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Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed: Exploring the Differences

What does the term grain-fed and grass-fed mean?

If you're a steak lover, exploring the taste differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef is worth exploring. Understanding the nuances can help you make an informed choice when selecting the perfect cut for your next meal. In this article, we will delve into the distinct characteristics of both types of beef and explore how their diets impact flavor, tenderness, and overall dining experience.


Most grain-fed cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing on pasture and eating grass. However, in the last months before slaughter, they are moved into feedlots to be finished on a concentrated high-energy grain diet comprised mainly of corn, soybeans, and other cereal grains.


Unlike their grain-fed counterparts, grass-fed cattle as stated by theUSDA, spend their entire lives on open pastures and are never confined to feedlots. Their diet consists 100% of solely forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. This is different from “grass-finished” beef. This means the animal may have been fed grain at some point in their life. The percentage of this should be shown on the label.

Differences in taste, appearance, and nutrition 

Fat profile and marbling contrast

Grain-fed beef usually has a higher fat percentage than grass-fed beef. This is because the grain diet provides a concentrated source of carbohydrates and calories that helps promote marbling - the infiltration of fat within the muscle. Grain-fed beef is well-known for its ample marbling and visible fat cap on steaks and roasts.

In contrast, the pasture-based diet of grass-fed cattle lacks the energy density to produce the same levels of marbling. Grass-fed beef has a much leaner appearance with little to no marbling present. Studies show the overall fat content is typically 2-3% lower in grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed. Meaning it is much leaner than its counterpart.

Why grass-fed beef doesn’t reach USDA premium grades 

Because of the generally lower fat content of a grass-fed cow usually, they do not reach the marbling requirements of the USDA prime or choice. However, this doesn’t mean all grass-fed cows don’t get a USDA grade. Depending on the breed, heritage, or how the cow is raised the marbling can reach the standards for USDA prime or choice.

Flavor and texture differences 


Because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef usually is described to have a more mineral-heavy, “nutty”, and “gamier” taste to them. While grain-fed beef has been described to have a milder, juicier, and buttery taste than its counterpart.


One of the differences you will see immediately is the difference in the color of the fat. Besides Grain-fed beef usually having more marbling, it has whiter fat than grass-fed beef which usually has a yellowish color to its fat. This is from beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is a pigment abundant in the diets of grass-fed livestock.


Grain-fed beef is generally more tender and juicy due to its higher fat content, keeping it moist during cooking. In contrast, lean grass-fed beef has less marbling, leading to potential dryness and toughness, especially when overcooked. This is why grass-fed steaks cook faster and that is why it’s important to add an ample amount of butter when searing grass-fed steaks in order to keep their juiciness.


Grass-fed beef has fewer calories than grain-fed beef per gram due to its lower fat content and marbling. It's higher in beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, CLA, vitamin E, and carotenoids, linked to heart health, weight management, and cell protection. This is attributed to the diverse forage-based diet of grass-fed cattle.

Price and Costs 

Why is grass-fed beef more expensive? 

Grass-fed beef usually, comes at a premium of 20-50% over conventional grain-fed beef due to several factors. The slower growth rate of grass-fed cattle necessitates additional months to reach the finishing weight, driving up production costs. These cattle are typically slaughtered at lower weights, yielding less meat per animal compared to well-marbled grain-fed counterparts. The extensive land requirements for grazing and the need for rotational grazing increase expenses. Moreover, the labor-intensive nature of managing pasture-based systems, including tasks like moving fencing, adds to the cost. In regions without year-round grazing, supplementary winter feed like harvested forage or purchased hay further contributes to the elevated price of grass-fed beef.

How to cook both

While both types of meat have their own distinct types of features. Some features that overlapping. However, if cooked right both types of meat can be tender, juicy, and flavorful. The most important element for cooking meat is theinternal temperature. If you don’t wanna leave the internal temperature to guesswork it can cause you to ruin your meat, you should consider using ourMeatStick probe to accurately monitor the temperature of your meat.

Grain-fed steak

Most of the steaks and cuts of meat you buy from a store are grain-fed. So, in general, there aren’t any special precautions you need to take when cooking grain-fed. Because grain-fed steak generally has more marbling and fat content, offering forgiveness during the cooking process. It can be cooked a bit longer without risking overcooking. Here is a short recipe for you to try:

A Juicy Grilled Grain-Fed T-Bone Steaks


T-bone steak

2 tbsp butter, softened

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Salt and pepper


Combine butter, garlic, thyme, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well.

Rub the herb butter mixture all over both sides of the steaks.


Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Grill steaks until the internal temperature reaches 135°F (57°C) for medium rare.

Remove steaks from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Serve steaks with herb butter on top along with desired sides.

Grass-fed steak 

Grass-fed steak features leaner meat, cooking faster and demanding more attention to prevent overcooking. Opt for lower cooking temperatures to preserve moisture. Experiment with marinades or rubs for added flavor and tenderness. When slicing, go against the grain to ensure optimal tenderness. A recommended tip is to generously apply butter when pan searing. This helps the meat retain its moisture effectively. Here is a grass-fed flank steak recipe for you to try:

A delicious grass-fed flank steak 


1 grass-fed flank steak

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper


In a bowl or ziplock bag, combine olive oil, garlic, paprika, oregano, cumin, lime juice, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk or shake to blend.

Add flank steak and turn to coat in the marinade. Let marinate for 30 mins - 1 hour in the fridge.


Heat the grill to high heat. Grill steak until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°F (57°C) for medium rare.

Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing across the grain into thin strips.

So which meat should you get? 

The choice between grass-fed and grain-fed beef comes down to your priorities - be it flavor, leanness, or spending. Grass-fed provides a distinct robust taste and added nutrition from its forage-only diet. Grain-fed delivers rich marbling and tenderness that some find unparalleled. Understanding the differences allows you to set realistic expectations and adjust your cooking practices.


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2 Responses


August 20, 2023

I have always wanted a “meat stick”

B. Neumann
B. Neumann

August 20, 2023

Good info, but there should be a print or save button at least for the recipes.

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