I recently went to a farmers market and bought some grass-fed beef. I went with what we normally buy, and got a couple of bone-in thick cut ribeye. I typically prepare this by liberally applying salt and pepper, letting it come to room temp, grilling (gas) over high heat for a few minutes on each side to about 125-130, then letting it rest for 10 minutes or so. This gets it to a good medium-rare after resting. I then slice it across grain, cutting each piece about .25 inch think.

This works great, and loved it every time. I love the ribeye since it has a good amount of fat (thus flavor), and it not too tough.

The guy we bought the grass-fed beef from warned us that they typically are a little tougher and less fatty so they typically marinate overnight. I thought this was odd for a ribeye, and prepared it like normal.

Although the flavor was VERY BEEFY (almost too much), way more than the typical high end (probably corn fed) beef we buy, it was SO tough. It was like leather. I guess this is not uncommon for grass-fed beef, but what should I do next time to make this more enjoyable?

Marinate? Emulate dry aging by cooking low temp for a while, then grilling? Any other tips?

  • 4
    Has this happened often? Have you tried getting your grass fed beef from another source?
    – user194
    Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 14:35
  • this was our first. So it could be the farmer. But from what I have read, this is a common problem with grass fed beef, which is why most high end steakhouses done even use it.
    – mohlsen
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 21:37
  • I've downvoted this because as mentioned in some of the answers I don't recognize that grass fed beef is essentially less tender than corn fed. The only first hand evidence you have is that you eat more corn fed beef and lucked out this time the grass fed. There can be plenty of different reasons for this.
    – tonylo
    Commented Aug 21, 2010 at 22:43
  • 4
    @tonylo - the seller of the beef told us that grass fed beef is tougher - that is why they recommend marinating it.
    – mohlsen
    Commented Aug 30, 2010 at 12:02

12 Answers 12


This is total nonsense: grass fed ribeye should absolutely not be tough. Toughness is, however, affected by the cow's breed, it's age, by how stressed it was when it was slaughtered, by ageing of the meat, and I'm sure a bunch of other variables too. Something made the meat tough, but it wasn't grass feeding - the combination of strong beefy flavour and toughness might suggest an old cow, for instance. Next time choose grass-fed beef raised by a different farmer.

  • I agree with Paul S. If your grassfed beef is overly tough it is most likely from an older cow. No amount of tenderizing is going to change that flavor and texture! Commented Aug 18, 2010 at 20:37
  • 7
    Here here, I think this is an American myth.
    – tonylo
    Commented Aug 21, 2010 at 22:44
  • Yeah, I've never had to do anything special to the grass-fed organic beef Wegmans (high-end grocery chain) carries. Just as tender, if not more, than their regular steaks.
    – ceejayoz
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 22:13
  • Many prime beef exporters use ES (electrical stimulation) directly after killing to change the 'rigor mortis' process and keep the meat tender. Typically 90 seconds of 1 KV 100 Hz sine wave, with the meat chilled to 10°C
    – TFD
    Commented May 28, 2011 at 5:26
  • 1
    I raise my own Grass fed beef (2 pairs so far) and it should not be tough. I would suspect that it was not aged properly or was an older animal. The only issue I have found so far is that connective tissues, but not the fat, tend to be a bit stronger (Gamey?) than store bought beef.
    – Mike B
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 3:43

Here's a method I use for all steak, grassfed or otherwise, that usually gets my great results. The gist is that use a liberal salting and curing period that causes the proteins to react similarly to brining, but without the soggy mess that technique usually involves. This technique works better with thicker cuts as it gives greater leeway for really trashing the product.

I have noticed that grass-fed beef is typically lower in intramuscular fat. Probably because that's exactly why beef producers do corn-feeding to bring the cows to market weight.

  • 1
    I've tried this with grass fed beef. It works pretty well, though I kind of soaked it in half a bottle of red wine as I was panfrying it (mainly because I had drunk the other half of the bottle as well as another member of it's case). It came out really really nice and tender. Thick stainless steel pan, if you can manage it. Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 8:45
  • I'm surprised this isn't the accepted answer. I use this technique all the time with the cheapest steaks and they taste awesome.
    – Muz
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 12:26

There a couple of things to do to tenderize a grass fed steak. Unfortunately, none of them are as simple as tossing on some salt and throwing it on the grill like corn fed beef. Basically we have manual, chemical, and one quirky method.

The manual method is the easiest and by far the quickest. You can pound tenderize, but that's going to entirely destroy the joy of a thick cut steak. Instead, invest in a needle tenderizer. It looks like this and shouldn't run you more than about twenty to thirty dollars. This method is probably the best as it is going to leave the steaks flavor totally alone but does have the downside of introducing any bacteria on the outside into the interior, so you really need to make sure that your meat got sourced from someplace that handles it properly. If you don't want to invest in a tenderizer, Joe suggests just using a fork, which should accomplish the same goal with a little more elbow grease.

