Store-Bought Grain Fed Beef vs. Grass Fed

There are many debates when it comes to what’s best for you – should you buy grass fed beef or stick with the regular stuff from the grocery store?

pieces of beef in airtight plastic bags
pieces of beef in airtight plastic bags

As my family started raising a cow for beef this year, we wondered what kind of difference we could expect. Let me tell you – grass fed beef has some serious health benefits and it’s also incredibly delicious.

But don’t just take my word for it. I’ll give you the cold, hard facts.

Here we will outline the pros and cons of both options, so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.

What is Grain Fed Beef?

Grain fed beef is a type of beef that has been raised on a diet of grains, rather than grass. The majority of cattle in the United States are grain fed, as it is a more efficient way to produce higher quality meat.

Grain-fed beef comes from cows that are fed a diet of grains, typically corn and soy. This diet makes the cows fatter and causes them to put on more muscle.

The fat content in grain-fed beef is higher than grass-fed beef, and it has a higher percentage of saturated fat. Grain-fed beef also has more marbling, which is the streaks of fat that run through the meat. This marbling makes the meat more tender and flavorful.

The downside of grain-fed beef is that it can contain higher levels of antibiotics and hormones. Cows that are fed grains are more likely to get sick, so they’re often given antibiotics to prevent illness.

These antibiotics can end up in the beef that we eat. Hormones are also commonly used in grain-fed cattle to help them grow faster. These hormones can also end up in the meat.

What is Grass Fed Beef?

Grass fed beef comes from cows that have been allowed to graze on grassy pastures. The cows are not given any grain or other supplements, and they are typically allowed to roam freely.

As a result, grass fed beef is often leaner and higher in certain nutrients than grain fed beef. Some people believe that it also has a more natural flavor.

In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for grass fed beef.

This is partly due to concerns about the healthfulness of grain fed beef, as well as the environmental impact of grain production.

Grass fed beef can be more expensive than grain fed beef, but many consumers feel that it is worth the extra cost.

What Are the Differences Between Grass Fed and Store Bought Beef?

Grass fed beef comes from cows that have been allowed to graze on open pastures. Store bought beef, on the other hand, comes from cows that are typically confined to feedlots and given a diet of grain and other supplements.

You may hear the terms “corn fed,” “corn-fed beef,” “conventional beef,” or “grain-fed” used to describe these sorts of herds, too.

While the term “store bought beef” is often used to refer to beef that is not grass fed, it’s kind of a misnomer. This was something I had to learn for myself in order to become a more conscientious consumer.

Although store bought beef traditionally is grain-fed, you can buy grass-fed beef at the store just as you can buy grain-fed beef from the farmer down the road.

With that clarification out of the way, here are a few key differences between the two types of meat.

More Vitamins and Minerals

Grass fed beef is a more natural and healthy option than grain fed or corn-fed beef. The nutritional value can’t be overlooked! The cattle are free to roam and graze on grasses, resulting in meat that is higher in certain vitamins and minerals.

Grass fed beef contains more vitamin B, vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin E than grain fed beef. It is also a good source of trace minerals such as zinc, beta carotene, iron, and magnesium. Plus, grass fed beef tends to have more antioxidants and fewer calories.

These nutrients are essential for human health, and grass fed beef provides a more complete nutrient profile than grain fed beef. In addition, grass fed beef is lower in fat and calories, making it a healthier choice for those looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For all these reasons, grass fed beef is the better choice for those looking for the most nutritious option.

Fatty Acid Composition and Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef differ in their fatty acid composition and content of conjugated linoleic acid.

Grass-fed beef has a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for human health, and a lower proportion of saturated fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Grass fed beef tends to be higher in omega-3s (also known as omega-3 fatty acids) and lower in overall total fat. Better nutrition!

Grass-fed beef also has a higher level of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been shown to have positive effects on human health. These differences arise from the different diets that these animals are fed.

These different diets result in different types and amounts of fat being deposited in the muscle tissue of the cattle, which ultimately affects the composition of the beef.

The Flavor

Cattle that are raised on a diet of grains typically have a higher fat content than those that are grass-fed. This fat is often marbled throughout the meat, giving it a richer flavor.

