Beef grading is the best way to determine various beef quality standards. It is especially important from the consumer’s point of view. Being aware of the difference between USDA beef grades makes you an informed consumer who knows how to choose a good steak at a reasonable price.
Skilled USDA meat graders determine the grade of beef by considering mainly such characteristics as the degree of marbling in the beef and the animal’s maturity.
What are the Grades of Beef?
There are eight beef quality grades. Here is the list from best grade to worst: prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter, and Canner. The most commonly recognized by the regular consumer are Prime, Choice, and Select.
Prime is the best-quality beef produced from young beef cattle. It is one of the most expensive on the market because it has the highest degree of marbling. The intramuscular fat makes Prime grade tender and juicy, with a rich beef flavor. USDA Prime accounts for about 1-3% of all beef sold in the United States.
Choice grade is high-quality meat that has less marbling than Prime grade but more than Choice. Tender cuts are still very good for dry cooking, like grilling. Choice grade accounts for about 60-70% of all graded beef and is readily available in retail outlets such as your local grocery store. USDA Choice is an excellent alternative to USDA Prime in terms of price and availability.
Select is leaner than Choice and Prime grades because it features much less marbling. Due to low intramuscular fat content, this beef cut may be dry with a tough texture and poor flavor. Select-grade beef is best suited for slow cooking. It accounts for about 10-15% of all graded beef.
Standard and Commercial Grades of Beef
The Standard and Commercial grades of beef are lean and tough. The meat of this grade is only suitable for slow cooking, for example, for stews. It is often sold as a store brand or ungraded meat.
Utility, Cutter, and Canner Grades of Beef
Utility, Cutter, and Canner are the lowest quality beef grades. They are used to make processed products (for example, canned food) or ground beef. These meats usually come from older animals and are almost entirely devoid of marbling.
The Beef Grades FAQs
What is the most common USDA beef grade?
Most of the meat produced in the US is classified as USDA Choice, so it is the most common type of USDA beef grade. This meat is widely available even in local grocery stores.
What is the highest grade for steaks in the US?
U.S. Prime is the best quality grade of beef according to the USDA grading system. Many sources claim that only 1-3% of beef products are graded as Prime.
Is Wagyu Beef a USDA Grade?
Wagyu is not a beef grade but a reference to Japanese cattle. Wagyu beef grading is completely different from the USDA grading system. Most importantly, Japanese beef falls under the Japanese Meat Grading Association.