The next method is chemical tenderizing. In other words, marinate that bad boy. This method gives you a great opportunity to add some flavors to your meat, and I have found that herbs with some vinegar will work great with grass-fed. I would recommend trying rosemary or thyme. You will need at least 2 hours of time to properly marinate.

The last method I have I'm still working the kinks out of. It involves quick freezing the beef to allow the beef's water to tenderize the steak from the inside out. The problem with this method is you need to freeze the meat quicker than you can manage with a home freezer, but if you have access to a blast chiller it can work great. You will have to freeze and thaw and refreeze to get the crystals big enough to do the job. I only include this for completeness, as it isn't perfect and you use it at your own risk.

  • 1
    "If you don't want to invest in a tenderizer"? It might not be as quick, but you can do nearly the same with a fork, if you're so inclined. I often give meat the fork treatment, and then marinate it.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 10:29
  • +1 for the blast chiller. I'd like to know when you perfect the technique.
    – user194
    Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 14:07
  • @joe updating anwser @uncle brad I will let you know when i do. Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 17:18

I get my beef by the quarter cow from a local rancher. I don't bother marinating; just be more attentive when grilling. Two minutes on high, flip for a minute, lower the heat, and after maybe another five minutes (testing every two minuted by touching the meat and testing for doneness) and you're good.

Keep up with the salt/pepper/herb 30 minutes before grilling; that denatures the proteins and keeps things moist.

  • 1
    Do you think less time on the grill = less tough? It was rare to medium rare after resting, so I don't think I could have done it any faster.
    – mohlsen
    Commented Aug 16, 2010 at 19:26

This is a random possibility, but if you eat meat too soon after slaughter, the muscles may not have relaxed properly. You can easily (and cheaply) see this if you purchase a few chickens freshly slaughtered. Put them in the fridge and roast one today, one in a couple days, and one six days out. So, it's possible that resting the beef in the fridge for a while or dry-aging it would help on the toughness front. I agree that there should be plenty of fat in ribeye, so I'm not sure what to say there.


I wonder if the difference you are experiencing is not that it's grass-fed, but that it's pasture-raised beef? Pastured beef roams freely on range, which by nature will create tougher muscle or meat. We purchase pastured beef from a local ranch and they strongly recommend using a Jaccard 48-blade tenderizer, like this one: http://www.jaccard.com/Original-Super-Meat-Tenderizer--48-Knife_p_10.html It's also available on Amazon. I have been using the tenderizer, then adding some fat back into the holes by resting it in olive oil- or coconut oil-based marinade. I hope this helps! Pastured beef is the best for us, the animals and our planet.


Talked to a rancher about this. Most "grass fed" beef in stores has been to a feedlot right before slaughter and packaging. It's the only way to get nice looking, red, marbled beef with fat that appears white. Farm direct, grass fed beef appears pinkish purple with off-white, even yellowish fat, due to the keratins in the grass they eat. Purely grass fed, farm-direct beef has limited marbling, if any. Also, most of it is packaged and shipped frozen, due to the limitations of most small farms (no dry-aging facilities).

However, even though grass fed beef doesn't always look like a superstar steak, it tastes amazing, and is way better for your body and soul.

I just cooked a nice big t-bone (not too thick - about 5/8") from my friend's farm last night (personally delivered frozen to my NYC apartment). Marinated it in garlic, balsamic, and olive oil for about an hour or two. Cooked in a touch of butter and olive oil, saving the marinade. Cooked it in an iron skillet on medium low heat, caramelizing, not searing, for about 8-10 minutes on each side. (the butter should brown but not burn, the steak should sizzle but not smoke).

When done, I let it rest while I deglazed the pan with the marinade i saved. When the jus reduced I stirred in some slices of sweet onion that soaked up all that good flavor. Removed the onions and poured the remainder over the steak like a sauce.

The result was a tender, juicy, delicious meal. And unlike a big dry aged steak from whole foods or dean & deluca, I didn't feel the least bit heavy. Energized is a better word for it.

It's a bit more temperamental, but nutritionally and responsibly, farm steaks are so worth it.

Long live grass fed

  • Minor quibble: Beef doesn't caramelize much. The browning is caused by the "Maillard Reaction". Caramelization is a process of chemical decomposition that takes place when sugar is exposed to heat in a low-oxygen environment (called pyrolysis); the Maillard reaction is the result of chemical interaction between sugars and amino acids/proteins.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:25
  1. Lower the cooking temperature. If your grill, oven or stove top is too hot, you will cook off the beneficial fat and dry this beef out quickly. Low and slow is the way to go with this beef. A general rule of thumb is cut the temperature down by at least 50 degrees. For roasts, cook at 225 degrees or in a crock pot. For steaks, you can sear on medium, but then quickly move to low heat to slowly finish the cooking process. Unlike grain fed beef which requires a higher searing temperature, grass fed beef will sear on medium.

