By Diana Rodgers, RD
Do you find it intimidating to use grass-fed, frozen steaks? As a nutritionist, cookbook author and farmer’s wife, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the topic. Here are my tips to handle, store and thaw your favorite cuts. I’ll also list some of my favorite kitchen gadgets for preparing meat.
Handling Frozen, Grass-Fed Meat
Because grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-finished beef, it can sometimes have a reputation of being dryer and chewier. This is where your cooking technique comes into play. When cooked properly, grass-fed steak has a more “earthy” or “grassy” taste. When it comes to lamb and pork, conventionally produced versions taste like plain tofu to me compared to their local, pasture-raised counterparts. I have to admit it’s difficult for me to eat restaurant meat if I know it’s not pasture-raised, because the flavor is just not there and it feels like a waste of money and of an animal’s life.
How to store
I have a “meat freezer”. Chest freezers are more energy efficient, but I’ve found over the years that I prefer an upright freezer because I can easily see and grab the cuts I want instead of digging around in a chest freezer, which can make holes in the plastic wrapping – something that you don’t want to do. Holes make for a big mess when you’re thawing the meat, and can introduce bacteria that will spoil the meat.
How to plan
I also have a spare refrigerator, which I use for leftovers, beverages, and thawing meat. Each week, I place a few packages of frozen meat in a bowel in the bottom of the refrigerator. Bowls are key because sometimes, the meat can “leak” if there is a hole in the package and make a huge mess. This is also why it’s important from a safety perspective to keep any raw meat at the bottom portion of the fridge.
How to thaw
Most of the time when I’m planning a meal, I take a look at what cuts I have available to cook, how much time I have, and what vegetables are on hand (seasonal in the growing season) and start from there. There are occasions when I find myself without thawed meat. To quickly thaw meat, place the wrapped meat in a large bowl in the sink. Place it under cool running water for 15-20 minutes. Never use a microwave. This process works great for a 1-pound package of ground meat or steaks, but not for large roasts or whole chickens, when the slow-thaw refrigerator technique is ideal. I’ve found that quick thawing ground meat sometimes makes for a more watery product, which makes meatballs less likely to keep their shape, and may necessitate more binder.
How to cook
In terms of cooking your meat, be aware that grass-fed beef cooks differently than a “typical” steak. “Low and slow” cooking techniques like brazing and stewing are ideal for larger cuts. When making steaks, an initial quick sear in a cast-iron skillet followed by a low and slow oven method, or starting in the oven and finished with a sear works well. You’ll need about 30% less cooking time for grass-fed meat. Set your oven about 50 degrees lower when using grass-fed beef if following a standard recipe, and crockpots should be set on “low.” I also allow meat to come to room temperature before I cook it, and let it rest for at least five minutes before cutting into it.
There are a few great kitchen tools that will make your life easier when cooking grass-fed meats:
A digital meat thermometer – It’s really hard to cook a perfect steak if you don’t know what temperature it is. My favorite thermometer is a “thermapen.” Consult a temperature chart that will instruct you on the proper temperature reading for type of meat, cut, and desired doneness. Always remove the meat from your heat source just before it gets to the proper temperature to allow for “carry over” time, which can vary depending on the thickness of the cut.
A cast iron skillet – I love my Lodge cast iron skillets, and have a variety of shapes and sizes. You can even find ones at yard sales, and they’re easy to recondition back into shape. Cast iron holds heat really well and creates the perfect sear.
A braising pan – This isn’t mandatory, because you can also braze in a Dutch oven or in a baking dish with a cover, but a braising pot does make the job easier. They’re basically a wide, enamel cast iron with tight fitting lid that can go from stovetop to oven. These tend to also make a fantastic wedding gift!
A Dutch oven – For soups, stews, and slow roasts, a Dutch oven is a great tool. I like enamel cast iron, and they come in a variety of really fun colors. Make sure the lid is oven safe. I prefer a Dutch oven to a slow cooker, because the flavors are much more concentrated.
A slow cooker – If you need to “set it and forget it” or are someone who likes to let your food bubble quietly overnight and be ready to eat the next morning, a slow cooker is ideal.
An “Instant Pot” or electric pressure cooker – This is my absolute favorite new kitchen gadget. I use mine several times a week. You can use it as a slow cooker if you like, but to me the best part of the Instant Pot is its pressure cooker feature. I can make a homemade broth, something I used to simmer overnight on the stove, in about one hour. Pulled pork, stews, soups, and perfectly cooked beets and potatoes practically take no time. The food also tastes really great because you don’t need lots of liquid and the pressure concentrates the flavors. If you’re a foodie, you need this. Trust me.
A blade meat tenderizer – Searing a grass-fed steak in a pan can result in a dry and chewy piece of meat, but when you use this device, it comes out great. I can make a really tough cut juicy, rare and tender by inserting these blades into the meat, which creates tiny air holes. It’s my favorite tool to tenderize meat.
A meat pounder – I use a meat pounder to flatten out thick or unevenly cut steaks to get a uniform thickness when I’m looking to pan cook or roll meat. This specific one has a great handle and good, heavy weight that does the job well. To cut down on mess, I pound meat between parchment paper or towel on top of a cutting board.
Tongs – please don’t flip your meat with a fork, allowing the juices to run out of the meat before it’s had a chance to rest. Get yourself a few sets of tongs so that you treat your steak well.
About The Author:
Diana Rodgers is a “real food” Licensed Registered Dietician Nutritionist, and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner living on a working organic farm west of Boston. She hosts the Sustainable Dish podast and authors her Sustainable Dish blog.
Diana was a featured speaker at this year’s Grassfed Exchange September 27 – 29, in Albany, NY.