Grass fed vs grain finished beef, both sides have their advocates. Grass-fed proponents say the beef is healthier and leaner, grain-fed say the beef taste better because of the marbled fat at half the cost of grass-fed beef.
Pat Lafrieda, America's most celebrated butcher, is co-owner with his father and cousin of new York City's most prestigious meat packing facility. His company suppliers the finest restaurants all across the United States. In Pat's book called "MEAT" from page 168, this is what he has to say about grass-fed and grain-finished beef.
In recent years there has been a lot of misconception about grass-fed versus grain-fed (also called grain-finished) meat due to the information and misinformation in the media. The two most widely held misconception are that it is healthier for the animal to eat an all-grass diet, and that cattle fed on an all-grass diet have a lower carbon footprint than those fed grain. Both of these beliefs are wrong.
All beef cattle are raised on grass for the first 85 percent of their lives. But where grass-fed cattle eat the same diet until slaughter, at 120 to 160 days before slaughter, grain-fed cattle are moved from grass to a diet of silage, which is a mixture of primarily corn (both the plant and the kernel), alfalfa, wheat, and barley. The change in diet is done to fatten the animal, which increases marbling, which in turn results in tender, flavorful meat.
Finishing cattle with grain takes a significantly shorter period of time and thus, cattle fed an all-grain diet produce fewer greenhouse emissions than those that are strictly grass-fed. And as for the notion that corn is unhealthy for the animal: it's in no way unhealthy. The idea that corn-fed cattle are unhealthy may come from images of very old cattle being prodded to get them to slaughter. Those are old dairy cows; they weren't raised for meat, so they have no muscle or fat. These are not the animals we deal in. The animals we buy are all healthy and under twenty-four months of age.
Another fact to consider is that the majority of American beef comes from the Midwest, which is also known as the Corn Belt. So you have American corn farmers supplying their product to their neighboring cattle farmers. There is nothing more sustainable than that. Ask a grass cattle farmer what he feeds the cattle in the winter, or what he does when the cattle have trampled all their paddocks and the grass hasn't grown back. They all supplement the cattle with grain or corn.
Grass-fed meat is also touted as being healthier for the consumer. The main argument for the health properties of grass-fed meat is that it is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be good for you. But there is so little of these fats in grass-fed meat that you would have to eat more than you possibly could for it to make any difference. In any case, I am in the business of providing restaurants with the most flavorful meat available, and that is not grass-fed meat.
Grain-fed beef accounts for an overwhelming majority of beef sold in the United States. And with good reason. From an economical standpoint, there is no better way to add weight to the animal; it also results in a better product from a culinary point of view.
There is some consumer interest in grass-fed beef, but that is primarily at the retail level, because customers have read and bought into the hype. Very few chefs ever ask for grass-fed beef, and when they do it's a short run before they switch back to grain-finished beef. It tasted better, and that's what chefs care about.