Many thanks to Alan, our guest blogger, for this delightful rendition of his recent experience with one of our small briskets. He breaks down his preparation methods and shares his and his family's review- spoiler alert: he raves JUST a little bit. And as the rancher's apprentice, I can't help but rave about our beef with him! I'm learning the ropes from true artisans- and Alan has just found out exactly what that means. Follow him on Instagram (@an_oregon_family) for more photos on his many grills and cooks!
This is a story of conversion.
If you’ve attended church at all in your life you have a certain understanding, or expectation, for what “church” is like. In some towns you can find a church on almost every other corner. You see those churches—regardless of denomination—and say to yourself “I know what it feels like in there, I know what to expect.” However, if you’ve ever found a CHURCH, then you know what a rich, dynamic, fulfilling experience it can be. How...expanding.
There is a definite difference. If you know, then you know.
I now know the same can be said for meat, specifically, beef.
I have purchased beef from a variety of places, probably the same type of places most folks shop...Fred Meyer, Safeway, Winco, Cash & Carry. My beef shopping choice du jour has generally revolved around which store also happened to have milk on sale, or a great deal on eggs, or cheese, or...you fill in the blank. Basically, my beef shopping choices were all based on things that had very little to do with beef, or the quality of that beef.
Here’s why. Regardless of store, my beef experience was basically the same. It was about price, and it was simply an alternative to pork, or chicken, or turkey. The taste was fine, it was ok. Bottomline: I knew what to expect. Or I thought I did.
Then something changed for me. I found BEEF. Clear Creek Beef.
Through the magic of social media and Instagram, I came across Clear Creek Beef, and Sheen, the Rancher’s Apprentice. The Clear Creek story and their mission resonated deeply with me. I am #bornandraised an Oregonian, and I love this state, and the pacific Northwest. The diversity here—people, geography, business—combine to draw out an innovative, pioneer creativity that is uniquely Oregon. I find myself drawn to that which is uniquely Oregon; it both grounds and inspires me. Clear Creek Beef fits this description perfectly. Long story short, I soon found myself on the receiving end of a beautiful 3-pound brisket.
I was excited holding this cut, and a little nervous, too. Brisket is almost mythological in its meat status, so when my thoughts turned to the upcoming cook, I knew that I had to do justice to the steer that surrendered this special cut of beef. In my opinion, that meant letting the beef flavor shine through, and that meant it was going on my Traeger Bronson grill.
If you’ve ever had low and slow smoked brisket you know how awesome it can be. With a beautiful Clear Creek brisket in hand I knew that I wanted to focus on simplicity to allow that pasture-raised beef flavor to shine. After a review of options, I decided upon going “Texas style,” a guarantee for big beef flavor that almost melts in your mouth. Texas style means salt, pepper, smoke, and time. That’s it—simple, straight forward...perfect for me.
The day before I planned to grill, I prepared to trim up the brisket by giving my best boning knife a few extra passes on the sharpening stone.
FYI: Frankly, trimming is what made me the most nervous with this cook. If you’ve never trimmed a full brisket before I’d definitely recommend reviewing some of the how-to videos or articles available on the Internet before you feel like you understand what and how to trim. Personally, I’m a big fan of Aaron Franklin (@franklinbbq), Susie Bulloch (@heygrillhey), and Danielle Bennett(@divaqbbq) for their passion and approach to brisket and grilling.
Now, we all know that fat equals flavor. However, the visible fat deposits and silver skin on briskets don’t really render down, and they certainly won’t provide any added flavor benefit, so I felt confident that I could trim away! Besides, it’s the marbling that truly makes the beef sing, and my Clear Creek brisket had marbling to die for!
After steeling my nerves with a second cup of black coffee, I set to my task. Ten minutes later I had removed about 8 oz of fat and separated the “flat” from the “point.” My Clear Creek brisket was now divided into two nice slabs of beef ready for seasoning—my favorite part.
I had any number of beef-centric rubs and seasoning blends available to me, but I wanted to taste BEEF, not seasoning. For me, the decision was clear: simple Texas style seasoning--coarse salt and black pepper. I prefer to blend my salt and pepper before applying them to the meat, so I measured out equal parts of each (about 2 tablespoons each) and combined them in a spice shaker container. After applying a light coating of olive oil as a “binder” I shook the spices over the meat, creating a nice even layer across the entire surface of the flat and the point. Oh, let me tell you, it looked so good; I could picture the bark forming already. I may have even drooled a bit.
With the seasoning applied, I covered the brisket with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator, letting it rest for about 20 hours. Yard work, family activities, and more yard work filled the rest of my day, capped by a Traeger-grilled cast iron pan pizza for dinner. At day’s end the beef was prepped, my yard looked good, the family was fed and happy, and I was fully ready for brisket glory!
