When it comes to beef, we all hope to find the best quality possible, which is why places like the United States and the European Union have developed detailed guidelines to determine the quality of beef for consumption. While these standards have specific grades, such as “Prime” and “Choice,” most of us do not know exactly what these gradings refer to and measure. Because of this, we here at LB Steak thought it would be helpful to provide a short, simplified guide to explain what is included when determining the different beef grades.
Quality gradings are typically split into two categories: the quality of the beef carcass and the palatability of a specific cut of meat. While the standards for judging the quality of the beef carcass are determined by the degree of marbling and maturity, the factors for judging a specific cut of meat are much more extensive and detailed, including factors such as firmness, tenderness, juiciness, color, leanness, and marbling.
Marbling is typically the most important factor used to judge the quality of meat, and refers specifically to the distribution of the intramuscular fat throughout a cut of beef, which can be identified by white streaks. Under USDA standards, the degree of marbling is divided into subunits, but the most basic way to understand it is through the following rankings:
|Grade||Degree of Marbling|
|abundant, moderately abundant, or slightly abundant|
|Choice||moderate, modest, or small|
|Standard||traces or practically devoid|
Even though the degree of marbling is actually decided through an actual numerical score of 100 subunits, these rankings are an easier way to understand the degree of marbling for each grade of meat.
As previously mentioned, many other factors such as firmness and color will also be used to grade a cut of beef; however, since most of these other factors drastically change as the animal matures, the degree of maturity is an incredibly important factor for grading. Maturity determination does not rely on the actual chronological age of the animal, but rather its physical age, which refers to factors such as bone health, ossification of cartilage, and the overall color and texture of the meat.
The process of determining skeletal ossification and lean maturity are complicated, so rather than attempting to explain the measurements and formulas that are used to decide overall maturity, a simple explanation of the maturity rankings and their corresponding grade should provide the information that is most important for the average beef consumer. Basically, maturity rankings are split up into A, B, C, D, and E. While A and B maturity levels will typically include the main gradings of prime, choice, select, and standard; C, D, and E represent commercial and utility grade beefs.
Once both marbling and maturity is determined, these measurements are then added together to determine the overall quality grade.
Other than quality grades, the USDA guidelines also include yield grades, which are numbered 1-5 and represent the amount of boneless trimmed meat obtained from a beef carcass. A grading of Yield 1 designates the highest amount of boneless, closely-trimmed meat, while the Yield 5 grading represents the lowest amount. Along with this, other factors are also included in the yield grade, such as the amount of external fat; the carcass weight; amount of fat on the kidney, pelvic, and heart; and the area of the ribeye muscle.
The Beef Report Card
Since the standards set out by the USDA do such an amazing job at ensuring high-quality beef, many countries around the world have actually mirrored these standards. Based on these standards, consumers and retailers can trust the meat they purchase or sell.
At LB Steak, we pride ourselves on only serving the highest quality beef, such as our USDA Certified Prime Angus beef. Stop by an LB Steak location today to experience this superior beef quality!