Upper Pond Picnic

Dogs, Pigs, Kids, Rocks, Water, Fire, Food… Bonfire!

Today I grilled pastured pork on the bonfire. We we have bonfires we usually cook a stew so grilling is new to me. In the kitchen we typically slow cook big pieces of meat in the oven in a glaze or tomato based sauce or use small bits of meat in a dish. I have had customers ask about grilling relative to pastured meat so I’m learning about this great American pastime. Apparently grilling grass fed meat can be a little tricky since pastured livestock have less fat on the cuts and less marbling than confinement corn/soy fed animals with traditional breeds although modern confinement breeds are also very low marbling – “the other white meat” as they say.

Stew, Grilled Pastured Ground Pork & Hot dog on Bonfire

From what I have read on the net the secret seems to be to sear the meat quickly over a hot fire to lock in the juices and then cook more slowly for the remaining time over a lower temperature being careful not to overcook the meat. I followed that advice on the hamburgers above and they were tender & delicious. These are true hamburgers as the meat came from the once ground hams of a 5 year old pastured sow. Another trick several people have mentioned is using thicker cuts of meat – 1.5″ pork chops instead of 3/4″ or 1″ chops. I didn’t follow that rule on these, they were only about 3/4″ thick patties.

There is an interesting book, “The Farmer and the Grill” by Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm in New York. I have not ordered the book yet but probably will.

If you have secrets to successfully grilling, or otherwise cooking, pastured meat I would be interested in hearing them.

Outdoors: 62°F/27°F Sunny
Farm House: 60°F/55°F
Tiny Cottage: 58°F/50°F cutting block, selecting granite

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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7 Responses to Upper Pond Picnic

  1. pablo says:

    I hardly ever grill (and lately we’ve been eating a lot less meat), but I use the sear first and slow cook second method generally.

  2. karl says:

    i coat the outside of the meat with a thick layer of grape-seed oil toss them on a hot fire and let the oil catch and scorch the surfaces of the meat then cook it to desired done. this mimics catching the fat on fire that usually is in a piece of non-grass-fed meat.

    imo grape-seed is the best oil for the job because it is extremely healthy and flavorless.

  3. David says:

    Walt, properly cooked pastured or grainfed meat is delicious and tender. It does have less fat and should not ever be overcooked. If it comes out dry or tough then the cook needs to change their techniques.

  4. Podchef says:


    A couple of things–Firstly about searing. It is a common and wide spread myth perpetuated by a great many chefs, that searing seals in juices. Quite simply it doesn’t and no one will admit it. . . . You can test it for yourself (and the kids): take two identical pieces of meat–same weight preferable, or at least know the differences. Leave one on a plate by itself, un-cooked until moisture has leached out of it. Meanwhile sear the other piece over high heat–both sides and the ends and edged if thick. Get them nice and golden. Let the piece rest on a plate until cool (it will still be raw in the center most likely. Now–what do ye see? Both pieces will be in a puddle of juice. The juice volume will be likely the same and the weight loss difference will be similar, although the seared piece should be lighter due to evaporative processes and the fact that as you heat the meat the outer cells burst and the inner cell structure starts to break down (freezing does something similar which is why thawed fruits and veg are always in a puddle). As the cells break open the moisture escapes at first into the center of the meat, but then back out towards the outside–one reason to allow meat to rest before cutting it. If it is cut before the juices redistribute you will end up with a drier piece of meat and a large puddle of juice. The same piece of meat rested will taste moister and have less juice loss.

    The smaller the piece of meat the more dramatic moisture loss and seepage is. No, the main reason for searing roasts, steaks, stewing meat over high heat is for flavor–the complex change of natural sugars into caramelized compounds known as the Maillard Reaction. This is what makes roasts, grills and frys taste the way the do. The same cut of meat boiled without browning is a completely different animal. Not bad, but vastly different.