The next morning it was time to start the cook! Pulling the brisket from the fridge so it could raise to room temperature, I fired up my Traeger Bronson on a blend of hickory, maple, and cherry pellets, setting it to 250 degrees to allow the smoky goodness to really bathe the brisket. My goal was to get consistent heat and a steady flow of smoke over the meat as it slowly cooked. I was not in a rush.
Going low and slow with a brisket means that you are cooking based off of meat temperature, not time. I was seeking an internal temperature of 165 degrees, so I inserted my digital meat thermometer and closed the lid.
165 degrees arrived after about three hours in the smoke, and I wrapped both pieces of meat in peach butcher paper. This is a crucial step as it helps ensure that the brisket is mouth-wateringly tender, with a super dark bark crust. I placed the brisket packs back in the Traeger and raised the temperature to 275 to finish off the cook, looking for an internal temperature of 203. The smoke continued to roll, and I enjoyed a glass of pre-brisket red wine with my wife in the spring Oregon sunshine.
After a full glass (or two), 203 degrees arrived and I pulled the meat from the grill. I have to say, I was tempted to dig right in—my hunger, combined with the grilling aroma (and the wine) were making me dizzy with anticipation. However, I resisted temptation, hearkening back to Susie Bulloch’s advice:
“Rest your smoked brisket. DO. NOT. SKIP. THIS. STEP. Resting your brisket allows so many of those hot and bubbly juices to settle down a little and redistribute to the meat. It also brings your brisket down to perfect slicing and serving temperature.”
Advice heeded, I wrapped the brisket packets in a clean, old towel and placed them in my cooler for the requisite resting period.
Heading indoors, I prepped green salads for the family and put the finishing touches on a quartet of cheesy twice baked potatoes, coating them in way too much melted shredded Tillamook cheese. With the table set, the family pressing me for dinner, and a reasonable brisket rest period (40 minutes) it was time to slice and eat!
And now, the conversion starts...
Buttery. Break apart tender. Beefy. Rich. Juicy delicious. So good.
There are not enough adjectives to fully capture the tastiness, the tenderness, the richness of this meat. No knives were used at the table. Not a scrap of beef was left on a plate, no fat trimmings pushed to the side. It was not until the brisket was gone did anyone even start in on their potatoes or salads. There were no leftovers. There were many smiles.
Brisket is indeed the stuff of myth, and the Clear Creek brisket we enjoyed only added to the legend.
I thought I knew what to expect from beef, but that was before I had experienced BEEF. Pasture-raised, hand-finished. Clear Creek Beef.
Our brisket dinner was a rich, vibrant, fulfilling dining experience.
There is a definite difference. If you know, then you know, and you want more.
You can probably tell by his IG name and logo that Oregon holds a special place for Alan. As a native Oregonian currently living in the Portland area, Alan appreciates the beauty and splendor found in all four corners of the state and finds the Pacific Northwest essence uplifting and enriching.
This inspiration has led Alan to grill and cook in a way that he hopes fills his growing family’s tummies and spirit. Alan strives to use local ingredients whenever possible, believing that they are fresher, healthier, and make his meals better, and more enjoyable.
Inspired by authenticity and passion, Alan believes that quality product made by passionate folks doesn’t just connect you to great stuff, it connects you to great people.
Alan blogs about his cooks on Instagram, and can be found @an_oregon_family. He longs for days of wide open skies, snow-capped mountain ranges, and endless opportunities.
We are all hearing a lot about grass-fed beef these days and from the sounds of it, it's being put out there as the most healthy, conscientious way to produce and consume beef. But frankly, this is a gross oversimplification with a whole lot of gray area in the phrase "grass-fed".
For one thing, pretty much all beef is "grass-fed". It is the simplest, most natural and cheapest way to feed cattle while they grow and mature, so to have anything but grass-fed in the first 6 months of life would just be inefficient and wasteful across the board. So let's clarify here that what they are really talking about when they're using the term "grass-fed" is "grass-finished", which is finishing out a steer on an exclusive grass-diet.
The most important thing when deciding what type of finishing you are looking for in your beef is to know what is available, what the terms actually mean, what that translates to in terms of your food experience and what it means for the animal. At the end of the day I think we are all looking for the same things- quality of life for ourselves and others, responsible care of our environment, good health and an understanding of what goes into the food that lands on our tables.
There are a few different ways to finish beef, but here I will cover only three. There is plenty of information out there that goes into greater detail/depth on this subject, so this will be a very basic overview targeted to those who are unfamiliar with the subject.
