Have you ever wondered about the meat grading system? What is the difference between prime, choice and select?
Although there are eight grades, in reality most of the meat falls into the top three grades. To be officially graded, the meat should bear the USDA initials and grade. Only about 2 percent of today’s beef is of the highest USDA grade, or prime, which, has the highest level of marbling. About 45 percent of beef is graded choice, while 21 percent are stamped with the select grade.
Federal quality grading of meat is based on the age of the animal, the degree of intramuscular fat (marbling), and the conformation, or physique, of the animal. The age of the animal has a direct effect on the juiciness and flavor of the meat so younger animals will be more tender with more marbling. So, high quality beef, for example, will have a broad and substantial back, or loin area, which provides meat that, is both flavorful and tender.
Meat graded choice comes from young animals with minimal to moderate marbling and good conformation. Select is leaner meat. Select steaks have little marbling and only a few flakes of white, intramuscular fat. Because select meat is so lean, it can be easily dried out when overcooked by dry-heat methods. It has less flavor and juiciness overall than the higher grades.