  2. Invest in a meat thermometer. Most people can cook a conventional grain fed steak perfectly just by eyeballing it. But with grass fed beef, there's less wiggle room because grass fed beef cooks quickly and can go from perfectly cooked to overcooked in less than a minute. Remove it from the heat source when it is 10 degrees below your desired cooking temperature. Don't worry, it will continue to cook once it's taken off the grill.

The suggested internal cooking temperatures for grass fed beef are 120 - 140o Fahrenheit (which is lower than the USDAs guidelines for beef which is 145 - 175o). Here's how the grass feed beef cooking guidelines break down:

Rare — 120F
Medium Rare — 125F
Medium — 130F
Medium Well — 135F
Well — 140F

grassfed_gourmetJust remember, if you like your meat more on the medium to well done side, make sure you turn the heat way down to allow the meat to cook slowly. Your patience will be rewarded.

note: These suggested cooking temperatures come from The Grass Fed Gourmet cookbook by Shannon Hayes. Per Shannon the same concept applies to all pasture raised meats.

  1. Let it rest on the counter top for 10 minutes. While your meat was cooking, all the water molecules were heated up and excited. Resting it allows the juices to redistribute. Cutting into it too soon will allow all the moisture to drain out. The result? More moisture on the plate than in your mouth.

  2. Start with steaks and roasts that are at room temperature before cooking. Thaw your meat in the refrigerator, or if you are in a hurry, in an air tight bag submerged in cool water. But never thaw it in the microwave. Once it is thawed, allow it to come to room temperature covered on the counter top before cooking. This prevents the meat from being shocked when you put it on the hot surface.

  3. Tenderize. One great way to tenderize grass-fed beef is to use a tenderizing marinade. We got this tip from Stanley Fishman's Tender Grass Fed Meat, Traditional Ways To Cook Healthy Meat cookbook. This basic marinade involves rubbing beef with 2 or more tablespoons of Organic, Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive oil. The unfiltered oil contains enzymes that help tenderize the beef and enhance the flavor. Let the oil soak into the meat for two hours at room temperature (overnight if in the fridge). For some of the tougher cuts of beef, try a more physical approach. Cover the beef with plastic and pound your steak a few times to break down the connective tissue. But no need to pulverize it! A few whacks should do the trick.


Well I'm an English cook and so am unfamiliar with American cattle and palates. However, I tend to concur with your contributor 'tunes' and also the much maligned good ol' USDA's suggestions to some extent.

Notwithstanding, here are my suggestions:

  1. Do your customers require a trendy/ bloody/ underdone steak (personally- Yecch!- it would give me 'the trots' as I am used to well done from my mother's cooking) Or do they want well done but tender?

Now, all the 'experts' and trendy chefs will look down on people who ask for 'well done' as some sorts of disgusting peasants, the true judgement of a good steak chef is can he cook a well done but tender steak or roast? After all, anyone can do tender underdone steak!

Here is what the chefs at the best hotels do:

Start with good meat.

But—big but—the best tasting beef is old and therefore a bit tough.

Ensure it has been hung for the requisite time.

Next. Wash it, dry it, slice and wrap it in foil then straight into the coldest part of the freezer.

Remove it and hit it with a hammer. Freeze it again then straight to the cooking:This helps the frozen water break down the fibers.

If very tough, then cook in a pan after sealing both sides, cooking off at a very low temp with a lid on- more extreme cases = marinating in red wine + whatever you like-overnight. Freeze with juices.

Otherwise, grill a few minutes each side until browned then remove from heat to rest.

Return to fridge. On call from customer at table re-energise grill and re-heat (rested) steak- plus poured over juices absolutely tender and tasty juicy beef assured.

P.s. if you go the whole hog and hit it with hammers and needle spikes it will lose most of its fat and taste so don't do that.


If you buy frozen. You have to let it defrost and sit for a few days in fridge. My uncle, a farmer for a long time taught me this. Made all the difference. Don't thaw in water and try to eat.


Within breeds there can be considerable variation in tenderness and marbling. I had three heifers tested and on a scale to 10 they varied from 3-7. While I haven't eaten these heifers it suggested considerable variation within my herd. the 3 and 7 had the same sire. The breed I raise is considered a high quality beef animal. Some abattoirs will dry age/hang for three weeks Some cut at 10 days. We haven't found our own grassfed beef to be tough even a bull.


Commercial beef producers take a number of steps to ensure a tender product reaches the shelves. Most notably, aging the beef - allowing the meat to become tender through the application of time. Fresh-from-the-farm beef could probably stand a bit of dry-aging to make it properly tender. This involves storing the meat at near-freezing temperatures in a fridge for a number of days, wrapped in cheesecloth that is changed as fluid seeps out of the meat. I would recommend purchasing a roast and carving it into steaks before cooking than dry aging the steaks themselves.

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