What is USDA Grading?
Browsing your grocery store meat department can sometimes lead to more questions than answers, especially when it comes to USDA grading. It’s likely that you’ve seen various cuts of beef labeled with phrases like USDA Choice or USDA Select, but what does USDA grading mean?
As it turns out, these often-overlooked labels can tell you a lot about the specific package of beef you have in your hand, and whether or not it’s the right choice for you. Not only can understanding the USDA grades help you determine the differences between different cuts of beef, but they can also make it easy to choose meats that suit whatever recipe or purpose you’re shopping for.
Here’s a short and simple breakdown of everything you need to know about USDA grading and what it means for your next steak dinner.
USDA grading is intended to be a “universal language” within the beef industry, allowing both consumers and meat producers to understand the specific characteristics of beef. Having these common terms makes it simple for everyone to be on the same page, so there is no question about exactly what you’re purchasing when it comes to quality beef.
A team of highly-trained USDA meat graders uses a carefully-developed evaluation process to assign grades, making use of specific instruments and markers of quality. Meat characteristics assessed during the process align with the USDA’s official grade standards. There are two key factors that are involved in the grading process:
Quality grades that gauge flavor, tenderness, and juiciness
Yield grades that label the amount of (usable) lean meat
When you’re shopping for beef at your local grocery store, look to the USDA grade shield symbols for information about the grade for a specific offering of beef. Divided into three categories, USDA beef grades are your go-to guide for purchasing beef.
There are three USDA grades used to categorize and label beef according to quality. Depending on where you shop, you may see all or just some of the grades available for sale. Here’s a useful guide to the USDA grades of beef:
As the highest grade of beef, USDA Prime is a distinction given to just the top two percent of meats. With generous marbling and an exceptional flavor, Prime beef is produced by young, well-fed cattle. You can typically find USDA Prime steaks and roasts offered in high-end restaurants and hotels. This grade of beef is ideal for dry-heat cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, and roasting.
Choice beef is a high-quality grade, but it boasts less marbling than Prime cuts. You can expect USDA Choice beef to be juicy, flavorful, and very tender, particularly cuts from the rib and loin. These cuts are perfect for dry-heat cooking, while less tender cuts are best prepared by braising, roasting, or simmering.
Select is the lowest USDA grade, but it can still offer a fair amount of tenderness. Since it is usually leaner than Choice and Prime cuts, it may be somewhat less juicy or flavorful. If you’re cooking USDA Select beef, reserve only the most tender cuts for dry heat. Otherwise, opt for marinating before cooking to maximize flavor and tenderness. Soups are also an excellent way to make the most of USDA Select beef.
USDA grading is just one of the ways you can determine that you’re purchasing beef that suits your standards for quality – another is choosing a grocery store that’s committed to offering an exceptional selection of premium meats.
Gelson’s Supermarkets provide a wide range of USDA-graded beef, including steaks, ground meat, and other options. We want your shopping experience to be simple, enjoyable, and hassle-free, which is why all of our stores are stocked with an outstanding selection of high-quality beef, as well as other meats and seafood. Not sure which grade of beef fits your recipe? Let one of the experienced Gelson’s team members point you in the right direction.
Visit your nearest Gelson’s Supermarket to shop for our premium meats, poultry, and seafood today.