What is the difference between prime, choice and select? One is more expensive than another, but is there a difference in taste and quality? How does beef get these different grades?
What are Beef Grades?
The USDA Grades beef so that you know the tenderness and amount of marbling in the beef.
Technically, there are eight grades. However, in the retail world, you only hear of three of them — Prime, Choice and Select.
Prime Graded Beef comes from well-fed beef cattle and it has lots of marbling (i.e. white flecks of fat within the beef). You usually find Prime Beef at restaurants and hotels. It’s known for being full of flavor, and very tender and juicy.
Choice Graded Beef is very high quality, but has slightly less marbling than Prime. Choice beef is very tender and juicy.
Select Graded Beef is even more lean than Choice. Select has less marbling, so that means it may also lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher graded meat.
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.
Who decides if beef is Prime, Choice or Select?
All meat for public consumption in the U.S. must be inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In some states, including Missouri, you can also have an inspector from a state inspection agency inspect meat, but if you do, the meat cannot cross state lines for sale.
Initially, USDA inspectors inspect the live animal to make sure they’re healthy from head to hoof and treated humanely. They also inspect things like the slaughtering process, all of the animal’s parts and organs, the temperature of the meat, and they make sure the carcass stays as clean as possible during the entire process.
If beef doesn’t pass inspection, it is removed entirely from the food supply. When beef does pass inspection, it is stamped or labeled with the USDA inspection stamp, and that means it is fit to eat.
The USDA’s inspection is all or nothing. There’s no half-way or partially-passed beef.
How is beef graded?
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.
It’s important to note that grades are specifically for things like tenderness, juiciness and flavor. They do not take into account grass finished or grain finished.
One more thing!
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