Grass-fed beef also tends to be leaner than grain-fed beef, and it has a more intense flavor. Some people describe the taste of grass-fed beef as earthy or grassy.

There is a misconception that grass-fed beef has an unpleasant taste or that it is tough and chewy. That’s not the case. Any kind of beef can be tough if cooked improperly.

Grass Fed Beef is Leaner

You may have heard that grass-fed beef is leaner and healthier than grain-fed beef, but you may not know why. The difference lies in the cows’ diet.

Cows are meant to eat grass, which is their natural food source. When they are fed a diet of grains, they gain weight more quickly. The extra fat leads to higher levels of saturated fat in the meat.

If you’re looking for leaner, healthier beef, go for the grass-fed variety. I personally love grass fed beef for this reason. I prefer a leaner steak in general. When it comes time to make burgers, I just roll some pig fat into my ground beef to help hold things together. Easy as that!

We’ve been buying beef from the farmer up the road for so long, I’d forgotten what cooking store-bought beef was like.

But last week, we ran out of the good stuff, and we’ll have to wait until he butchers again until we can buy more. So, we bought a few pounds of ground beef from the store.

But as it browned in the pan, I noticed that it was quickly swimming in yellow liquid- enough so that I had to pour it off into a jar so the meat could continue to fry.

I’d forgotten about how much grease comes off the hamburger meat you buy at the store! Beef from a grass-fed cow produces almost zero grease. I was pretty grossed out by how much fat was in that meat.

When it was all cooked up, Jerry walked into the kitchen and looked at what was left in the pan and said, “I thought you were frying a pound?”

I said, “I did.” He said, “Where’d it all go??” And I pointed to the jar full of grease. And I suddenly had a revelation, for I never before understood what that 80/20 on the package of meat meant!

20 percent of that pound of beef was fat!! Twenty percent! That’s quite a significant loss in meat! And I’d just paid for that grease I was about to throw away. My frugal nature felt robbed.

And it occurred to me that the grass fed beef we’ve been buying from the farmer, with seriously ZERO fat to pour off, was a much better price per pound than we realized.


Even though we may be paying about $3.90 per pound for grass fed beef from the farmer, we are eating 99-100% of that meat.

As compared to only actually getting 80% of the meat we buy at the store. So for instance, if you buy a pound of ground beef at the store for $2.99, but you lose 20% of that meat, you are actually paying about $3.59 in order to get a full pound of meat. Does that make sense?

And when you consider this, along with the fact that the price we pay per pound for locally raised grass-fed beef also includes steaks and roasts, I’d say we’re getting a pretty good deal!

Does Grass Fed Meat Need to Be Cooked Differently?

There is a lot of debate surrounding the best way to cook grass fed meat. Some say that it needs to be cooked slowly and at a lower temperature, while others claim that it can be cooked using the same methods as grain-fed meat. So, what’s the truth?

It is true that grass fed meat is leaner than grain-fed meat, and this can make it tougher and more difficult to cook. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to completely change your cooking methods.

corn beef cubed with spice packet
corn beef cubed with spice packet

If you’re used to cooking grain-fed meat, there’s no need to start from scratch. Just be aware that you may need to adjust your cooking time and temperature slightly.

Grass fed meat is also richer in flavor than grain-fed meat. This means that it doesn’t need as much seasoning or marinating. A simple rub of salt, pepper, and herbs will usually suffice.

When cooking, be careful not to overcook grass fed meat. It’s best to err on the side of caution, as grass fed meat is more likely to dry out if it’s overcooked.

So, does grass fed meat need to be cooked differently? The answer is yes and no. It all depends on your preferences and recipe.

Is Organic the Same Thing as Grass Fed and Finished?

When it comes to meat, there are a lot of terms that get thrown around: organic, grass-fed, and finished. But what do they all mean? And is organic beef the same thing as grass-fed and finished? These are questions I get asked all the time.

Let’s clear things up.

Organic meat refers to meat that has been raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. The animals may be fed an organic diet, but they may also be given non-organic feed.

