It’s no secret that we like grass-fed beef jerky, but not in the “throw around some hipster buzzwords for marketing purposes way.” Nope. We go see the ranches that are making a positive impact on the planet. We sit down with health experts to get the facts. And we rigorously test all of our products for the best possible taste.
So when we say we like grass-fed beef, it’s because there are real, actual impact-your-the-world differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.
Grass-fed vs. Grain-fed Beef: Is Grass-fed better?
I mean how different could two cows really be, right? It turns out, pretty different. In the whole grass-fed vs. grain-fed debate, the same three points always come up: health, environmental impact, and taste. For us, there’s a clear winner in every category.
But because things are never simple, first we should mention that “grass-fed” isn’t a strictly defined term. Even grain-fed cattle spend part of their life on pastures before they are finished on grains in feedlots. And in rare cases, some beef with a “grass-fed” label may have come from cows that were confined to pens and fed hay. That’s where terms like “100% grass-fed and finished” and “pasture-raised'' come in handy.
For us, that’s what grass-fed really means – cows that spend their entire lives roaming and grazing on pastures – and that’s what we mean when we use the term in this article.
Is grass-fed beef healthy? Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef has:
2-4x the Omega-3s. Eating grass-fed beef instead of grain-fed gives you a wayyy better Omega6: Omega3 ratio, a huge factor in reducing risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases. Get the deets in this post on grass-fed beef and chronic inflammation.
Less fat, more protein. Grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed, meaning you get less saturated fat and more protein
Higher nutrient levels. According to Jordan Mazur, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition for professional NFL teams, “Compared to conventional beef, grass-fed is grass-fed beef is much higher in Vitamin A and E, beta-carotene, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.”
Check out our full interview with Jordan for more science-y details on the health benefits of grass-fed over grain-fed.
The environmental benefits of grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef are a little more debated. Grass-fed cows produce more methane gas over the course of their lives than conventional cattle, but here’s where things get interesting – the carbon footprint from grass-fed cows can still be lower than that of grain-fed cows 1.
With regenerative agriculture practices and proper grazing, the carbon emissions from cows that are pastured and grass-fed can be completely offset by the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil.
Regenerative ag farmers like our peeps at Richland’s Grass Fed Beef are basically ballers when it comes to protecting the natural ecosystems of their ranch and improving soil health, which in turn captures carbon, reduces water usage, and prevents soil erosion.
Finally, the question that’s the biggest make or break for the carnivorous connoisseurs out there: Does grass-fed beef taste different?
The short answer is yeah... but not necessarily in a bad way, and with some cuts of meat, you won’t really taste a difference at all. The taste will ultimately depend on the cut of meat you’re eating and how it was cooked. Grass-fed beef has less marbling (i.e. fat content) than grain-fed beef, making it leaner and sometimes chewier. If two similar cuts of grass-fed and grain-fed beef are cooked the exact same way, the grain-fed will be more tender with a richer, fattier flavor. But when grass-fed beef is prepared properly, it can be just as tender, and many find it has more complex, nuanced flavors.