When buying meat, you will often see all kinds of buzzwords floating around. “Prime.” “Choice.” “Premium.” “Angus.” Sure, this all may sound very pleasing and catchy, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. Companies may use this type of wording and phrasing to make consumers think they are getting high quality products. Often times, however, these words are little more than a marketing tactic. Take a few moments to learn about the beef grading scale to help you make an informed beef choice.
The 8 level Beef Grading scale
All of the beef sold in the United States is graded on a 8 level scale created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grades are determined by two main characteristics, marbling and maturity of the animal at slaughter. Let’s take a deeper look at these classes, starting with the lowest and working our way up.
Low Grade Beef
Beef holding grades 6-8 are from older cattle and lack any sort of marbling. Class 9 beef is often used for things such as dog food and other such products. Classes 7-8 are used to make cheap ground beef, some low cost canned goods, and other processed products. This is not the grade of meat you would want to buy for a meal.
Grades 5 and 6
Beef holding the grade of 5 or 6 is the lowest graded type of beef you will find sold in a supermarket. It is typically from older cattle and has very little marbling. When sold in stores, it will usually not be marked with it’s class, and may be sold under store-brand labels at a much lower cost. Due to its low fat content, this grade of beef is most suitable for stewing.
High Grade Beef
The top 3 grades of beef are what you are most likely to find in the grocery stores and contain many of the buzzwords mentioned in the introduction. Let’s look at each of these a little closer.
Grade 3: USDA Select
Select beef is the lowest grade of steak you will find in your typical bargain supermarket chain store. It is lower in fat content, therefore may be tougher and not have the juiciness and flavor of higher grades of beef. This grade may cost less than the higher grades, but you are getting what you pay for.
Grade 2: USDA Choice
If you walk in to a normal supermarket or restaurant to pick up a steak, there is a very high probability that you will be getting a Choice steak. This grade has a pretty good amount of marbling, which lends itself to a more tender and juicy steak. Generally, this is the lowest class of steak you would want to grill.
Sometimes, you will see the Choice grade broken up into 3 different tiers, with the higher tiers containing more marbling, but not enough to be placed in the top grade. Choice steaks are of a very good quality, and are the most economical steak for your backyard BBQ.
Grade 1: USDA Prime
If you are looking for the best beef you can buy, look no further than USDA Prime beef. Prime beef accounts for only 3% of graded beef sold in the United States.
You will find prime steaks at higher tier grocery stores, butcher shops and the top steakhouses. Prime beef comes from well-fed, young cows and contains a large amount of marbling. These steaks are very tender and juicy. If you want to have the best possible steak experience, prime beef is what you want to buy.
As mentioned above, the grading scale for beef is largely focused on the amount of marbling in the meat. But what exactly does marbling mean and why is it so important?
Marbling refers to the white, intramuscular fat that you can see in each cut of meat. Marbling can vary from different locations on the cow to the breed of cow. Meat coming from less-worked muscles of the cow, such as the tenderloin, typically have the most marbling. It can also vary based on the diet of the cows.
Marbling is so important in steak grading because of the impact it has on the texture and taste of the cooked meat. More fat in the steak leads to more tender, juicy, and generally better tasting steaks.
Another marketing buzzword surrounding beef is Angus. Angus refers to the specific breed of cattle that the beef is sourced from. Originally from Scotland, it’s a sturdier breed that grew popular among farmers thanks to its ability to produce meat with a higher marbling content.
Since beef marketed as Angus is generally more costly, this word tends to be thrown around in marketing. Be sure to look for Certified Angus Beef to make sure you are getting true Angus beef.
What’s Our Beef?
At the Stone House Butcher and Provisions, we strive to provide customers with only the highest quality beef. Every piece of beef sold in our shop is Choice top tier or USDA Prime grades. Even our ground beef is made from these top grades of beef.
Our Angus beef is Halperns True Angus, sourced from 100% Angus cows.
Any of our dry-aged steaks are Prime, ensuring the highest possible quality.
So remember when you’re searching for the top quality in steaks, look no further than Stone House Butcher and Provisions.