Nowadays shopping for beef can be a daunting task. There are so many different grades and types to consider, from grass-fed to grain-fed and beyond. In this article, we’re going to break down the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, specifically when it comes to brisket. We’ll also talk about the pros and cons of each option, so you can make an informed decision that’s right for you.
Grass-fed and grain-fed beef brisket have several differences, including fat content, fat color, size, and flavor. A grass-fed brisket is leaner, has a dark red color, and is smaller, while grain-fed brisket has more marbling, a lighter color, and is larger. Since grain fed beef has more fat, some people find grain fed brisket to taste better, however, people who buy grass fed beef do so for the health benefits.The feeding practices of the cattle also differ, with grain-fed cattle being fed a mix of grass and grain, and grass-fed cattle only being fed grass. These differences may affect the ethical considerations and flavor of the beef. In the US, grass-fed beef must be certified by the American Grass Fed Association to be labeled as such.
- There are differences in fat content, fat color, and size between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.
- Grass-fed beef is leaner, has a dark red color, and is smaller, while grain-fed beef has more marbling, a lighter color, and is larger.
- Grain-fed cattle are mostly fed grass in the early years, then a mix of grass and grain, and finally more grain to bulk up before slaughter, while grass-fed cattle are only fed grass.
- Grass-fed beef may be more ethical and have a richer, beefier flavor in the fat, but grain-fed beef may have a softer fat flavor and better marbling for juiciness and flavor.
- In the US, grass-fed beef must be certified by the American Grass Fed Association to be labeled as such.
Grass Fed is Leaner
One of the key differences between grass-fed and grain-fed brisket is the fat content and appearance. Grain-fed brisket tends to have more marbling, with a thick layer of white fat on the exterior. On the other hand, grass-fed brisket tends to have less marbling and a yellow fat layer with darker meat. While marbling can add flavor and help keep the meat moist during cooking, grass-fed brisket may be a healthier choice for those concerned about their fat intake.
Grain Fed Differences
A common misconception is that grain-fed animals never eat grass at all, but this is not necessarily true. Many grain-fed animals start off eating grass in their early years before transitioning to a grain-based diet. This is done to help the animals gain weight and bulk up as they approach slaughter age. The grain-based diet, combined with the lack of exercise that is often associated with factory farming, can result in meat that is higher in fat and has a different flavor and texture compared to grass-fed beef. However, it’s worth noting that grain-fed cattle can also be raised using more sustainable and humane methods, such as on small family farms where the animals have access to pasture.
|Grass Fed Brisket||Grain Fed Brisket|
|Dark red color||Lighter color|
|Ethical concerns||May be cheaper|
|Beefier flavor||Softer fat flavor|
|May be healthier|
Grass Fed Briskets Are Smaller
If you’re feeding a crowd, you will get larger portions if you buy grain fed beef. Grass fed primal cuts will be much smaller, therefore will feed less people. This is because the grain-fed cattle live on a mixed diet of grass and grain. Just before the car reaches the slaughter stage, farmers feed the cattle more grain to bulk them up. This doesn’t occur with grass-fed cattle who are left to just graze leisurely, making them smaller.
Is Grass Fed Beef More Ethical?
Grass fed has that darker red color with less fat, compared with the cherry red and well-marbled grain fed beef. Grain fed beef will have a lighter color to the meat compared with the grass fed beef that is noticeably darker.The color of the fat is also very different. The grass fed beef has a yellowish fat, while the grain fed beef has a whiter fat.
Differences in Meat Color
Grain Fed and grass-fed cattle all ethically raised the same way. Calves of both grain-fed cattle and grass-fed cattle have similar beginnings, they graze on grass and are fed milk. Cattle aren’t force fed grain in a feedlot. They’re still eating grass, but farms present them with an option to eat grain.
The Problem With Grass Fed Brisket
The downside of grass thread brisket is the lack of fat and size, although this could be a positive for someone who is on a lean diet. Some people think grain fed brisket tastes better, and there is a noticeable difference in the fat flavor. The fat on a grass-fed brisket will taste richer and beefier, and some may even say taste a little like gamey. A grain fed brisket will have a white fat with a softer flavor.