Grass-fed meat, on the other hand, comes from animals that have only eaten grass throughout their lives. Grass-fed animals are typically allowed to roam freely and eat whatever grass they can find.

That grass may have been treated with chemicals in the past – so unless the beef is “certified organic,” just know that grass-fed doesn’t necessarily mean “organic” (and it may not matter, really).

Finally, grass-fed and finished means that the animal was not only raised on a diet of grass, but was also allowed to finish grazing before being sent to slaughter. This ensures that the meat is extra tender and flavorful.

So, is organic the same thing as grass-fed and finished? No, but it can be. It all depends on how the animal was raised and what it was fed.

Where to Find Grass Fed Beef

In order for beef to be classified as grass fed, the cow must have been fed a diet of 100% grass for its entire life.

However, many cows are “grain finished,” meaning that they are fed a diet of grass for most of their life but are then finished on a diet of grains. Grain finishing is done in order to add marbling to the meat, which is favored by many consumers.

However, grain finishing also results in beef that is higher in saturated fat and calories. So, if you are looking for leaner beef that is lower in saturated fat, make sure to look for grass fed and grass finished beef.

So where can you find this coveted meat? Check out your local farmers market or natural food store, or look for online retailers that specialize in grass-fed beef. With a little effort, you’re sure to find the perfect ribeye, sirloin, or New York strip for your next BBQ.

Just something for you to consider, besides all of the health benefits of eating grass-fed meat, and supporting your local farmers. It just might not be much of a price difference for the good stuff, all things considered!

Grass-fed beef is becoming more popular every day, and for good reason. It’s healthier, tastes better, and is better for the environment. If you haven’t tried it yet, we encourage you to do so.

Not only will you be getting a high-quality product, but you’ll also be supporting small farmers who are doing their part to make our world a little healthier.

30 thoughts on “Store-Bought Grain Fed Beef vs. Grass Fed”

  1. I raise and process my own beef 99.9% grass fed. I use the the worst part of the meat and a good amount of fat in the meat. My meat is so different than store bought meat that i can’t believe it came from the same animal. I have plenty of fat for taste but still next to no accumulation of fat when I’m cooking. And the fat i do get is nothing like the fat frim store bought.
    I have to believe that eating this pink slime is horribly unhealthy. Meat isn’t supposed to be a bright pink color in the first place. Also when i make a hamburger with my meat when I’m done i have blood on my hands. With Store meat i have no blood, only a thick layer of grease…ridiculous

  2. Fat is supposed to be ground into ground beef. Fat adds flavor. I’ve had terrible store bought beef and good store beef. If you have a local source that is your best bet but this misinformation about fat in ground beef needs corrected. The highest graded beef, pork, tuna is all based on fat content.

  3. Yes stores do add fat to the mix. I worked in the meat department for years and watched how they did things. they use a lot of the trimmings to make ground beef.

  4. I would have no clue where to look to get anything but store bought. I haven’t been able to eat many meals with my family when they want something with ground beef. its gotten to where I get sick every time i eat it. How would i start looking for a better alternative. not sure if there is one around here.

    • Stacey,

      If you have a Whole Foods or maybe Trader Joes (not sure if they carry meat) store, they would have grass fed beef. If you are in the city, you might have to take a drive to the country to find a farm that sells beef. Farmers don’t usually advertise their meat for sale. We’ve found that just finding a dairy farm, then asking the farmer if he sells meat (which they most always do), is the best way to go. If I were you, I’d google dairy farms in your surrounding area, then call them up. Make sure they pasture their cows, though. Swap contact info, then when the farmer is ready to butcher he can let you know. If you have several friends who can go in on an order with you that would help spread out a larger order of meat. It’s out there, you may just have to hunt 🙂

  5. @carmen: You said you follow scripture when it comes to eating, and that it forbids the eating of fat? I’m just really curious as to where it says that. I know Jewish people use a great deal of chicken fat in cooking, but I’ve never heard anything one way or another regarding other fats. Plus, my Jewish friends all eat butter and/or margarine, depending on what it’s being served with. Those things are also ‘fat’. I don’t mean to be rude, but I am seriously curious about where to find the scripture that deals with eating fat. I looked up Kosher Law and saw nothing there that was relevant either.

