Grass-Fed vs Corn-Fed Beef: What’s the Difference?

Can't decide whether to pick up grass fed vs corn fed beef? Here's what we know.

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It used to be that a steak was a steak was a steak. Today, it’s not that simple. A quick glance at the butcher’s counter will reveal all kinds of cuts you never knew about along with fancy breeds like Angus, Wagyu and Kobe. Then, just when you thought you came to a decision, you’re faced with grass fed vs corn fed beef. Is there actually a difference between these two types of meat, other than the obvious price difference?

Grass-Fed vs Corn-Fed Beef

Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed beef is exactly what it sounds like: cattle that have grazed on grassy pastures their entire lives. The first thing you’ll notice about this type of beef is its price tag: at my local grocery store, the grass-fed ribeye steak was just shy of $4 more per pound than the corn-fed ribeye. Why is it so much more? Well, it takes longer for grass-fed cattle to reach their processing weight, and they weigh less without grain or corn to bulk up their diet. Raising beef this way is thought to be more sustainable, but it’s also more expensive for the rancher.

Are those extra dollars worth it? When it comes to nutrition, grass-fed beef is higher in key nutrients, including antioxidants and vitamins. It also has twice as many omega-3 fatty acids as regular beef. As far as flavor goes, this leaner beef has a slightly gamey taste. Because it has less intramuscular fat, it tends to eat a bit meatier than the corn-fed kind, too. Some people describe the texture as chewy, but it’s all about how you cook it! Since it has less fat content, it tends to cook faster than regular beef and can easily overcook if you’re not careful.

We recommend letting grass-fed beef come to room temperature before cooking it to increase the chances of even cooking. Read up on the common mistakes almost everyone makes when cooking steak to cook grass-fed beef like a pro.

Corn-Fed Beef

All cattle are started on grass, but most of the industry finishes their beef on corn or grain. This bulks the cattle up, increasing the fat to muscle ratio. While this type of diet adds a ton of flavor to your steaks, it’s also sort of like feeding candy and cake to cattle; they’ll eat their greens if they have to, but they also love filling up on junk food! Since these foods aren’t typical feed for cattle, many feedlots end up using preventative antibiotics to keep the herd from getting sick.

Most people love the flavor of corn-fed beef, with its buttery, slightly sweet flavor and a texture that most people describe as melt-in-your-mouth tender. It’s also more forgiving to cook with its higher fat content. If you love the flavor of corn-fed beef but don’t love the additives the cattle are given, look for beef labeled as antibiotic- and hormone-free.

Whether you go grass-fed or corn-fed beef, the basic cooking principles apply. Salt it generously before cooking it, and always let your steak rest at least 15 minutes before slicing it. If you end up with a super thick steak, learn how to cook it and it will turn out juicy every time.

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Originally Published on Taste of Home

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."