Grades of Beef: Everything You Need to Know

Grades of Beef Everything You Need to Know

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For many people meat is the main source of proteins. As the world becomes richer, the meat becomes more available. Meat consumption is increasing rapidly. In addition to chicken and pork, beef is the meat we consume the most. In 2019. alone, Americans ate 27.3 trillion pounds of beef. According to the NCBA, it takes 2-3 years for the beef to be ready to be served on our tables. There are different types of beef categorized according to meat quality. Did you hear about the beef grading system? 

The beef grading system is used to determine meat quality based on the maturity of the meat and the percentage of fat in it. It is developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the tenderness of beef. Beef that has a higher grade is usually made from younger cattle and has a higher fat content.

For beef to receive a rating at all, the producer must request a rating from specially trained inspectors. Beef is evaluated in a slaughterhouse. However, the assessment is voluntary and not related to the safety of the meat. In addition to the grade score, the manufacturer must meet the requirements laid down by the food safety and inspection service. To know what grade of beef it is, it’s not enough to just look at the label because many beef grades don’t even have it.

What are the quality grades of beef?

There are eight grades of beef. The first three grades are of very high quality and differ in the amount of intramuscular fat in them. They come as fresh meat that is self-prepared. The next two classes can be defined as economically acceptable grades of beef that have almost no intramuscular fat, which makes them tender and need to be specially prepared. The last three grades are of poorer quality and are mostly used for processing or you can find them in cans.

  • US Prime

Beef of the best quality with the most intramuscular fat. The meat of this quality is very rare and only 2.9% of beef makes up this class. It is made from young beef. Due to its rarity, it is mostly used for top-quality meals served in restaurants and hotels.

  • US Choice

It is considered high-quality beef. What sets it apart from US Prime beef is the slightly lower amount of intramuscular fat. It is very tender and juicy. US Choice makes up about 50% of beef making it available in supermarkets and restaurants. Given its ease of availability and economic acceptability, the US Choice is a great replacement for the US Prime.

  • US Select

This grade of beef is easily available in all supermarkets. The US Select is much smaller than its predecessors and does not have such a juicy structure. This meat often has tough fibers and therefore needs to be prepared longer. Great for grilling, marinating, or braising.

  • US Standard

There are almost no intramuscular fats in this grade of beef. The US Standard is economically acceptable. It is sold at lower prices but usually remains unrated. Since they are quite tough, it is better to use them in a stew.

  • US Commercial

Like the US Standard, it has very low-fat content which makes it tender. For it to be tasty, it needs to be cooked for a long time so that it is not tough. It is not recommended to grill it because you will get hard and tough meat.

  • US Utility, Cutter and Canner

These last three grades of beef are basically without any fat. They are usually made from old beef resulting in extremely tough meat. Precisely because of this, this meat cannot be used to prepare meals from fresh meat but is canned or sold already processed. For example, you can find such beef in beef sausage, jerky, hot dogs, etc.

The official quality ratings can only be awarded by an official US Department of Agriculture evaluator. Grading is voluntary and the fee needs to be paid. The market is flooded with different types of meat that did not pass the evaluation. It is illegal to use a label rating in marketing or sales, such as the beef grading system, if the meat is not officially evaluated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Any meat, however, must pass the Food Safety and Inspection Service. 

What is ossification used for in beef quality grading?

Ossification or maturity is a measure used in beef quality grading to assess the age of the meat and in the end, the quality. The level of bone development determines the ossification score. In short, the higher the ossification score is, the lower is the quality of the meat. Due to the growth of cattle, connective tissue also develops, which makes the meat extremely tough. The optimal quality of beef requires that cattle grow consistently until reaching the predicted weight at a young age.

In addition to ossification, animal age is also used as a predictor of meat maturity. Studies have shown that the ossification score is affected by the hormonal status of the animal, which is a better predictor of meat maturity if it is young cattle. When it comes to adult cattle, the quality of meat is better determined by animal age.

Is prime beef better than choice?

Prime is a label used by the US. Department of Agriculture to describe lamb, veal, and beef meat of the highest quality. The prime label implies the highest quality when it comes to tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Prime beef is characterized by marbling fat, the fat found inside the steak that gives the meat a special flavor and juiciness. To be extremely tender, prime beef is produced from the youngest cattle. Such cattle have not yet developed muscle tissue, which is the reason the steak is so tender. 

Less than 2% of the meat produced in America will receive the Prime label. Due to their rarity, you will hardly find this meat in the supermarket. To ea it, you need to set aside a considerable amount of money and go to some high-end restaurant or hotel.

Choice beef meat is top quality meat. It ranks second on the scale because the meat has a little less marbling than the Prime beef. Unlike Prime Beef, Choice Beef makes up 50% of the beef on the U.S. market. It is available in almost all markets and is mostly prepared in restaurants. The availability of this product is its main advantage over Prime Beef. Some say it’s less tender and juicy than Prime, but if you like medium-well or well done, don’t spend money on Prime.

Maybe the Prime Beef is a better choice if you can get to it. But if you want a delicious meal you can simply go to your supermarket, buy Choice and get yourself an amazing lunch.

What are the 5 yield grades of beef?

Yield grade is determined by the amount of yield or the usable lean meat on the carcass. Yield presents boneless retail cuts produced from the round, loin, rib, and chunk. To achieve a high grade, the juice rate must be matched with the amount of fat. Yield grade is primarily assigned to assess the level of cutability from a carcass.

It is determined based on:

  1. External fat thickness over the ribeye.
  2. Ribeye area.
  3. Estimate the percentage of kidney, pelvic, and heart fat.
  4. Hot carcass weight

It is rated from 1 to 5. Meat with a rating of 1 is expected to have the highest percentage of boneless trimmed cuts or higher cutability, while those with a rating of 5 have the lowest percentage of boneless trimmed cuts or the lowest cutability. Yield grade is evaluated based on the amount of fat on the 12th rib by measuring fat thickness.

• Yield grade 1

The carcass is covered with a thin layer of outer fat over the loin and rib.

• Yield grade 2

The carcass is almost entirely covered with outer fat but is seen lean through the fat on the round, chuck, and neck

• Yield grade 3

The carcass is completely covered with fat, and the lean is visible only on the lower part of the outside of the round and neck

• Yield grade 4

The carcass is completely covered with fat, except for the muscles that are visible in the shank, outside the flank and plate regions.

• Yield grade 5

Thick layers of fat are visible on the carcass over the entire surface.

This categorization is usually used more often by producers than by customers. For producers, yield grade is significant because it affects the value of meat on the market. The profit of raising cattle depends on it. For the customer is more important to know in which grading class the beef belongs. By understanding the beef grading system, you will know the structure of the meat and in the end, how to prepare a delicious meal out of it.

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