In United States, Beef is graded by United States
Department of Agriculture. U.S. grades are based on nationally uniform standards
of quality developed by AMS.These
standards promote uniformity and assurance of product quality on a continuous
basis regardless of supplier.The
official USDA grade shield indicates the product's quality level.
The USDA grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of
high-quality American beef.Quality
grades are widely used as a “language” within the beef industry, making
business transactions easier and providing a vital link to support rural
USDA Prime. Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed
beef cattle. It has slightly abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed
with lean meat), and is generally sold in upscale restaurants. USDA Prime is
the superior grade with amazing tenderness, juiciness, flavor and fine texture.
It has the highest degree of fat marbling and is derived from the younger beef.
That's why Prime is generally featured at the most exclusive upscale steakhouse
USDA Choice. Choice beef is high quality, but has less
marbling than Prime. It has at least a Small amount of marbling. USDA Choice is
the second highest graded beef. It has less fat marbling than Prime. Choice is
a quality steak particularly if it is a cut that is derived from the loin and
rib areas of the beef such as a tenderloin filet or rib steak. Generally USDA
Choice will be less tender, juicy and flavorful with a slightly more coarse
texture versus Prime.
USDA Select. Select beef is very uniform in quality and
normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has
less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher
grades. It has at least a Slight amount of marbling. View the marbling image
for Slight (jpg).
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of USDA, academia and
the industry, approved beef processors can now market products as
USDA-certified tender or very tender through product labeling, advertisements
USDA Beef Grade Tender. The USDA Certified Tender shield
provides consumers with a marketing tool to help identify specific cuts of beef
that are consistently tender when compared to objective criteria that has been
validated by extensive consumer research.The USDA Tenderness Program certifies specific cuts of beef for
tenderness based on the applicable American Society for Testing and Materials
(ASTM) International tenderness standard.
USDA Beef Grade Very Tender. The USDA Certified Very
Tender shield provides consumers with a marketing tool to help identify
specific cuts of beef that are consistently very tender when compared to objective
criteria that has been validated by extensive consumer research.The USDA Tenderness Program certifies
specific cuts of beef for very tender based on the applicable American Society
for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International tenderness standard.
Anyone that has savored a USDA Prime Graded Steak knows
that it is delightfully tender and juicy with a buttery flavor which makes it
distinctively superior to any other steak. Of all the beef produced in the US,
less than 2% is certified as USDA Prime. Typically you will not find USDA Prime
in the supermarkets since its limited supply is gobbled up by fine meat
purveyors that retail it to upscale restaurants and affluent consumers.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
meticulously grades beef at the request of a meat packer. Only beef that is
USDA inspected may carry the USDA shield of authenticity. The grading system
determines the quality rating of beef based upon a very complicated inspection
system which measures the amount of marbling (fat specs) in the ribeye muscle
(lean) portion and combines the maturity (age) of the beef carcass to determine
the inspected grade.
The higher the ratio of marbling and the younger the
beef, the higher the grade. It is the fat marbling which determines tenderness,
juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines beef texture and also
effects flavor. Younger beef produces a finer texture and a lighter red color.
Therefore USDA Prime Grade has the highest rating of a
combined high ratio of marbling with the youngest maturity of beef. That's why
prime is the most flavorful and most tender with the finest of texture.
Although there are eight levels of USGA graded beef there
are generally only three USDA grades of beef that you would buy in a
supermarket, a butcher shop or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice or
Select which is the order of grade from the highest to lowest.
Two lesser grades are Cutter and Canner which is what you
would typically find in frozen pot pie dinners, microwave burritos, hamburgers
and other processed food products. USDA Select is not very far above the bottom
of the edible barrel, though some major chain stores will try and infer to a
consumer that Select is a premium grade that is often marketed with a
Beware of marketing deceptions. Some supermarkets may try
to fool an unsuspecting consumer by using the words "prime" and
"choice" without being attached with the official "USDA
shield". Unless prime and choice carries the USDA label, what you are
buying may not be the real thing.
Some upscale restaurants employ clever wordsmiths to
write menu copy that deceives you into thinking you are ordering a USDA Prime
Steak when in reality you may be being served the less costly
"Choice" version. In fairness to restaurants that serve USDA Choice
Filets, it's degree of marbling could closely approach that of Prime when the
measurement is very near the threshold that separates it from Prime.
When shopping for quality steaks, always look for the
USDA shield. When ordering a steak always ask your server what the USDA grade
actually is. Often you'll hear a bit of stuttering and a quick diversion from
the subject. That's a signal to become more inquisitive.
USDA Select is generally the lowest grade of steak you
will find at a supermarket or restaurant. You will find it tougher, less juicy
and less flavorful since it is leaner than Prime and Choice with very little
marbling. The texture of Select is generally more coarse. Therefore, Select is
not nearly as enjoyable or desirable.