In the Paleo community, there is plenty of talk about the difference between grass fed/finished beef vs. grain fed beef, but what about grass fed beef vs. grass fed beef?
There are literally hundreds of varieties of beef cattle, from Abondance to Yanbian,each with distinct qualities and characteristics. Even among the same variety, the local environment and the types of forage and grasses the cow grazes upon influences it's flavor.
To get this conversation started, Travis Martinez, "Commander in Beef" at TX Organics, challenged us Paleo food bloggers to compare his Northern California Black Angus to our own local beef varieties.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, especially one that involves food, I was happy to step up to the plate.
|White Oak Pastures grass fed beef (top) and TX Organics grass fed beef (bottom)|
TX Organics Black Angus from Northern California, ground with 85% lean 15% fat
White Oak Pastures Angus/Black Angus from South West Georgia, ground 90% lean 10% fat
The higher fat content of the TX Organics beef gave it a noticeably lighter color than the deep red White Oak Pastures beef. Both products had a clean, beefy smell and didn't leave my hands overly greasy after forming the patties.
I prepared both types of beef the same way. My goal was to compliment the natural flavor of the beef without overwhelming it. The recipe I used was based on "The Ultimate Paleo Burger" recipe that you can find in my upcoming cookbook, "Paleo Grilling - A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire".
Grass Fed Beef Burgers Ingredients:
1lb grass fed beef
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion flakes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
As with the basic burger recipe, I wanted to pair the burgers with toppings that wouldn't overshadow the beefs natural flavor. I kept things simple and avoided the urge to obliterate the burger under too many toppings. Obviously this is a Paleo burger, so there are no buns allowed. I could have made a "paleo" bun out of coconut flour, sweet potatoes, or some other such ingredients, but I find the flavor of these items to be fairly strong. Iceberg lettuce, in addition to being a classic burger topping, makes a clean, fresh wrap that's perfect for this challenge.
Caramelized white onion cooked in bacon fat
|TX Organics grass fed beef (left) and White Oak Pastures grass fed beef (right)|
Again, the decision here was based on the desire to let the natural character of the beef shine through. I had initially considered cooking the burgers over natural charcoal, but thought that the coal would imbue the beef with it's characteristic smoky flavor, masking the subtle nuances that we were looking for. Ultimately, I decided to go with broiling in a cast iron skillet.
If the burgers have been in the refrigerator, remove them from the fridge and allow them to come up to room temperature (~30 min). Preheat your oven (with the skillet inside) to 425 degrees. When the oven is preheated, put the burgers on the skillet (avoid overcrowding them and be sure to use an oven mitt or dry towel when grabbing the skillet handle) and return the skillet to the oven.
After five minutes, remove the skillet, flip the burgers, and return them to the oven for an additional five minutes.
Remove the skillet from the oven and put the burgers on a platter. Tent them with foil and allow the burgers to rest for five minutes to allow the juices to redistribute through the meat.
The Taste Test
I prepared my Paleo Burger with 1/2 of a TX Organics burger and 1/2 of a White Oak Pastures burger. Cutting into the meat, I found the White Oak burger to have cooked up slightly rarer than the TX Organics meat.
As I ate, I made sure to take separate bites of each burger to explore their distinct characteristics. The higher fat in the TX Organics ground beef blend definitely gave it a bit more richness and juiciness. However, the slightly leaner White Oak Pastures beef concentrated the beefs natural flavor, giving it a more pronounced flavor profile.
Just to be sure the toppings weren't clouding my judgement, I also sampled each burger separately with no toppings and this, in addition to leaving me quite full, confirmed my previous findings.
Within the same variety of cattle (Black Angus in this case) it seems like the greatest source of difference, at least in ground beef, is the fat content of the grind. I'm going to conduct a second test with steaks to eliminate this variable, but will need to give my stomach a little time to settle before I move on to ribeyes!