Freedom of movement and good grass year-round result in great meat from Nine Oaks Quality Beef.

 

TASTE THE DIFFERENCE

Grass or grain, Nine Oaks Quality Beef means great Flavor

By: Michael Roberts    Photography: Rett Peek

David Head of Nine Oaks Quality Beef in Brookland has the sort of quiet confidence about his products that comes from a lifetime of raising cattle. “I tell people who have never tried our grass-fed beef before, ‘don’t spend a lot of money—buy a pound of ground beef and you’ll be back,’” he says with a laugh. “I’ll put our [beef] up against any beef in the country.”

Head has been marketing his beef under the Nine Oaks label for 10 years, seven of which he has spent selling direct to the public at the ASU Farmers Market in Jonesboro. He’s understandably proud of the high- quality ground beef, which he raises and finishes solely on grass, but he understands the challenges that come from beef fed on grass alone. “Tenderness is always an issue,” he says, adding that his whole cuts come from cattle that are pasture-raised but finished on grain. 

For farmers like Head, the real issue is not so much whether cattle are finished on grass or grain, it’s how they live up to the point when they are slaughtered. Pasture-raised cattle, like the ones Nine Oaks produces, are allowed fresh, clean acreage in which to graze, unlike conventional cattle which by necessity are kept in larger herds. Keeping the animals more spread out means reducing the chance of disease, something that allows Nine Oaks to avoid the antibiotic regimens that are often necessary when cattle are kept closer together.

Nine Oaks Quality Beef’s David Head inspects his pasture-raised cattle.

Arkansas’ climate makes it tough to raise cattle purely on grass—the hot, dry summers leave a dearth of food by late summer. While Head says that many farmers import alfalfa hay from out of state, he’d rather keep his prices down as much as possible, which rules out bringing in expensive hay. Still, as consumers decide they want more pure grass-fed beef, Head says his operation is moving in that direction, and he’s begun working with different kinds of grass so that the cattle can graze all year.

Whether purely grass-fed or switched to corn at around 14 months, Head’s Nine Oaks beef remains a superior product, all while keeping prices within range of premium grocery store cuts. The lack of hormones and antibiotics in the meat is a plus for some eaters, while the pasture-raised beef develops a unique and rich flavor. For Head, it’s all in how the cattle are treated throughout their lives—and he’s determined that his products will always be healthy and delicious.

GRASS FED COOKING TIPS
Grass-fed beef can be a little trickier to prepare than beef that has been raised on corn, but don’t let that stop you! Here are some tips for making sure that your grass-fed beef tastes just as good as you want it.

Marinade: A marinade using lemon juice, vinegar, wine or bourbon can add moisture to the beef as well as flavor. Use 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of beef. Marinate for 2 to 8 hours, turning the beef halfway through.

Bring it up: Make sure the beef is at room temperature before cooking. This will allow quicker, more even cooking, which keeps the beef more tender and juicy. 

Cook rare: Because grass-fed beef isn’t as tender as grain-fed, don’t go for much beyond medium rare. You’ll keep the meat more tender and the flavor will be considerably better.

Coat: A thin coating of olive or other oil can help give leaner grass-fed beef an edge when it first hits the fire.

Let it rest: Letting the finished product rest for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking allows heat to even out and brings the internal juices down in temperature. Cutting into the beef without letting it rest means loss of moisture—and loss of taste.