What is the Best Grade of Beef?

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Best Grade Of BeefWhen you go to the butcher shop to purchase beef for your weekly meals, you’ll probably look at the price first rather than the quality of beef you’re after. But if you wish to live and breathe the carnivore lifestyle, you’ll want to buy the best meat in the market, which means high quality beef. Lucky for you, we’ve done all the research for you; here’s an in-depth look into “What is the best grade of beef” while giving a detailed answer into each kind. 

What are Beef Quality Grades? 

The purpose behind the different grades of meat is to check whether it’s safe to eat and is of high quality. It also serves to inspect tender cuts of beef on just how tender it is, as well as rate the degree of marbling it has. According to the USDA, beef grades can be divided into eight different categories that will range from high quality to low quality. 

These grades are known as USDA Choice, USDA Prime, USDA Standard, USDA Select, USDA Utility, USDA Commercial, USDA Canner, and USDA Cutter. When you visit a steakhouse, you will mostly see three cuts of beef, which are; Choice beef, Prime beef, and Select beef.    

How does Beef Grading Work?

Cattle producers are required to pay a specific amount for a trained inspector to rate their products according to USDA beef grades. As a result, manufacturers are able to get a grading from the United States Department of Agriculture. Once graded, producers must adhere to the U.S. standard for labeling as specified in the Food Safety and Inspection Service guidelines. 

Doing this allows people to easily see USDA grading on store brand meat packages. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also developed a beef grading system that’s based on the beef marbling score, the age of the cow, and their USDA yield grade. These factors are all responsible for ensuring the quality of each cut of meat; beef taken from young cattle will have a higher grade since it will have abundant marbling. 

Who Can Grade Beef? 

A USDA grader can perform the process of grading beef using objective and subjective methods, such as electronic instruments to help evaluate the levels of meat. Another way to grade cuts of meat is through a subjective characteristic assessment process, which follows the official grade standards according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The steak grades provided by the USDA’s grading system are known as the symbol of safe, healthy, and high-quality American beef. 

In the industry of cattle production, grades for meat quality are used to make it easier to conduct business transactions. There are also two ways to grade beef; the quality of beef can be determined through its tenderness, juiciness, and flavor while the yield refers to the amount of usable lean meat taken from the beef carcass. 

What Type of Beef is Graded? 

Throughout the country, all kinds of beef will be inspected but not all will be rated. Based on the quality of beef, grading can be an optional procedure that’s paid for by beef packing companies and supervised by the USDA. As mentioned, there are 8 grades of beef, which the beef industry has used since 1927, where the USDA considers Prime cuts, Choice grade, and Select grades as food-grade products. 

Below are definitions for each of the 8 grades for producers and consumers according to the USDA.

United States Prime Beef

This is referred to as the highest grade of all the beef grades available; it contains a lot of fat marbling and has the highest quality. It’s taken from younger and well-fed beef cattle and is found in high-end restaurants, steakhouses, and hotels. Only around 4% to 5% of all the graded cattle in the market are prime cattle, but it continues to be popular for its rich fat marbling that makes it suitable for baking, grilling, broiling, roasting, and frying. 

United States Choice Beef

As much as 65% of all the graded cattle make up Choice beef, which is among the higher grades and is readily available in markets and restaurants for consumers. It has less marbling compared to Prime cuts but will have more compared to others; 50% of all the beef in the market is Choice. This type of beef can be cooked using dry and moist methods such as grilling, roasting, baking, and frying, making it an ideal choice to substitute for Prime beef. 

United States Select Beef

This grade of beef isn’t as tender and juicy as the U.S. Choice and Prime cuts. It also has a lower fat content; the best way to prevent it from drying is to use moist heating methods to cook it properly, including braising, steaming, stewing, and poaching. Out of all the beef available, around 25% is referred to as Select beef and can be sourced from retail markets. 

Standard Beef and Commercial Beef

Commercial and standard beef grades will have little marbling, which results in a lack of tenderness; they are mostly sold as ungraded beef or labeled under the store name. These are much more affordable and will need to be cooked using moist methods. They are great for recipes that will need a lot of time to cook because they can dry out when grilled or fried. 

Utility, Canner, and Cutter Grades

These kinds of beef are of a lower grade obtained from older animals and have no fats at all. All of these meats are used for processed meats and canned products — they’re not easily found in all markets. Even if you do find them, you’re better off avoiding them since they have the lowest grades and will often be dry and have poor texture. 

How to Determine High-Quality Meat

Even if there are a total of grades of beef, only 5 of them will be available in the market for our consumption, and the rest are used in canned products which aren’t recommended for daily use. A specific cut of beef in different kinds of cows will have a different grade and quality of meat. Each of these grades will have a different cooking method and can be used in various ways. 


To determine this factor in beef, the USDA checks for how much marbling occurs between the 12th and 13th ribs of the ribeye muscle, which influences the flavor and tenderness of the meat. The fat color should be white and will appear as fine lines in between muscle fibers; it’s also called intramuscular fat which appears in different kinds of cows. This is a distinct type of fat from intermuscular fat, which is found outside of the meat and is usually trimmed off.

This grading system helps to determine if the cow will be given a Prime, Select, or Choice grade. 


The age of the animal plays a vital role in coming up with the right grade and beef quality. As cattle get older, their meat will become leaner and tougher, which will affect beef tenderness. It’s because of this that the age of the animal is taken into consideration by the USDA when giving out the grade of the beef. 

Once the marbling and maturity are established, the USDA will combine both results to get the overall grade of the meat. 


Apart from the quality of beef, the USDA will also evaluate how much usable meat can be taken from the carcass of the cow. While consumers won’t be familiar with this grading factor, it’s actually well-known in the beef industry. The yield grade will range from 1 to 5 and will assess the fat that surrounds the meat. 

For example, a rib eye covered in 5/10 inches of fat will get a yield grade of 1 because it has as much fat as it has meat. 

The Best Grade of Beef

While the grading system makes it easier to categorize beef, there are a few flaws that limit it, such as the narrow criteria that the USDA has for grading various cuts of meat. Marbling is given such importance, but this may not be as relevant in the present age since it’s not as widely accepted as it once was. Furthermore, the USDA’s grading system doesn’t focus on the amount of nutrients that the meat has, the animal’s diet, its environment, and the processes used to raise it.