    Thanks for your time. Oh, and I’m firmly in the grass-fed beef only corner, but not primarily cos of the fat issue. I worry more about hormones, chemicals and drugs fed to feedlot cattle. (Not to mention the nefarious pink slime, and the use of ‘meat glue’ to turn scraps of meat into a solid slab of meat which they then sell as a steak or roast,etc. depending on which cuts the scraps came from. If you haven’t heard about meat glue, I suggest you Google it. It is an eye-opener. (They can use it on MOST animal proteins, including fish. Plus, it doesn’t have to be labeled either. You simply never really know WHAT you’re buying at a grocery store.

  6. The problem I see here is that most of the time you can never be 100% certain that they were grassfed ALL the time. Even organic beef only has to be fed grass 30% of the time, the rest of the time they can be fed grain, which is very bad for us and the cow. Another problem is the A1 casien in most American cattle, many people are allergic to it and don’t even know it.

    I pay a little more than you for the assurance that the beef is 100% grassfed ALL the time and the cows have A2 casien protien which is much better for us. (Read the Devil in the Milk)

    I pay $7.99 a pound to have it shipped to my door. I also get grassfed raw cheese and cultured milk beverages. This is the company that Jordan Rubin founded last year. I personally work with Jordan every week and would be glad to tell you more about the company.

  7. It has been a long time since I bought store bought beef or sausage too, and honestly that looks gross! Sorry, but it does. Makes me appreciate local, grass-fed even more.

  8. Well, I placed my first order this morning. Twenty-five pounds of meat, equal parts of ground, roasts, and steaks for $5 a pound, delivered.I cringed a little at first, till I went to the store and saw their ground beef for $4.58 a pound.

  9. Also, any beef that has been on a corn diet has a much higher incidence of the bad e-coli. If that same corn fed cow was moved to grass pasture for its remaining 2 weeks of life it would shed 20% of that bad e-coli. Overall, grass-fed/grass-finished beef is better all the way around.

  10. All a matter of taste I suppose. I never buy the lean hamburger not enough fat. We have forgotten that fat is tasty and necessary for you. I suppose you wouldn’t be offended by cooking bacon. Bacon fat makes the best gravy. I like to put bacon fat right from the frying pan on my toast in the morning instead of butter. Use a brush or drizzle it from a spoon. Awesome taste.

  11. I agree with Lori about hamburger grease used to become solid at room temperature years ago. I think they mix in ice, which becomes shaved, when they grind the meat. That’s why if you leave the store package in the fridge overnight before portioning it up for the freezer, watch out. You get a gargantuan lake of reddish water that will leak out all over. More weight and dollars going down the drain. This is called “economic adulteration.”

  12. The “Pink slime” is from the ammonium hydroxide used to “make parts of the meat that would be un-useable into a food product safe for human consumption. Meat leftovers are gathered up, mixed with the ammonia, chopped, blended, and added to our food. McDonalds has decided to stop using it, but anytime you buy “ground beef” in the grocery, fresh or frozen, or eat out, there is a really good chance you are eating this.

    If you find you must buy ground beef, ask the meat counter if they can grind some for you, and pick out your own roast, or do it yourself at home. Buy only cuts you know, ground round, ground sirloin, or ground chuck. The meat still won’t be great, but is a better alternative to the modern version of mystery meat.

    I was able to go to a website called Eating Green and search for grass fed beef in my state. I found it starting at $4.85 a pound, and you have to buy a bundle. You can buy as little as 15 pounds, and it is an equal mix of steak, roast, and ground beef.

  13. We’ve been purchasing grass fed beef in bulk from a local farmer for 3 years, and we LOVE it! You are so right about the fat from the ground beef… there isn’t enough to pour off.

    Recently we were visiting my mom, and she made a beef roast. I was really shocked at how different it tasted from the grass fed beef we’ve been eating for so long. It seriously had a weird (chemical?) aftertaste. I felt a little sick while eating because of the huge difference in the smell and taste. It didn’t help that she served jarred gravy, which I never use either. I always make a delicious homemade gravy from the drippings. I do agree with Bill that it wouldn’t be wise to make gravy with conventional CAFO beef drippings, since most toxins are concentrated in the fat of an animal. And conventional beef has a huge amount of toxins in it!