Which Beef Has Better Marbling? Grass or Grain?
There is a much nicer level of marbling in grain fed beef. And we know that brisket is much more juicy and flavorful, with higher levels of marbling. Marbling is the fatty striations in the meat. When you slice open a brisket, the fatty striations that will almost look like marbling. They gave meat a marbling score. The higher the marbling score, the more expensive the meat is, and the more flavor and juiciness it will have. Wagyu is famous for its marbling, but prime beef also contains a decent amount of marbling.
Grass Fed Certification
How do you know if you are buying grass fed beef? In the US, in order to sell beef as grass fed, it needs to be certified by the American Grass Fed Association, and there are similar certification requirements in other countries.
Grass-fed briskets tend to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with a variety of health benefits. It also tends to have lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation in high amounts. In terms of total fat, grass-fed beef generally has less fat than grain-fed beef, as well as lower levels of saturated and monounsaturated fat. However, grass-fed beef tends to have higher levels of polyunsaturated fat and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fat that has been linked to a number of health benefits.
|Nutrient||Grass Fed Beef||Grain Fed Beef|
|Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)||More||Less|
Is Grass Fed Beef Organic and GMO Free?
Often, farmers will use chemicals to deal with locusts etc. Farms that produce organic cattle will ensure that they use no sprays or pesticides on the grass. So just because cattle are eating grass, it doesn’t mean the grass is free of chemicals. Another common misconception is that all grain fed beef contains all kinds of nasty things like growth hormones, antibiotics, and steroids.
Grass Fed Health Benefits
If you buy brisket that was 100% grass fed, it will contain more omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids, and omega-9 fatty acids. The different fatty acids have health benefits, and a well-balanced diet should contain all fat types. For more on the different fat types, the Mayo Clinic is one of the best resources for health information.
Which Brisket is Better? Grass-Fed or Grain-Fed?
The type of brisket you choose to buy depends on what you want out of it. If you are a health conscious person, and are on a lean diet, grass-fed will be more suited to you. If you want a large brisket with flavor generated from fat, then grain fed is a good option. A brisket that has been grass-fed will contain less fat and therefore may be more difficult to keep moist and juicy in the smoker, however if you practise a few fundamentals you should not have a problem. As long as you keep your smoker set at a low temperature, and wrap it and rest it, it should still turn out fine. A grass fed brisket will be more expensive, because farms that raise grass-fed cattle need to put more work into the soil, etc.
Grain Fed Brisket Is More Available
Your grain fed briskets are going to be more available in stores and will cost less. A prime grade brisket with lots of marbling or not only taste better, it will also taste more juicy. A prime grain fed brisket will contain a lot of marbling, which is what you want when you have to smoke an enormous chunk of meat for 15 hours plus.
The Benefits of Grain Fed Brisket
- Typically, grain fed brisket is larger and contains white fat
- Grain-fed brisket has more marbling and fat
- Fat is important when smoking a brisket because it shields the meat from the heat and keeps it moist and juicy
- Lean cuts of meat dry out quickly because they lack fat
- A large grain fed pack of brisket will take longer to smoke and be more difficult to manage
- A smaller grass-fed brisket will take less time to cook and is easier to manage
- You can’t separate the point and the flat when smoking a pack of brisket.
Grain-fed briskets are larger, contain white fat, and have more marbling compared to grass-fed briskets. These characteristics make them ideal for smoking because the fat helps to shield the meat from the heat and keep it moist and juicy. On the other hand, lean cuts of meat dry out quickly due to their lack of fat.
While a large grain-fed pack of brisket may take longer to smoke and be more difficult to manage, a smaller grass-fed brisket will cook faster and be easier to handle. It’s important to note that you cannot separate the point and the flat when smoking a pack of brisket.
