USA Meat is well known for its high quality grading standards administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Grading is optional and paid for by meat processors. More than 90 percent of the beef available today is graded according to its quality and marbling. Graded beef receives an official USDA stamp.
Quality grades serve to identify the eating characteristics of the product. They are a guide to identify the tenderness and palatability of the meat. There are eight beef quality grades which reflect the amount of marbling (fat within the lean), and the maturity of the animal. Beef with the most marbling is given the “Prime” or highest quality grade. “Prime” is followed by Choice” and “Select”. From the highest to lowest quality grades, the order is as follows: U.S. Prime, U.S. Choice, U.S. Select, U.S. Standard, U.S. Commercial, U.S. Utility, U.S. Cutter, and U.S. Canner.
Beef steers and heifers are eligible for all the above grade designations. Cows are eligible for all but Prime grade. Bullocks may only be graded Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, and Utility. Bulls may not be quality graded. Each grade level is identified by its own grade stamp. The grade designation assigned to a carcass is determined by an evaluation of its sex characteristics, maturity, the quality of the lean muscle and the degree of marbling present.