grades of meat usda

What Are The Grades of Meat? What is the USDA Beef Grading System?

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Grades of Meat

Cattle producers are required to pay an amount to have a trained inspector grade their beef. This is how manufacturers can receive a United States Department of Agriculture grading. After the grading, producers are required to follow the guidelines for labeling that are formed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Consumers can easily see the USDA grading on the package of the meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture has developed a voluntary beef grading system. It is primarily based on the fat marbling level and the maturity of the meat. These two factors are responsible for the tenderness of beef. Meat that is obtained from a young cattle holds a high grade as it has greater fat marbling.

What are the USDA grades of meat?

The grades given to meat by USDA are known as a symbol of high-quality, safe, and healthy American beef. Quality grades, within the cattle production industry, are used as a language to make business transactions easier. Using this grading system, manufacturers, as well as consumers, enjoy several benefits.

The evaluation is done by highly-trained meat graders of USDA and they use electronic instruments and a subjective characteristic assessment process to do it. All of these characteristics are in accordance with the official grade standards that are developed, interpreted, and maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture’s marketing services.

There are two ways in which beef is graded. Quality grades are for juiciness, tenderness, and flavor, and yield grades stand for the amount of usable meat that is obtained from a carcass.

Grades of Meat by USDA

The USDA has made a total of eight grades and only five grades of them and being made available in the market for consumers. The rest grades are being used in canned products. Specific cuts of beef have different grades. Each grade has a different use and specific method of cooking.

United States Prime beef

This is the first and highest grade in all beef grades. It has greater fat marbling and this grade’s beef is almost tender. This beef is obtained from young cattle who are very well-fed. This grade’s beef is found in abundance in high-end and posh steak houses, hotels, or restaurants. Around 4 to 5 percent of the total graded cattle are prime cattle. Prime beef is popular for its richness of fat marbling and this is why it is highly suitable for dry-heat methods of cooking such as frying, roasting, broiling, grilling, and baking.

United States Choice Beef

65 percent of the total graded cattle make up U.S Choice Beef. This beef is easily available in restaurants and markets for consumers. It has a moderate level of fat marbling as compared to U.S Prime Beef. 50 percent of the total graded beef is Choice. Choice beef can be cooked in both moist and dry methods of heat such as roasting, grilling, frying, or even baking. It is an economical alternative to Prime beef.

United States Select Beef

This grade of meat is less juicy and tender than the U.S prime and choice. It has very low-fat content and in order to prevent it from drying, moist heat methods of cooking should be used to cook it such as steaming, braising, poaching, stewing, etc. Out of total graded beef, 25 percent is Select beef and it is easily available in the retail market.

United States Standard and United States Commercial Beef

Both grades have less fat marbling and hence they lack tenderness. They are being sold as ungraded beef or, are mostly labeled under the name of the store. They are inexpensive and they require moist heat cooking methods. Mostly they are perfect for recipes that require slow cooking as these both will get dry if fried or grilled.

Canner, Cutter, and Utility Grades

These grades of beef are obtained from an older animal and they have no fat marbling. These meat are used for canned products and for meat products that require processing. They are not widely available in the markets but even if you find these grades of meat, you might not want to buy them as they lack tenderness.

What are the problems with the USDA grades of meat?

This system makes it easier to categorize beef but still, there are some flaws that somehow create limitations. The first and major issue that the USDA grading system has is its narrow criteria for grading meat. This system is solely based on the idea that the most important factor that determines the quality of the meat is ‘marbling’. This is an approach that, in the present age, is less accepted.

The USDA grading system does not focus on the number of nutrients present in the meat, the diet of the animal, and the environmental conditions and processes through which the animal is raised. It does not even focus on the animal’s breed.


Grades of meat from highest to lowest?

There are eight grades of meat according to the USDA meat grading system.

U.S Prime is the highest grade in all of the eight grades, as it has a high level of fat marbling and is rich in flavor. After prime, comes Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner.

The cutter, utility, and canner grades are the lowest grades of beef as they have no fat marbling and hence lack tenderness and flavor.

What are the eight grades of beef?

Eight grades of beef are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture’s beef grading system. They are:

  • Prime
  • Choice
  • Select
  • Standard
  • Commercial
  • Utility
  • Cutter
  • Canner

Angus beef grades?

Angus beef grades better frequently on the USDA grading scale however it doesn’t make Angus a grade of quality or that the label Angus on anything you purchase will taste better than any other. Angus beef comes from a cattle breed that is the most popular breed among all cattle breeds.

Utility-grade beef?

Utility-grade beef comes from older cattle that have no fat marbling hence this grade’s meat lacks tenderness and flavor. It is used for canned and processed products.

Grades of beef at Costco?

At Costco, you will find USDA Prime and USDA Choice beef more than other grades of beef. Though USDA Prime is mostly available at high-end restaurants and steak houses and rarely available in markets, Costco is known for selling Prime beef.

Beef grade A5?

In ‘A5’, A stands for yield grade and 5 is for a quality grade.

About Folio3 AgTech Practice

Folio3 is a Silicon Valley based Digital Transformation partner for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies with a special focus on digitization of Agriculture, Production and Companion Animal industry. Having worked with some of the world’s leading animal health companies, cattle associations, cow-calf operators, cattle feeders, beef processors and beef marketing companies, we have the design and development expertise required to help you digitize your manual procedures and practices, whether you’re a farm or a ranch owner, veterinarian, feedlot manager, nutritionist, or processing plant owner, we have got you covered.

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