How To Smoke a Grass-Fed Brisket
If you want to smoke a grass fed brisket, it may contain less fat, which will put the meat at risk of drying out. There are several things you can do to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
|Monitor the temperature||Keep the temperature at 225°F and hold it there for the entire cook to prevent moisture from running out of the brisket|
|Use a thermometer||Use a quality meat thermometer to keep track of the ambient temperature in your smoker|
|Wrap your brisket||Wrap the brisket 6 or 7 hours into the cook to keep it moist|
|Rest your brisket||Give the brisket adequate time to rest after removing it from the heat to prevent moisture from spilling out|
|Brine your brisket||Salt the brisket the night before smoking to help retain moisture and add extra flavor|
|Don’t over trim||Leave about 1/4 of an inch of fat on the top layer to protect the meat from the heat source|
|Inject your grass fed brisket||Inject the brisket with marinade or bone broth to add moisture and flavor|
|Use a water pan||Place a water pan in the smoker to add humidity to the cooking environment|
7 Tips for Smoking a Grass-Fed Brisket
1. Monitor the temperature
Keep the temperature at 225°F and hold it there for the entire cook. If you increase the temperature too much, especially once you go beyond 275°F, moisture will run out of the brisket and you’ll end up with dry meat.
2. Use a thermometer
Make sure you use a quality meat thermometer and keep track of that ambient temperature in your smoker. This isn’t so much of a problem if you have a pellet grill or an electric or gas smoker, but it is more problematic with charcoal and wood smokers where you need to manage a fire. Thermometer Guide.
3. Wrap your brisket
Keep in mind when you are smoking a grass-fed brisket, make sure that you wrap it to keep it moist. We usually wrap brisket 6 or 7 hours into the cook, then wrap it in foil or butcher paper. This will trap all the moisture in the parcel, and the meat will almost steam. Should I Wrap Brisket in Paper or Foil?
4. Rest your brisket
With grass-fed brisket, you want to make sure you give it adequate time to rest. If you slice brisket too soon after removing it from the heat, a lot of the moisture will spill out and you’ll end up with dry meat.
5. Brine your brisket
Consider salting the brisket the night before smoking. This will also help if you have leaner brisket, which is commonly found in grass-fed beef. By applying kosher salt to the brisket prior to smoking, it will help them meat kept moisture and it will add extra flavor. However, keep in mind that if you are applying a rub that contains a lot of salt, you could ruin your brisket. I always salt my meat separately, and when I make a rub, I leave out the salt. Should I Brine Brisket?
6. Don’t Over Trim
When trimming a brisket, you need to leave about 1/4 of an inch of fat on the top layer. This will shield the meat from the fire or heat source because over several hours, parts of the meat may char, and dry out. If you place the fat cap towards the heat source, the fat layer will absorb a lot of the heat, and prevent the brisket from drying out. If you have a grass fed brisket, there should still be enough of a fat cap to protect the meat. It just won’t be as thick as a grain fed in most situations.
7. Inject your grass fed brisket
Another way to ensure your grass fed brisket is tender and juicy is to inject it with marinade prior to smoking. You can buy a cheap injector on Amazon for about $30, and you can buy a competition marinade and you will wow your guests. Another way is to inject the brisket with bone broth, or beef stock, and this will get moisture and flavor deep inside the brisket. For more on brisket injection, check out: Should I Inject Brisket?
|Brisket Total Cook Time||Start Time||Begin Spritzing||Wrap Brisket||Finish in Oven||Done Time (203°F)||Holding Time In Dry Cooler (1-4 hours)|
|12 hours||6pm||9pm||12am||12am||6am||Between 7am – 10am|
|15 hours||5pm||8pm||11pm||11pm||8am||Between 9am – 12pm|
|18 hours||2pm||5pm||8pm||8pm||8am||Between 9am- 12pm|
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
My Favorite Brisket Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Injector: Injecting meat is a great way to take your barbecue to the next level and help you make competition-style brisket. An injector is the only way you will be able to get flavor and moisture into the middle of the meat. The Beast Injector is a stainless steel injector that is sturdy and affordable. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Brisket Marinade: The best injection solution on the market is the Butcher BBQ Brisket Injection. This marinade is used in competitions and is made by World Barbecue Champion pitmaster, Dave Bouska. You can find the marinade on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Brisket Rub: These days I make my own rub when possible, but I always have a few pre-made rubs for when I’m running low. Barbecue guru Malcom Reed produces Killer Hogs, one of the best brisket rubs I’ve found over the years. Another great rub is Slap Yo Daddy, made by brisket master and multiple World Barbecue Champion, Harry Soo.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.