With all natural, grass-raised and grain-finished stock, Kingsland Ranch is quickly establishing itself as the go-to source for premium quality beef. From steaks to ground chuck, Kingsland Ranch provides for all of your BayouEats needs.
article by Michael DeVault | photography by Martin G Meyers
In 850 pastoral acres of land situated on Cheniere Drew Road, 160 head of cattle graze under the watchful eyes of David King. He knows each cow and, more importantly, each cow’s lineage. “We’re always adding to the herd,” he tells BayouLife of the operation at Kingsland Ranch, the working cattle ranch owned by his father, Dr. Terry King. For David, cattle is in his blood.
“My father grew up on a ranch when he was younger, and he wanted to be a rancher,” said David. “So he started with 70 acres. This just grew up from there.”
Over the years, the Kings have added parcels of land as they came available. Terry lives on the property in a sprawling, columned home perched atop a hill overlooking the valley below. David lives nearby, too, in a spacious ranch home overlooking another valley. He works the ranch, managing the herd and overseeing breeding, an important facet of life on Kingsland. This is, after all, a producing cattle ranch.
Every couple of weeks, David selects animals from the herd that are ready for slaughter. They’re then processed at a packing facility in Calhoun, yielding steaks, roasts and hamburger meat, just to name a few products.
For those surprised to find a working cattle ranch in northeastern Louisiana, David has some insight. “Louisiana has a good product in anything—if you know where to find it,” he says.
For beef, look no further than Kingsland. The Kingsland herd is grass fed and finished on grain. Each animal is reared without hormones or antibiotics, an important note in the industrialized world of food production, where some meat products are forced to grow too fast. That’s definitely not the case at Kingsland, and with good reason.
“You can absolutely taste the difference in our steaks,” David said. One Tuesday morning in April, David and his step-brother, Jay Yates, have the grill going. Atop the grill sizzles a pair of 14-oz. ribeyes, a couple of burgers and two bone-in ribeyes, weighing more than a pound each.
Each steak cooks up perfectly to medium rare and provides a succulent, tender experience that is remarkable from the first bite. There’s no working for flavor in Kingsland beef. It’s full of umami, that elusive, savory flavor that much beef lacks today. That’s due as much to the breeding as it is to the grass feeding and grain finishing of the cattle, according to David.
“We’ve found the right combination for perfect marbling,” David reveals. Each animal is the product of as close to perfect matches as you can get, with analyses prepared on each animal’s genetic makeup and other, less easy to assess factors.
“Used to be, you’d look at the animal, how it behaved, how much it weighed,” David says. That’s not the case today, where computers and technology come into play. “You look at their IMF—intramuscular fat content—on the animal when you buy one. You can gather so much information now.”
Intramuscular fat content is what creates marbling and drives flavor. It’s also something that, without modern technology, ranchers would guess. Today, instead of guessing, they use ultrasound to image the whole animal. Instead of hoping for a perfectly marbled ribeye, now a handler can look inside, from the youngest age.
“It will show a picture at a young age, what we need to do with an animal, as well as the IMF,” David says. This helps make sure each animal is as successfully reared as possible. With the help of technology such as the ultrasound, David can coax each animal to the perfect weight, roughly 1,350 pounds, before sending it to slaughter. The process typically takes between 17 and 18 months.
The steaks come off the grill, and into them go the knives. With precious little effort, the blade sinks through the meat and meets the plate with a quiet scrape. Juicy isn’t the right adjective to describe a Kingsland steak, as it conjures the wrong image. Instead, moist is a better word. That’s due in large part to what happens to the animal after slaughter.
“We try to age it a little more,” David says. First, the animal is hung at the Calhoun facility for 14 days. It’s then processed into the various products and placed into packages. David says that’s where the Kingsland products’ popularity has created a challenge.
“We would like to age it in the package another 7 days, but demand is high,” says Jay. “So sometimes, we don’t get to do that.”
If anything, this inability to keep a product on the shelf for the full 21-day aging process is a testimony to the quality of Kingsland beef. Even the burgers are spectacular, and again, a major difference between mass-produced industrial beef pops up.
Where “grocery store” ground beef can feel mealy on the palate, Kingsland beef is smooth, with a rich, bold flavor that immediately causes you to raise your eyebrows and go in for another bite. Yet again, this difference comes down to the Kingsland experience. Breeding meets rearing meets processing. It’s hard to argue with the result of their efforts.
Kingsland raises three breeds of cattle and crosses them to make their product. At any given moment, the herd is some combination of Red Brangus, Hereford and Angus. They slaughter just 24-45 per year, but to help meet demand, they have partnered with four other ranches across the state to supplement their supply. Each of those ranches follows identical breeding and feeding routines to ensure quality across the brand.
But quality is just part of the perfect steak. Eventually, you have to cook it. And both Jay and David have some pointers. First, there’s that age thing. Jay says don’t be afraid to keep a steak for a few days. Some people are panicked when they see a brown spot or two begin to form. That’s perfectly normal, Jay says, so you should relax.
“Age is always your friend,” he says. David agrees. He also has another suggestion, one that might save some worried souls a few bucks from throwing out perfectly good cuts of meat.
If you open the package and smell, you’re making a mistake. Instead, take the cut out of the package and place it on a plate in the refrigerator for an hour or two before cooking. Before cooking it, let it come to room temperature, which will help release both water content and the flavor.
Most of the time, both Jay and David say a dab of olive oil, some pepper and a dash of salt are all you need for a perfect steak, from filet to sirloin. For some cuts of meat, though—flank steak, for example—it’s a little more work. As David puts it, you’ll need a recipe.
“I’ve cooked every part of a cow,” he says. “Some parts, you want to marinate.”
Buying Kingsland steaks and beef products isn’t as difficult as it used to be. They’re sold retail at Gibson’s Natural Grocer in Ruston. Also, you can usually order a special Kingsland dish at Sage. But for those home grillmasters, don’t fret. You can reach out to Jay and pick up a cut of meat. But you’ll want to call ahead.
“Depending on what you want, it can take a couple of weeks sometimes,” Jay says. That’s because only 15 percent of a steer becomes steaks. The rest gets processed into other products, with roughly 60 percent going into the grinder to become the base of a hearty ragu or to end up as a delicious meatloaf. Over the past few months—they’ve only been selling direct to consumer since January—Jay says ground beef has become a mainstay of their sales.
“I’ve got several customers who order ten pounds every couple of weeks,” Jay says.
You can expect to pay a little more for the Kingsland beef experience than you would at your local grocery store, where the cows have been subject to hormones and antibiotics. But, both Jay and David stress that Kingsland is sustainable, that the cows raised there aren’t your typical cow.
“People see Food Inc. and other documentaries, and we are absolutely not that,” says Jay. “Our land is sustainable, and our cows are treated very well.”
And it shows in the flavorful cuts of meet served up by Kingsland. Naturally raised and local, you’ll be able to taste the difference yourself.
To order Kingsland beef products, contact Jay Yates directly at (318) 791-2526. You can also follow Kingsland Ranch on Facebook for up-to-date pricing and production information. A full-service web site is expected later this year.