A Steak Taste-off

The food: grain-fed steak vs. grass-fed steak

The story:

This past week, I read an entertaining and informative book by writer Mark Schatzker called Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, for a review I wrote that appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

To quote my review in part: “Schatzker has done an ace job of combining interesting historical facts and stories, dense lessons on food and animal science, and amusing accounts of his steak-seeking travels into an entertaining, story-shaped narrative arc, complete with suspense, clever setups and payoffs, a satisfying steak resolution – this is not a personal redemption memoir about finding oneself through eating, it really is all about steak – and mouth-watering food descriptions.”

After reading Schatzker’s account of eating a great steak from a grass-fed cow – steak that made life worth living (!) – I decided to go out and invest in a piece of grass-fed steak for myself.

My first stop was Cumbrae Meats, an artisanal butcher shop on Bayview Avenue in Toronto, where the naturally raised steaks cost $25.99/pound, and come from “animals grazed on fresh grass and alfalfa hay and finished on grains for flavour and marbling.” I wasn’t yet willing to order a box of beef (minimum order $75) from Alderspring Ranch in Idaho, the source of Schatzker’s life-changing steak, but I wanted to try beef that was raised solely on grass, so I left the shop without buying anything, and moved on.

Down the street on Bayview, I stopped in at Whitehouse Meats, another artisanal butcher, where the counter man told me the naturally raised beef from Top Meadow Farms was grass-fed – though he neglected to mention that, like the Cumbrae beef, it was finished with grain, which I later found out when I looked up the brand online.

At least the Top Meadow steak was a little cheaper, at $20.99/pound. I picked out the $13 strip loin pictured on the right, above, and also bought a supermarket, grain-fed strip loin — undoubtedly pumped through with antibiotics and hormones — for $4 (pictured at left, above), which I was almost afraid to eat after reading the book’s account of how feedlot cattle are raised, and brought both steaks home to cook.

Schatzker’s 15-step recipe for how to cook steak was published in the Globe and Mail this week and can be found at the end of the article here. To summarize, his method is to wipe the steaks dry with paper towel, salt them, cook them at high heat on both sides until well-browned, then let rest for 5 minutes off the heat and out of the pan.

I cooked both the steaks in one big pan according to that method, sliced them up – they came out perfectly medium rare – and plated them with some suitable steak dinner accompaniments: mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese, and sauteed-in-butter asparagus and green beans.

On the plate you can’t tell the steak slices apart, but I could definitely taste the difference – the partially grass-fed, naturally raised steak was more tender and juicy than the supermarket steak. Was it significantly more full of robust beefy flavour though? I don’t think so. If I want to find a steak with the delectable “pure savour” that Schatzker writes of – the taste of the grass and soil and sun and water that produce a cow – I’ll have to keep searching for purely grass-fed beef.


One thought on “A Steak Taste-off

  1. Carrie Oliver says:

    Hey! Let’s do a tasting (hopefully with Mark). It’s pretty fun to find out what your taste buds prefer on their own and then again once you know the story behind the beef, whether grain-fed or grass-fed.

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