What’s Your Beef, Chuck?

by Coach Tim

I love me a good chuck roast. Who wouldn’t? It’s a large chunk of relatively inexpensive beef. Take a chunk, toss on some vegetables, and throw it in the oven for a couple hours and you have a delicious tender pot roast that tastes like a lovely blend of nostalgia, home, and meat.

I’ve always gotten my chuck at Sam’s because it’s really cheap there. You can get 7 lbs of beef for like $20 and seven pounds of meat should serve two people for almost all of a week, right?
Well, it always seems the meat never quite makes it that far; it’s usually closer to two days before we’re complaining there’s no food in the fridge.  And when I think about my prep process, it starts with trimming fat from the meat, continues with discarding some rendered fat from the drippings and ends with discarding some pockets of gristly fat while either slicing or eating the roast.
But when we received our grass-fed chuck roasts from US Wellness meats, I couldn’t help but notice the significantly lower fat content. There was virtually no fat to trim off and very few visible ribbons of the white stuff. Which led me to the question: sure, I’m paying significantly more for the grass fed beef, but how does the “food in my belly” price per pound compare to that of the Sam’s roast?
To answer on this, I embarked on a horribly non-scientific experiment. But I’m writing a blog, not a research journal, so get over it. This is what I did: I took a “regular” chuck roast and a grass fed roast and prepared them as I usually did and compared the starting weight, ending weight, price per pound to get a thrilling non-scientific price comparison at the end. Observe:
GF Raw     CF Raw
Figure 1: 3lb, 0.3 oz of grass fed beef (left) and 3 lb, 8.0 oz “regular” chuck (right). The grass fed beef has a little bit of surface fat that was easily trimmed off. The white ribbons in the regular chuck ran the entire width of the roast. I trimmed away a shade over 2 oz of fat and could have done more, but I grew impatient.
Roasts Prepped
Figure 2: The prep. Stolen shamelessly and modified slightly from a Trisha Yearwood recipe on foodnetwork.com. Slice up carrots and onion, throw on top of roasts, wrap up in a foil packet with a bit of apple cider vinegar in the bottom. Put in a pan with an inch or two of water in the bottom. Roast at 400-ish for 3-ish hours.
CF Cooked     GF Cooked
Figure 3: The thrilling conclusion. After I sliced it up and discarded any remaining pockets of fat, I was left with 1 lb, 12 oz of regular and 1 lb, 9.9 oz of grass fed meat to put in my stomach.
So, what’s it mean? Well, for starters, it means the grass fed beef rendered 54% of its original weight in “edible” food. The regular roast rendered exactly 50% of its original weight in edible food. Running the numbers, at $2.98/lb raw (which is a really good price, I think it usually goes closer to $3.50 at Sam’s), the regular beef cost me $5.96/lb to fill me up. The grass fed, at a higher $6.53/lb raw wholesale cost ended up costing $12.09/lb of food in my stomach.
So… this isn’t what I expected, actually. Damnit. I suppose the conclusion to draw here is that the weight loss in the preparation of chuck roast isn’t so much in fat trimmed or rendered out but more so in water weight. Driven off. Of course, all the caveats in the world exist for this study; this completely ignores final fat:protein ratio, final moisture content, any and all of the actual health benefits of grass fed beef, and other less tangible factors such as appeal of final product (they were both fabulous, but I know it’s an uphill battle convincing an Iowa-raised farm boy that grass fed beef can hold a candle to corn-fed beef in terms of taste and texture, and vice versa can be true for a southerner that’s used to ranch-raised beef).
Anyhow, I hope you learned something from this. i did, I guess. And I got a few delicous meals out of it which is more than I can say about any other science experiment I’ve done in my life.