In this day and age, people are more attuned to where their products and services come from, and how they were produced. This is especially true when it comes to food products. We want to make sure we’re getting something of high quality — especially when it comes to something special. A porterhouse steak, for example. We don’t want just any porterhouse. We want to know we’re getting something of real quality.

So when you order a cut of beef, where does it actually come from and how was it raised and produced? Fast food places don’t really count, since most of that consists of mixed ground beef that’s been mass-produced. Instead, let’s focus on the beef you get when you go to your favorite steakhouse.

Grass fed vs. Grain fed

One of the main differences you’ll see in terms of beef production involves how the animals are actually fed. Or more actually, what they’re fed. It’s widely known that grass fed beef tends to be juicier, more tender, and more flavorful than grain-fed beef. There are conflicting opinions on how important it is for the highest quality beef to be grass fed (meaning they only eat grass, which is their natural food, throughout the entire course of their lives) as opposed to grain-fed or grain-finished (which means they eat grass for a period of time and then are “fattened up” on grain).

There’s also evidence that grass-fed beef contains less harmful fats, more beneficial fats, and more healthy omega-3s.

If you talk to steakhouse chefs and managers, you’ll probably get differing opinions on the importance of grass-fed beef. But one thing they’ll all agree on is the importance of a reputable source that raises cattle carefully and humanely in a clean environment. The professionalism of the operation will almost always translate to a better cut of beef.

Mass production vs. local operations

The size and scope of the beef production operation is also important in terms of quality. Generally speaking, most of the highest-grade beef comes from smaller producers, while the lower quality product is mass-produced. If you talk to your local steakhouse chef, you’ll probably find that several (or in some cases, all) of the steaks on the menu come from smaller producers. More steakhouses are taking pride in their ability to source high quality cuts of beef from local, reputable sources.

That’s not to say that high quality beef never comes from larger beef producers, because that does happen. The majority of the highest grade (USDA Prime) beef, however, is rarely seen in stores and supermarkets. That’s because the supply is largely bought up by steakhouses and hotels that need their steaks to be “a cut above the rest.”

Returning to the source

Learning about the source of your steak, and how the beef is actually produced, is a great way to make your own determinations about how the beef production process affects things like flavor and tenderness. Next time you visit a local steakhouse, ask a few more questions about the source of the beef on the menu. You might be surprised by what you hear!