Sarasota Beef Company owner Bill Manfull acknowledges that grass-fed beef isn't for everyone. The meat is way leaner than you get from grain-fed cows, with a fat content closer to a skinless chicken thigh, venison or elk, and that makes it trickier to cook correctly. Never cook a grass-fed steak past medium, one butcher advised me. "Cook it slow," Manfull tells me. As my cast iron skillet heats up in preparation for the skirt steak I just bought at the Beef Company, I'm nervous I'll screw it all up.
Cooking with grass-fed beef may require a little more care, but Manfull says the health benefits are worth it. In addition to having less fat overall, grass-fed meat has more cholesterol-neutral types of fatty acids and fewer cholesterol-elevating types fatty acids, and "is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E and cancer fighting antioxidants," according to a 2010 study published by Nutrition Journal.
Manfull, a former land developer, got into beef after the onset of the Great Recession. "When the economy went in the dumps, I said, 'I want to do something I enjoy,'" he says.
The 56-year-old Manfull himself is not a rancher. He works with a handful of Myakka City ranchers who raise their cattle on grass and then typically sell them to out-of-state feedlot operations. Manfull selects some of the cattle for himself and transports them to a slaughterhouse in Moore Haven, near Lake Okeechobee. He brings the animals back in quarters and then breaks down the meat at his Bradenton storefront. In addition to the usual cuts and ground beef, you can ask for tripe, tongue, liver and heart—even a whole cow's head or its testicles.
My skirt steak sizzles on the stovetop for just a few minutes, then on the other side for a couple minutes more. Dressed with just olive oil, salt and pepper, it comes out bloody as hell. You can absolutely tell the difference between this and supermarket meat. The steak is a bit tougher, but it's also richer.
Not all of Sarasota Beef Company's meat is 100 percent grass-fed. Manfull also sells grain-finished beef from cattle that's been fed non-GMO soy feed for anywhere between 45 and 90 days before being slaughtered. A grain-finished cow will still have only around 20 pounds of fat on it, compared to 200 pounds for a feedlot cow, Manfull says.
In less than four months in operation, Sarasota Beef Company has already begun supplying beef to around two dozen local restaurants. In addition to its main shop, you can also find the company's meat at the Bradenton Farmers' Market and at a stall inside the Red Barn Flea Market. Manfull is currently going through about 15 cows a week, with a capacity for 60. The business is growing, but it's still a small operation, run by Manfull and his daughter, Emily Manfull, who manages the store. Manfull says he's aiming to please a small niche of beef eaters looking for a healthier option and eager to find local meat—something that has for decades proven difficult thanks to the lack of a local slaughterhouse. Manfull says his company is "targeting the 3 percent market."
Sarasota Beef Company is located at 3134 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton, and is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Call (941) 254-7453 or follow the company on Facebook for more info.