Chow Town

Beef has distinct flavor depending on how it was finished

As I sat across a handsome man in a dimly lit steakhouse, our entrée arrived. The perfume of grilled beef tickled my nose and small drops of saliva began to form along my taste buds. A beautiful eight-ounce filet finished with a tab of butter was simply presented.

The knife pressed gently against the salt and pepper crust and revealed the delicate cool red center of the perfectly prepared steak.

“I thought you were a vegetarian,” my date said. A snicker escaped my pursed lips as I glanced up from my plate, with a witty response, “Oh no. I’m quite carnivorous.”

I cannot deny that meat rules.

For the last several years there has been heated debates about what type of beef is better, or is vegetarian the way to go. Corn-finished, pasture-raised, grass-finished, organic, non-organic, feedlots, omega-3 beef, environmental influence and health impact. There are so many controversies surrounding the food, it can make your head spin. Let’s put all that aside.

Taste, is the number one seller of beef. There are dozens of ways farmers raise and finish their cattle, all yielding different flavor and texture profiles of beef. Some so different, beef tastings are sprouting up all over the nation, just to appease the curiosity of foodies everywhere. Corn-finished, oat-finished or grass-finished all of them have distinct flavor profiles, just like artisanal cheeses.


(Typically pasture-raised and corn-finished with alfalfa.)

The most readily available and cost affective is corn finished beef. Usually the products in most markets are choice, or one step below prime. It is easy to cook and almost no fail if you have a thermometer. It is pink in color with good marbling, or muscle to fat ratio. It has a hearty beef flavor with a long to medium finish.


(Pasture raised and finished on grass and hay.

This is very lean meat with little marbling and a medium red, like a Grenache wine. It has a clean beefy flavor with some minerality. Since this meat is so lean, careful cooking is needed as it does have a tendency to dry and become chewy with conventional methods. This beef is great for quick coking methods like grilling or searing in a wok. If you have bigger pieces like brisket or ribs, very low (200 degrees) and slow (8-10 hours) cooking is recommended. This will help melt the connective tissue back into the meat creating tenderness.


(Raised on pasture and fed oats the last 120-150 days in addition to grazing.)

Just right beef. It is a nice light red, but darker than the corn finished beef. It has a bit of marbling but remains extremely lean. The texture has a nice chew without being tough. Since it is still lean, oat finished beef should be cooked in a careful, “aggressive” manner (see below). It has a clean beefy flavor with a slight amount of earthiness. The finish is medium bodied with ample amount of flavor. Oat-finished beef proves to be the most succulent out of the three.

If you are a carnivore, let it run free with a beef tasting of your own.

Careful “aggressive” Beef Cookery 12-ounce strip steak, grass- or oat-finished 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoons sea salt 1 teaspoon cracked pepper 2 tablespoon butter 1 thyme sprig, leaves pulled

Rub the steak with olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. Rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Heat a cast iron skillet on high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the steak and sear for 3 minutes. Flip and sear other side for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, top with butter and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes. Slice and finish with fresh thyme.

Be confident with this technique. It will lock in flavor, produce a great chewy texture, and optimal chin dripping juiciness.

Renee Kelly is the owner of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Johnson County. Her passion lies in changing the food system, one plate at a time. Her inspiration is Mother nature and the many growers in the Kansas City area.