About Beef Grading
Beef is one of the most highly regulated and supervised products in the US food supply. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects beef and oversees the processing and distribution of all meet products. The USDA also grades beef using strict and uniform standards for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. The grade is determined by many different factors. Among them are age of the animal, condition of the animal, and degree of marbling and intramuscular fat. Beef has more grade levels than any other meet. Although technically there are 8 different grades of beef, when purchasing steaks only the top four grades are generally sold as steak.
USDA PRIME: Prime is the highest grade of meat available. Prime beef displays an abundant amount of marbling and a high percentage of intramuscular fat. The marbling, as well as other factors such as feed quality, aging, and texture, all add to the flavor and overall quality of the beef. Less than 2% of beef inspected by the USDA qualifies as Prime. Prime is only available from the highest quality retailers and restaurants that generally specialize in high end beef.
USDA Choice: Choice is the next best grade of beef and is considered the sweet spot of price. Like USDA Prime, USDA Choice has a high degree of marbling along with superior texture, flavor, and taste. Choice is found at the highest quality retailers and restaurants and is the first choice of most steak lovers since it is very high quality but doesn’t carry the ultra premium price tab of Prime.
USDA Select: Select is the third grade in the USDA ratings and generally exhibits less marbling than choice resulting in less complexity of flavor. Select is generally tougher all around in texture and can dry out easily when cooke. Select also tends to overcook very easily. It is commonly sold as the top quality product available at many grocery stores and steakhouses.
USDA Standard: Standard is the lowest quality that is sold as steaks. It is typically available in grocery stores or in family style restaurants. Standard has little marbling and is a tougher meet from older cattle. USDA Standard is a fine for making beef stew, chilli, or other products that contain minced or cubed meat but does not exhibit any of the qualities of a great steak.
Other Grades: The remaining grades are Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. These are not sold as whole steaks but are usually ground up and mixed with other meat products.