Decoding the USDA Meat-Rating System

USDA Grades

The United States Department of Agriculture grades some meats for both quality and safety, and USDA-quality grades are the accepted nomenclature in the meat industry. Beef is specifically inspected by USDA meat graders in two ways:

● For tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
● For the amount of lean, edible meat on the carcass.

Beef is given one of four grades

“Prime” beef is from young, well-fed cattle and has abundant bits of fat, called marbling, throughout the meat. Prime beef has that melt-in-your mouth texture is considered “restaurant grade,” being served in restaurants and hotels.
“Choice” beef has less marbling than prime, but is still considered high-quality meat. Choice steaks, roasts and ribs are still very tender, juicy and flavorful and aptly suited for grilling.
“Select” beef is uniform in quality, but leaner than prime and choice cuts. Because select beef may lack some of the juiciness of the higher grades, only grill the most tender cuts without being marinated.
“Standard” grades of beef are commercial grade and often sold without a grade symbol. Standard grades are mad into ground beef and processed products, like cold cuts. Standard grades of beef should always be marinated before grilling.

Here’s a useful graphic from the US Department of  Agriculture:

USDA Ratings Explained

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