Beef – Making the Grade

So you’re at the grocery store and looking to buy some nice steaks for that Saturday night barbeque. (I love me some grilled New Yorks!) Only problem is, you spend 15 minutes reading labels, wondering which “grade” or which cut is better, and what it all means.

Let me try to make your stay at the butcher counter a bit less painful…

Grades in school were easy to decipher. A’s were good, F’s…not so good. Here is the story on grades of beef…

All beef is required to be inspected, but grading by the USDA has to essentially be purchased by the producer. There are eight grades of beef, but only three are sold commercially: Prime, Choice and Select. To satisfy your curiosity itch, the other grades are Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner. These lesser grades are usually ground or used in processed products.

The grading itself is based on the fat marbling in the beef as well as the age of the animal. Higher quantities of marbling will make the beef more flavorful, tender and juicy. The best age is from 18 to 24 months, which yields the best flavor and texture.

Prime is the pinnacle for grading (less than 3% of all graded beef) and is the most expensive, sold mainly to fine restaurants and some markets. Choice follows Prime with slightly less marbling, but is still of excellent quality. It also is the most common, with over half of all graded beef coming in at this level. Select has even less marbling making it leaner, but at the expense of juiciness and flavor.

A quick note - It is important to remember that the ungraded beef can be higher or lower in quality compared to the graded product. It only means that the manufacturer didn’t go through the grading process.

Now that you are nearly qualified for butcher status, get to the grill and work on those 64 lbs of beef per year that you consume..! (According to USDA average yearly beef consumption statistics.)