What you need to know about buying grass-fed beef, including labels, cuts, color and fat content, and a guide to where to buy grass-fed beef.

What you need to know about buying grass-fed beef, including labels, cuts, color and fat content, and a guide to where to buy grass-fed beef. Watch: What Organic Labels on Meat Mean

Not only is the taste of grass-fed beef a little different than conventional beef-deeper, richer and more mineral-there are other differences to keep in mind as well when you're buying or cooking the meat. Here's what to consider.

Read the Labels

Look for the words "grass-fed" on labels. It's USDA-regulated and ensures that the meat is from cattle that have eaten solely grass and forage, from weaning to slaughter.

The American Grassfed Association third-party-certified logo indicates that cattle are 100 percent grass-fed. But it also means that animals were raised without hormones or antibiotics, were not confined and were raised humanely. The Food Alliance also certifies grass-fed claims.

When you see the terms "pastured" or "grass-finished" on a label, know that they are unregulated and could mean that the animal's diet included grains.

Understand Seasonality of Cattle Diets

Unlike conventional beef, which can be fed year-round on grain, grass-fed beef is at its prime when the grass is green and nutrient-rich.

For this reason, some farmers sell all their meat fresh at peak season while others freeze the meat for sale throughout the year. (Taste should not suffer if meat is vacuum-sealed and properly frozen.)

Of course, in-season is relative to where the animals are grazed. For most cattle-raising areas of the U.S., the height of the season is late spring to early summer, but in more temperate states there can be great pastures year-round.

Don't Miss: Healthy Cooking 101 | How to Cook Grass-Fed Beef

Buying Local Beef

Much of the grass-fed beef in North America is produced on small farms and sold directly to consumers. A good place to find it is at your local farmers' market.

If you buy direct from a farmer and there are no labels, ask for the specifics about how the beef was raised.

A number of websites, including americangrassfed.org, eatwild.com, eatwellguide.org and localharvest.org, offer useful directories for locating grass-fed beef near you.

To save money, consider purchasing a share, a half or whole animal, or a box of assorted cuts. Natural-foods stores and specialty meat markets also often sell grass-fed beef

If you can't find grass-fed beef locally, look online.

Sources include:

Selecting the Best Beef Cuts

Grass-fed beef has a wider range of colors than conventional-from bright red to deep mahogany-brown-so don't use color as an indication of freshness.

Leaner than conventional and with less marbling, grass-fed meat should look moist, with no brown edges, and have fat that ranges from faintly yellow to butter yellow.

EatingWell Tip: The fat percentage is not always shown on packages of grass-fed ground beef, especially when you're buying from a local supplier. If you can, choose ground beef that is at least 90% lean.

March/April 2014