    For anyone who purchases grass fed beef from a local farmer, be sure to ask for all the bones. They make the best beef stock! I feel I get my money’s worth when I’m using all the bones too, since the cost per pound is based on hanging weight.

  14. Don’t they also put in lots of water? It seems that today’s hamburger grease is much different than what I remember as a child. When I was just learning to cook, I would pour off the grease into a cup and it would later solidify. Now days, that ‘grease’ never gets hard. My guess is that it’s a combo of grease and water. This would make the meat even more expensive, wouldn’t it? (All the more reason to grow your own!)

  15. When your kids can tell the difference in the quality of the meat – it’s really bad. My girls always comment when I fix them a meal made from grocery store beef – and at $5.99/lb it’s more expensive than what I get at the farmers market. When I buy 2 lbs at the market its $5/lb, so that’s how I always buy it. Matter of fact my youngest just asked for homemade hamburger helper but she’ll have to wait for the weekend til I get more meat.

  16. Not long ago we purchased ‘organic’ already prepared beef patties at Costco. I was appalled at how much fat we ended with. i too placed it in a jar. Since we follow scripture with regards to eating guidelines, fat is not to be eaten. I’m glad we don’t eat meat often but regardless it is nice when we decide to have healthy kosher options available.


  17. Oh my word! You have definitely given me food for thought! I once in awhile purchase ground beef and wondered too about all that fat. Because my husband is a hunter we still have venison in the freezer and I use that but we are getting low and hunting season is over. We have a local butcher just around the corner that I have considered purchasing 1/4 to 1/2 a side but the price seemed quite high. Now I am seriously considering it! Thinks that make you go Hmmmmmm?!

    Thanks for posting this!


  18. To Rebekah, that smell could be from the “pink slime” that is put into hamburger. Pink slime is the part that used to be thrown away, but now it’s infused with ammonia and put back into the hamburger. I read an article (from a few years ago) that 70% of all hamburger in the U.S.(including schools) contains pink slime. I found this because I actually smelled ammonia when frying some hamburger and searched “why does my hamburger smell like ammonia”! Disgusting!!!

  19. My wife’s uncle tried to convince us that grass finished beef is terrible tasting and he wouldn’t feed it to anyone he likes.

    No matter how hard I tried he insisted grocery store meat is delicious and good for you.

    We have turned to rasing our own steer and will butcher him in a week or so.

    My mouth is already watering.

  20. A few extra points to consider; that fat you poured off is the artery clogging saturated fat derived from feeding cattle in feedlots corn in an effort to speed their weight gain, it’s usually loaded with trace elements of hormones and antibiotics, and is derived from a fructose source hence its lower melting point.

    Now to be fair, all ground meat contains some fat. The difference with fat from a grass-fed, grass-finished (an important distinction) animal is that the fat contains on average less then 10% saturated fat.

    For more information:

    Happy, healthy eating to you!

  21. That’s such a good point. I’d never done the math like that. Have you found any use for the excess fat? I’ve heard of people who throw it in a jar layered with old bread crumbs to make a bird suet but I don’t know… I feel weird feeding beef to the birds 🙂

  22. So I’ve been planning for some time to switch my family over to a local family farm that does grass feeding for their cows. I just haven’t gotten around to it. After reading this, I’ll sign up for their co-op TODAY!

  23. Amen! So gross. We also noticed a significant “smell” difference when cooking the store vs grass fed beef too. Grass fed beef smells like steak when cooking. My husband normally dislikes ground beef but he loves grass fed ground beef. Carrie, all supermarkets do it, we have shopped around. Have you seen “food, inc.”?
    I also recently found out that “ground beef” can be any parts of the cow ground up…..barf. So when I do have to buy at the store I try to buy the good stuff, like ground sirloin.

  24. Although grass feed is superior to grain fed, what you’re describing may be also caused by grocery store practices. I believe they add fat into the meat to create the 75/25, 80/20, 90/10 meat to fat ratios. It’s disgusting.


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