Sometimes you see those fancy labels on products in the stores with a stamp of approval or authority, claiming that their product is better than others. The Certified Angus Beef ® brand is much more than just that, and I was excited to learn the differences between their quality, and how they support farmers and ranchers.
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Recently, I was invited to a food blogging workshop called the Fresh Air Retreat hosted out here in Scottsdale. A number of very successful and talented bloggers traveled to get together, brainstorm, learn and take a deep dive into a few specific brands. One of those brands was the Certified Angus Beef ® brand, a beef brand that I’m familiar with from the grocery stores, but have never taken specific time to understand what the differences are.
My experience with their beef is always been a very high-quality taste profile but is a premium cost. Like most types of meat, a higher price target generally means that it’s a higher quality. But who is running the show? Why should I care about the Certified Angus Beef ® brand over the other labels?
Tasting the Difference
During the retreat, we had a chance to taste the beef side by side and compare Select, Choice, the traditional Certified Angus Beef ® brand, and their Certified Angus Beef ® Prime grade. Chef Ashley Breneman prepared all of the steaks the same way, cooking them to medium-rare perfection. She served them sliced thin, and discussed the differences between each one as we started tasting them from the lowest quality to the highest.
No surprise, the Select grade was the least appetizing, while the Certified Angus Beef ® Prime was by far the most flavorful, in my opinion.
Grain-finished vs. Grass-fed Beef
It starts out in the pasture for all cattle, spending their time munching in the wild. Some farmers may raise their cattle on both grains and roughage to produce a higher level of marbling – the key to great-tasting beef. Ultimately, the biggest difference between finishing cattle on grain or grass is taste.
Grain-finished steaks tend to have a very high level of marbling and juiciness, along with a very rich beefy flavor. If you love intense flavors of beef, grain-finished beef is the way to go. These cattle are usually given a diet of corn, alfalfa, soy, corn husks, corn cobs, and other supplements prior to their slaughter. Different farms have different combinations, a specific type of diet crafted and recommended by veterinarians and nutritionists to give them higher levels of marbling in their beef.
Grass-fed steaks tend to have less marbling and can have more of a wild flavor. Think about game meat such as venison, boar, or bison. It’s the same concept: gamier flavors with a lean profile. Cooking game meat, or 100% grass-fed beef, tends to take some work when trying to draw out natural flavors. A lot of times you will see copious amounts of butter ( not that I’m against that), or batter and fried food.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between finishing cattle on grain or grass is taste.
All of their cattle that qualify for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand are grass-fed and spend the majority of their lives on the pastures. That doesn’t mean that they’re grass-finished, it means that the majority of their diet during their lives is from pastures. Their farmers do add grains into the finishing, towards the end of their diet as they grow, which is known to enhance marbling in beef. As discussed, more marbling gives it more flavor. Essentially, the Certified Angus Beef ® steaks that you purchase at the stores are a combination of grass-fed and grain-finished. When you see the label, you know you’re purchasing beef that was raised to higher standards, loaded with marbling.
One of the biggest questions that I had was, How do the farmers and ranchers benefit by raising cattle that qualify for the Certified Angus Beef ® brand? It seems like a really high-quality bar to hit – and it is.
In fact, only 3 out of 10 cattle meet the strict requirements to be certified. The brand pointed out that they were founded by Angus ranchers, and continue to be led by Angus farmers and ranchers today. Additionally, they work with dedicated family farmers and ranchers all across North America and do not actually own any cattle or ranches to supply the brand. The farmers are compensated quite handsomely if their cattle meet Certified Angus Beef ® requirements by an independent USDA grader. Not only do the farmers and ranchers end up working to provide the best beef possible, but they essentially get a large bonus for doing so. It’s a nice incentive for everyone involved.
The higher price points that you see in the stores are going directly into the pockets of the family Angus farmers and ranchers across the country. It’s nice to know that people who work hard can be rewarded for excellence in their products. I’m going to be thinking about that every time I pick up a pack of Certified Angus Beef ® cuts at the store.
Fresh Air Retreat
I want to take a moment to thank the Certified Angus Beef brand for the amazing meals and teachable moments. Thank you to all of the other participating brands at the event as well, which include: