What’s Your Beef?
Finding the meat that satisfies your cravings
I like beef, but I’m a little concerned about where my beef has been before it gets to me. Buying beef close to its point of origin is ideal, but just where is that point of origin? And what do all those labels mean?
For starters, meat labeled USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) prime, choice, or select steak simply refers to its post-cut physical qualities. These ratings play no role to indicate the animal’s breed or how it was raised, fed, or treated. The USDA also has regulations that must be met in order for terms like grass-fed, organic, or hormone-free to appear on labels. This sounds okay until you learn that the producers who qualify for participation pay for their certifications. Chances are there are farmers nearby who can’t afford certifications, yet that is no reflection on the standards in which they raise their beef.
So, how do you find meat that meets your standards? First, find the labeling organization that meshes with your ideals. They include:
AGA: Animals are grass fed and forage from weaning until harvest without confinement to feedlots. Never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Born and raised on American family farms.
All Natural: Self-certification. No authority officially endorses this claim.
AWA: Focus on physical and psychological well-being of animals. Farms must be independently owned. No genetic engineering or growth promoters, but treatment is allowed for health purposes. Animals must have continuous access to fresh forage.
FA: Healthy and humane animal treatment, no growth promoters or sub-therapeutic antibiotics. Soil and water conservation as well as safe and fair working conditions of high importance.
USDA Grassfed: Cattle raised exclusively on pasture grass (and other forage) and/or hay. Does not address hormones, antibiotics, confinement, or environmental conservation.
USDA Organic: Animals are fed certified organic feed, vitamins, and minerals. No growth promoters or antibiotics. Animals must have temporary access to pasture.
I did some reading to see what I could find about beef raised near me. That search led me to a farm in California, and I realized finding local meat is a challenge.
I spoke to Ben Paletsky, who raises Belted Galloway (a breed of cattle) in Morris. He explained it perfectly: small-farm operators are busy raising cattle, not websites. On the off chance they have a website, they aren’t focused on enhancing the number of hits it gets. Raising cattle is expensive and margins are thin, so resources are put where they matter most.
To find locally raised meat, try your local farmers market. CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut) lists every Connecticut farmers market on its website: ctnofa.org/FarmersMarkets.htm.
Keep in mind that local farmers offer discounts when buying bulk or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares.
Finally, try a variety of cuts and standards to determine what suits your palate and wallet. Now, get grilling.
Pat the inch-and-a-half-inch steak dry with paper towels. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper per side. Press seasonings to adhere. Let stand at room temperature for one hour. Ready a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high heat. Gently brush grill top with vegetable oil. Place steak on grill and cook three to four minutes per side for rare to medium-rare. Then cook covered on medium for three minutes. Let rest five minutes. Enjoy!
Rare: 120° to 125°
Medium-Rare: 125° to 135°
Medium: 135° to 145°
Medium-Well: 145° to 155°
The first known domesticated cows were derivations of the now-extinct wild Aurochs. Christopher Columbus brought domestic cattle to the Americas in 1493. Recent genetic analysis revealed Columbus cows evolved from Indian and European lineage.