    Next the friend of any meat is fat. Choosing the cut is critical to the task. Lean Tenderloins of any animal favor high heat searing and rare to medium cooking because they lack fat–same goes for rack of lamb. Shoulder of any animal generally has more fat–grassfed or not. This is why pork shoulder is preferable for sausages and bugers. Same for sirloin or ground chuck of beef–tougher cuts, but plenty of natural fat. As the fat cooks, it melts and lubricates.

    Modern pork lacks this fat because it is raised so intensively on a controlled diet geared to the whims of a fat-phobic public. Grass-fed, pastured pork generally has more fat due to genetics, diet and length of growth. The fat is also healthier than that of conventionally raised meats, so more is better. Although for your ground sow’s hams I may have added some pure back-fat to aide in lubrication. For chops and the like there should be plenty of fat and marbleling to make due.

    Some marinades help tenderize meat–think korean ribs which sit a week in a sauce before grilling–some do not. Red wine toughens meat if most directions are followed and meat is left in overnight. . . .the wine leaches moisture out of the meat while al ost “cooking” it before any heat hits it through protein contraction.

    Very lean meats such as venison actually taste great grilled if you add fat to it by barding–or inserting strips of pork leaf-lard into it, or bacon, which melt as the meat cooks and lubricate everything.

    The final thing is temperature. The USDA keeps upping the temperature for done-ness of meats. The EU wants steaks cooked to 175 degrees F. . .That is shoe leather. Most pathogens die at 130F. If you are working with meat of known origin than use your best judgment. Medium in a roast beef is 140F. That would be a bit pink for pork roast but 150F is just right–carry over cooking will bring it to 155F by the time it is served. Home raised meats properly treated can be eaten–at your own risk level, of course–raw, or minimally cooked if desired. There is no reason that same roast which can be eaten at 140F can’t be freshly ground and cooked the same day and eaten as medium rare-burgers. Freshly ground–same day as consumed–meat tastes better and is probably safer for you. As soon as the meat is exposed to all that oxygen is starts to oxidize and turn sour. Compare a fresh bit of ground beef or pork to some which has been frozen or been processed a few days earlier–you won’t go back. If I must freeze meat I freeze it in large chunks and grind it on the day–less cell damage and deterioration, freezer burn and moisture loss, all leading to a better grassfed burger with more flavor and tenderness.

    There are a great many ways to enjoy even the toughest of cuts of grass-fed meat (and here I am referring to the same cuts which would be tough in the most marbled of grain fed animals) on the grill. Smoking or indirect cooking under a cover after a brief time over high-heat, hot coals, works great to slowly break down tough tissue, ligaments and add flavor and tenderness–something like Boston Butt, picnic shoulder, or brisket.

    A book like “Let the Flames Begin” is a great all-around resource for grilling techniques. Once they are understood and which method works best for what cut of meat, the sky’s the limit. You’ll be grilling all the time. I cook over only wood fire–no charcoal–and grill 9 months of the year all weather.

    Before I get down from the pulpit let me campaign once more for longer hanging terms for grass-fed meat! As Americans, we are generally squeamish at the though of letting our meats hang for more than 10 days. Pork never and lamb 4 days. This is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Especially when it comes to pastured meats–including chickens. We hang game birds for 4 to 10 days, so why not a rooster? Hung in the chill with innards, in the feather? Nothing wrong with it, a bit more gamey and full flavored is all. As for quadrupeds –Beef needs a minimum of 21 days, 30 better. Lamb can go 14 days and pork 4. This longer hanging of the carcasses allows for enzymes to breakdown and tenderize the meat and for complex flavors to develop which help the meat taste richer and more like what it is supposed to be–beef, lamb or pork (the other red meat. . . ) I once worked in a hotel in Ireland where they got in whole sides of pastured meat and whole fowl and continued to age them until use. It was a pleasure to work with and a pleasure to eat such meat. And I did something there I haven’t since dared do save with my own animals–eat raw beef. Heaven. Breed, age at slaughter, hanging time and cooking method all help you know how to make the best grassfed dishes you can. Perhaps a bit more work, but well worth the effort.

  5. Wow! Thanks, Podchef. You’ve given me much to chew over. :)

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