When it comes to buying steaks at the market or at a restaurant, it is important to know what you are spending your money on. Being educated on the different USDA beef grades will save you time and money in the long run. Not to mention, you’ll know how to find the tastiest steaks around.
USDA Beef Grades
There are eight different USDA beef grades: prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner. Prime being the highest beef quality and canner being the lowest. When talking steaks the focus is on prime, choice and select. The main criteria that the USDA used when grading beef are intramuscular fat and the maturity of the beef. Color and texture of the beef are also taken into consideration when grading beef.
What is intramuscular fat and why is it important? Intramuscular fat, also known as marbling, is the dispersion of fat within the beef. The grade is judged by the amount and dispersion of fat in the ribeye, which is cut between the 12th and 13th rib. It is important because the marbeleization is responsible for giving the beef its tenderness and boost of flavor. Simply put, the fat is where it’s at! If you want to put this theory to the test, check out our steak taste test experiment, where we taste test the different beef grades.
When talking steaks the focus beef grades are select, choice and prime.
Select steaks typically lack intramuscular fat. As you can see, they have a lot of just really dense meat. Compared to choice and prime, steak graded select are tough, less juicy and less flavorful because of the lack of marbeleization.
Choice steaks typically have more intramuscular fat than select grade steaks. But have less marbling than prime steaks. USDA choice grades represent the majority of meat that you’re going to find in your market. Filets or rib steaks are some of the best cuts for a choice graded steak.
Last but certainly not least, is the prime steak. Prime is the highest USDA beef grade and is the best quality beef you can find. Prime has the most intramuscular fat which makes it tender and juicy, and gives it a rich, beefy flavor. This represents about 5% of all beef that’s sold in the United States. You’ll find a lot of this at your high end restaurants and steak houses.
Simply put, make it either choice or prime or don’t waste your time. The reality is that you are going to pay more money for higher quality steaks. The next time you go to the butcher shop, focus on the cuts of beef that have the most marbling and the best color. If you found the brief explanation of the different USDA beef grades, let us know if the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube channel, where we make cooking meat made easy.