First, the conventional way has been to raise calves on grass to weaning. The calves are then sold to a mass feedlot where they are finished out on a grain diet. Because this is where the bulk of the beef produced winds up, it becomes a numbers game- from weight gain to minimizing illness, the sheer numbers require many standardized processes. Most of the beef you'll see in the supermarket or at any fast food or other inexpensive restaurant will come from a feedlot unless specifically marked with the various certifications stating otherwise (think- Grass-Fed, Grass-Finished, Natural Beef, Certified Humane). This route is the most economically efficient way to get inexpensive beef into the hands of consumers. The focus is on quantity, much less on quality and it is about meeting the demands of a global economy.
Second, and increasing in popularity, is grass-finishing. This is a very conscientious method of finishing beef and the focus is very much in creating a very natural product without the use of all those extras. It takes much longer to finish an animal exclusively on grass- about 4-6 months longer (I mean, how quickly do YOU gain weight eating salads vs. salads and carbs?). These animals are generally maintained in beautiful pastoral settings with conscientious ranchers engaged on a much more individualized level with each animal. The focus is on optimal health and life experience for the animal to create beef that is leaner and has a solid nutrient profile. Grass-finished beef will likely taste a bit different and indeed be leaner than the typical grain-finished animal.
Let's talk now about what we do- or what we mean when we say pasture-raised beef. While we do finish some of our beef on grass, it is more expensive to produce due to the longer finishing time- and many of our customers prefer the taste of a grain-finished animal. Our steers spend their whole lives with access to improved pasture. They dine on native pasture grasses conscientiously irrigated by each year's melting snowpack (a source that is renewable thru natural weather systems rather than water pumped from aquifers millions of years in the making) to keep the natural grass and clover thick and lush, which naturally chokes out excessive weeds. For the last 90 days or so before they go to processing, their diet adjusts to a ratio of 30% grain, with 70% maintained on the natural pasture grasses. This enables us to maintain a nutrient profile as close to the grass-fed side as possible, reduce finishing time by a significant margin and provide that individualized, pastoral experience that honors the animal and the land in a sustainable way. The grain creates tender, well-marbled beef that melts in your mouth and needs no more than salt and pepper to bring out the rich, buttery flavor.
It's always a bit difficult to answer the question "is your beef grass-fed?" because as you can see, answering requires that the ask-er and the answer-er be speaking the same language with the same definitions. Most often, it is more an opportunity to educate the curious and the interested on our process and share a little of our passion, perspective and priorities- and even on occasion clear up some misconceptions embedded in the question! And trust me when I say that there is a LOT of misinformation out there regarding many aspects of the beef industry. Stick around and we'll share some very interesting research that turns many commonly accepted beliefs about animal agriculture upside down!
We keep saying our beef is hand-finished, but what do we mean by that exactly?
There are two main elements in our definition. The first is that we walk among our herds daily- our cattle know us and are comfortable with our presence among them. The second is that our finishing expert knows precisely what to look for to ensure a steer is finished and he finds that information with his hands.
Docility in cattle is a measure of temperament, or how calm a given animal is in a new or stressful environment, specifically in handling by humans. It is a trait that can be inherited- which of course means that it can be improved through breeding. It is also highly influenced by their environment, mainly the manner in which they are handled by humans. Low docility, flightiness or wildness, is expected when cattle are raised in the wild as it is required for survival- an approachable cow will not last long with natural predators about. However, our herds are pastured and protected, so high docility scores are desirable, both for the safety of our team and for more highly graded meat.
Our standard practice is to work each and every animal and the herd at large as quietly and calmly as possible. We work in slow, steady movements and speak in low, quiet voices, always focusing on using the least amount of pressure required to move or work them. This is always best practice from a practical standpoint as a stressed animal is an unpredictable animal. Further, we are solidly dedicated to raising them in as peaceful and humane an environment as we can foster. We may be raising them as a food source, but we have every responsibility to ensure they live naturally and free from fear and pain where we can manage it.
The second aspect of hand-finishing requires this docility in our cattle- and not only are our steers approachable, they love getting the daily hands-on attention of our crew! They know that when their people are around that means good things- and we want to keep it that way.
Our Finishing Manager has years of experience under his belt and knows exactly what to look for visually in a finished beef and especially what to feel for and where. The feel of the animal at the tail, rib and loin, weight gain tapering off and the overall look of the animal all inform on when a steer is finished. Each animal is unique, of course, which means they finish out at different times and different weights.
We take our responsibility in our stewardship over these animals quite seriously and are thoughtful at every level of their care and keeping. Our entire focus and intent is to give them full, happy lives in wide, green pastures and we work hard every year to improve our knowledge, skills, resources and systems to better provide for their well-being.
This is what we mean when we say our beef is hand-finished.