading system for all meats. This system is voluntary, but most producers follow it closely, creating a uniform standard in stores and meat markets.
Prime: is the best grade of meat available on the market. Usually used in restaurants and comes at the highest price due to the extreme amount of fat marbling.
Choice: is the next best thing and is usually available to the public in supermarkets. It still has a high-fat marbling content.
Select: this is the next grade with less marbling than the others but still a good cut of beef.
Standard: this is the most basic grade of beef and is usually not labeled in the supermarket.
What is Grass-Fed Beef?
Cattle raised in a pasture and have access to the pasture all year are referred to as grass-fed beef products. The cattle only eat what the land will provide, which is mainly grass and hay.
This type of beef is going to be much leaner than other types of cattle because of the diet the cattle receive and the amount of exercise the cattle get daily. Many people like to choose this type of beef because it has been raised more humanely without a cage or a pen.
Even though the cattle are raised in a pasture with a natural diet, the cattle could still receive antibiotics when they are sick or have other treatments that would not allow the beef to be graded as organic. Usually, grass-fed cows are slaughtered one by one, which also plays a role in the meat’s overall quality.
What is Organic Beef?
Organic beef is very similar to grass-fed beef in almost every single way except for the diet. While organic cattle may graze on a pasture of grass and hay from time to time, they are also given organic feed as a supplement. The feed is a mixture of organically sourced grain and corn which is very good for the cattle.
Organic cattle are also allowed to roam the pasture and not be kept in a pen. They are also free of any growth hormones or antibiotics as well. The meat is harvested one by one and is usually done by the farmer or rancher that owns the cattle.
What is Grain-Fed Beef?
Grain-fed cattle are the complete opposite of grass-fed cattle. They are meant to be kept in cages or pens but sometimes in larger areas. They are also fed a rich grain supplement that is meant to fatten them up.
The idea is to feed the cattle continuously and keep them from exercising so the meat will become extra fatty and high in flavor. These conditions are not good for the cattle and can be seen as inhumane.
They are also taken to a slaughterhouse where the meat is harvested by machines that don’t do the best job but are very fast in the process.
Is There a Nutritional Difference in Types of Beef?
Grass-fed cattle are higher in omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other nutrients than those fed grain. The meat will also be lower in saturated fats due to the amount of exercise the cattle get over time.
Organic cattle will also be very similar with higher nutrients than grain-fed cattle.
Do Grass-Fed and Organic Beef Cook the Same?
As for the cooking difference, grass-fed and organic beef will not cook differently based on the type of beef but instead on the fat content. Depending on the amount of fat content within the steak determines how it cooks. You will need to adjust your time and temperature for the best results.
For example, for smoking lean meats you will want to cook as low and slow as possible or avoid smoking. Grilling lean meats at a high temperature then allowing for a long rest will give you the best results.
Fatty meats can cook at a slightly higher temperature and remain juicy while forming a delightful crispy and flavorful crust.
Is There a Difference in Taste of Grass-Fed and Organic Beef?
There is a difference in the taste of grass-fed and organic beef. The amount of fat in a cut of beef will more than likely change from steak to steak. The higher the steak’s fat content, the more likely it is to have a more robust flavor and contain a better texture with more juices.
Also, the quality of the meat will determine the flavor as well. Types of cattle like Angus and Wagyu beef are known for their high-fat content in the meat, and when the steak is cooked correctly, it should just melt in your mouth without having to chew it.
Even though grass-fed cattle are supposedly better in quality, they will be lower in fat content, so there may not be as much flavor present as you desire.
When you try to decide between grass-fed and organic beef when smoking, they are very similar, so this might not be the big question. A more important question should be between traditional grain-fed and grass-fed beef. Does the taste of grain-fed beef outweigh the health benefits of grass-fed or organic beef?
No matter the type of beef you decide to go with, make sure you are basing your decision on what you are after in the long run. Are you wanting more flavor, more nutrients, or a better-sourced beef product?
If you know the difference between grain-fed, grass-fed, and organic beef products, then you will be ok with deciding between the two. But if you are looking for an even better cut, look for the cattle bred for that specifically.