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What is the USDA Beef grading system?

What are USDA gradings?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a grading system to ensure consumers know the quality and characteristics of the beef they purchase. This system is entirely voluntary and producers pay a fee to get their product graded. This system helps consumers, retailers, and producers understand and communicate the quality of beef products. The grading primarily focuses on quality grades for tenderness, juiciness, and mainly marbling; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.

What is marbling? 

Beef marbling refers to the visible intramuscular fat that is present within the muscle fibers of a cut of beef. It appears as white streaks or flecks within the lean meat. Marbling plays a significant role in the taste, tenderness, and juiciness of cooked beef. As the meat cooks, the marbled fat melts and contributes to the flavor and moistness of the meat. Higher levels of marbling generally result in more flavorful and tender beef.

Wagyu Kobe Beef

How Many Beef Grades are there? 

As stated by theUSDA “USDA-graded beef sold at the retail level is Prime, Choice, and Select. Lower grades (Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner) are mainly ground or used in processed meat products.”. So, in total there are 8 grades.

USDA Prime 

USDA Prime is the highest quality grade, denoting abundant marbling and advanced maturity that produces exceptionally juicy, tender, and flavorful beef. It also has the highest degree of marbling.USDA Prime beef only makes up 2-3% of the meat that's currently being sold in the market. It's usually served in high-end hotels and restaurants.

USDA Prime Meat

USDA Choice 

USDA Choice is the grade below Prime, denoting slightly less marbling but still high quality with great tenderness and flavor when cooked. About 70% of graded beef achieves Choice classification.

USDA Choice Meat

USDA Select 

USDA Select has less marbling than Prime or Choice but is still fairly tender and juicy. About 27% of graded beef qualifies as Select grade. Lower cost than higher grades.

USDA Select Meat

USDA Standard and Commercial 

Usually used for ground meats, the USDA Standard and Commercial grades represent lower-quality beef with less marbling and palatability than Prime, Choice, or Select grades. They both are from older cattle with less marbling. These are usually unlabeled and usually are the most affordable option in the grocery store.

Ground Beef

USDA Utility, Cutter, and Canner 

The USDA Utility, Cutter, and Canner beef grades are often grouped as one commodity classification. All three represent lower-quality beef with minimal marbling intended for uses like cheaper ground meat, processed meats like hotdogs, canned meats, and pet food.

USDA Canner and utility

Now You Know The Grades. Let’s Start Cooking

Now you know all the grades you need to learn how to cook them to perfection. Here is a recipe utilizing the highest grade of beef.

Pan-Seared USDA Prime Filet Mignon


2-inch Filet mignon

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

4 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. Finely chopped rosemary

Generously season both sides of the filet mignon steaks with salt and pepper. Add 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil to a cast iron pan and heat it up to high heat. Add steaks to the hot pan and only flip the steak once when cooking. Add butter and rosemary hot pan. Swirl and spoon over steaks to baste them in the herb butter. UseThe MeatStick Chef to read its internal temperature until it’s a nice 130-135°F (54.°C- 57°C) for medium rare. After cooking let rest on the cooking board for 5-10 minutes and serve.


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