Not everyone who walks through our doors is familiar with what we sell or knows all about our meat. Maybe they know a little bit about pastured animals, or grass-fed animals — and that’s why they come shop with us. Or maybe they’re generally interested in organics. Or maybe they mainly eat the kind of conventionally raised meat that is sold in supermarkets and are just curious about our machines. For anyone who is interested, here’s everything you need to know about our meat.
We take sourcing seriously. Currently our beef, lamb, and pork come to us from a multigenerational, family-owned farm and slaughterhouse in Pine Plains, N.Y.–right across the river from us on the Kingston-Rhinebeck bridge. We have been working with this farm for many years, feel comfortable with their operations, and deeply appreciate how they treat and feed their animals.
PASTURED VS. ORGANIC
We’re thrilled there has been so much attention placed on animal sourcing over the past decade. What we sell is pastured meat that isn’t always exclusively grass-fed. There are times of the year in upstate New York that exclusively eating grass isn’t possible; it’s covered by snow.
But here’s a crucial fact that too often goes overlooked: not all small-farm pastured animals are raised equally. Generally speaking, pastured animals are outside their whole lives on rotating pastures. Sometimes those pastures are sprayed to keep weeds down, sometimes not. Some small farmers my administer growth-promoting hormones to their animals or antibiotics, though usually only if they’re sick. Others, like our farm, don’t. Some small farmers may “finish” their cattle (fatten them up before slaughter) in small feedlots. Others won’t. Some animals are fed supplementary feed that may or may not contain genetically modified grain. The only way to know how your pastured animal is living what it is eating, if it has been given drugs, and how it has been finished is to ask questions when you are shopping. This means you need to educated yourself enough to understand the answers.
Buying certified organic meat, for example, will mean that the animal was never administered drugs or given feed containing animal by-products or waste, pesticides, or anything genetically modified, but it doesn’t guarantee much beyond that. There are certainly large factory organic farms that grain-finish in feedlots, and they might not be anywhere near where you live. We always prefer well-raised local pastured meat to organic, and it’s critical to us that we know the farmers, their backgrounds, where they’re getting their animals. Still it goes without saying that organic is vastly preferable to conventional.
We won’t eat conventional meat or feed it to you. We’re not interested in supporting a system that confines animals in large numbers and feeds them crap (literally) plus antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, plus hormones to make them grow bigger faster. Science has proven the antibiotic overuse has led to drug resistant strains of bacteria (aka superbugs) and the confined animals’ collective waste has become an environmental disaster. There is a reason the large recalls of E.coli contaminated ground meat comes largely from this system. It’s just good common sense that this unsustainable system of mass-produced animals isn’t healthy for anyone — you, the workers, or the animals. If you think eating conventional meat is all you can afford, please think again. Only in modern times do we expect to eat meat three times a day and consider a 20-ounce steak to be an individual portion. Try eating less meat with less frequency, consider it a side dish and not always your main, and please let our retail staff walk you through our most affordable cuts; we are here for you.
When people buy steak, they may think and ask about grades — prime, choice, and select. These are USDA designations based on the fat that covers the muscle and interweaves throughout it (aka marbling). Large processors may pay a meat grader to grade their carcasses, but our pastured steers, processed at our local slaughterhouse, aren’t graded or categorized for their intramuscular fat content. That’s why our meat isn’t graded.
HOW TO COOK PASTURED MEAT
Pastured animals are different than conventionally raised animals in every way imaginable. So, of course, they need to be cooked differently too (unless you want to overcook some great meat). These free-ranging animals spend time outside roaming around and developing muscles. Factory-farmed conventional animals, on the other hand, hardly move. Some never even live life outside of cages so they have no muscle definition. They’re flabby. For the most part, pastured meat cooks faster because it has less fat to protect it. In addition, factory-farm meat is often injected with a saline brine that not only adds flavor and weight but also increases cooking time. You don’t need to be a fancy cook to handle pastured meat, but knowing a few techniques and being aware of which cuts to use for various dishes or recipes will make a world of difference.
For best cooking results, be sure to know your stovetop and how accurate your oven is. Our favorite way to cook almost anything is to pan-sear and oven-finish it. We refer to this method as “stovetop to oven” and describe how to do it in our recipe for the perfect steak. If you’re not making steak, after searing your pork or lamb cut on the stovetop 2 minutes per side, a general rule of doneness is when the pork reaches 125 degrees (6 to 10 minutes in the oven) or the lamb reaches 120 degrees (4 to 8 minutes in the oven).
For more information about our meat, check out our FAQ. There we address what whole animal butchery is, if our meat is organic or grass-fed, and a lot more. Well worth a read. We also write about sourcing at length in our book, The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised meat — we have a community copy at the Stone Ridge store as well as some available for purchase. And if you have any further questions, just ask!