Here in the U.S. all meat has to pass through a mandatory federal inspection. This is completed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and paid for by tax dollars. They ensure all meat products are safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged. After meat has passed through FSIS the producers and processors of the meat can request that their meat is graded for quality by a licensed federal grader. The agency that grades all our meat is, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. This service is not paid for with tax dollars and is paid for by the producer or processor of the meat.
Meat is graded on the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the meat. When grading meat they grade the entire carcass and then the grade is stamped on it. When it is cut into its respective “cuts” the packaging will show the grade that particular piece of meat came from. There are two ways meat is graded. One being quality grades and the other being yield grades. The one most people see and think of is quality grades and that is what will go over in this post. Quality grades are based on the age of the animal and the marbling of the meat. Marbling is the flecks of white fat you see distributed throughout the meat.
What are the quality grades of meat?
- Prime Grade is the best of the best and going to be the more expensive piece of meat. This meat come from young, well fed cattle.
- Choice Grade is still high quality meat, but will have a little less marbling than the prime grade.
- Select Grade is going to be leaner than the higher meet grades, but will lack some of the flavor and juiciness of those higher grades.
- Standard & Commercial Grades will usually not show a grade when looking at it in the store. This will be your typical “store brand” meat.
- Utility, Cutter, and Canner Grades are never seen in the stores as such. This type of meat is used to make ground beef and processed meat products.
In summary the best grade is going to come from young cattle that has a good amount of marbling.