Chances are, you have a favorite way to eat a burger. Maybe you swear by Certified Angus Beef, or prefer your beef grass-fed. You might know the perfect ratio of ketchup to mustard or have a strong opinion about pickles, lettuce, or tomato. But you might not have considered how the different grades of beef affect the texture and flavor profile. Beef grades include Prime, Choice, and Select, and are assigned through a rigorous process. Take a look at what the different grades of beef mean, and more importantly, how you can best prepare them for mouth-watering consumption!

HOW THE USDA GRADES BEEF

The USDA grade shields are assigned to beef to signify high-quality meat that is safe for consumption. Suppliers, restaurateurs, and consumers rely on these grades to safely enjoy a variety of different beef products. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service develops and interprets the grades based on official standards. Highly skilled meat graders assess each product using a subjective characteristic assessment and electronic measurement instruments. It’s the equivalent of your beef having to pass Calculus- it’s not easy to make the grade of Prime, Choice, or Select! In fact, there are 8 possible grades of beef- standard and commercial grade beef are sold as ungraded, or store-brand meat, and utility, cutter, and canner grades are used in processed meat products. So what do meat graders look for to assign the Prime, Choice, or Select grade?

  • Quality Grade: Beef is graded on two scales, and one is meat quality. Tenderness, juiciness, and flavor determine the ranking for the quality grade. Fat content, age at slaughter, farming practice, and source can affect the quality score.
  • Yield Grade: Graders also measure the yield, or the usable lean meat on the carcass. In order to receive high yield marks, the ratio of juicy meat to fat has to be just right. A yield grade ranges from 1-5 and measures the layer of fat covering the meat. For example, a yield grade of 1 would be assigned to a ribeye with 5/10 of an inch of fat covering it, whereas a ribeye with a yield grade of 4 might have a 9/10-inch layer of fat.

THE THREE BEST GRADES OF BEEF

When you bite into a juicy burger, you want to enjoy the highest quality beef. USDA grades help ensure that your beef has been safely sourced and meticulously chosen to deliver a delicious product. Here’s how to choose from the best of the best, to tantalize your taste buds.

1. Prime

This beef not only makes the grade, it’s eligible for the Ivy Leagues. It has superior quality and intramuscular fat content, which keeps it in high demand. Most Prime beef is sold by upscale restaurants and fine beef purveyors, and is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. Only about 2.9% of beef makes the grade of Prime. 

2. Choice

Choice beef is still exceptional in quality but has slightly less fat marbling. Marbling refers to fat evenly distributed throughout the muscle, versus a layer of fat on the perimeter. This makes the cut a touch less juicy, but proper preparation still produces excellent results. It’s the most widely available grade in grocery stores and comprises over 53% of consumable beef. 

3. Select

With its lower fat content, select beef is the most uniform in quality but can lack the flavor and moisture of higher grades. It is normally leaner which makes it a popular choice for those who are more health-conscious. This is typically the lowest grade sold at commercial retailers, but with proper cooking techniques, you can achieve savory results.

HOW TO PREPARE THE DIFFERENT GRADES OF BEEF

  • Prime beef has a moisture and flavor profile that requires little more than a dash of salt. But a key to flavor maximization is to break up the meat and gently disperse the seasonings throughout. Exterior seasoning sometimes gets left in the pan, so distribute your chosen spices evenly. The superior taste of Prime beef makes it an outstanding choice for more rare preparations.
  • Choice beef has less fat content to cook off, so try making your patties a little thinner. If your patty is too thick, it can create a bulging shape when heated, which takes longer to cook. Make an indentation in the center of your burger to help hold the juices inside and keep the burger flat until you flip it. This allows you to reach the desired level of doneness before all the moisture melts away.  
  • Select beef runs the risk of producing a dry finished product, so be careful how you handle it. If you overwork it, you can create a dense or rubbery burger, so mold it with softly cupped hands and stop molding as soon as it takes shape. Consider a splash of Worcestershire sauce or meat tenderizer to replace the flavor of fat. Select beef is also a great choice for recipes with added moisture, such as spaghetti sauces, meatballs, casseroles, and soups. 

Whichever grade you choose, don’t forget to dress it up with custom toppings! Take your tastebuds on an international adventure with a Spicy Kimchi Burger,  Hawaiian Burger, or Jamaican Me Hungry Burger. Take a look at our recipe page for creative inspiration. 

WHERE TO BUY THE BEST GRADES OF BEEF

High quality ground-beef purveyors are the most trusted sources for top-quality beef selection. Schweid & Sons is a fourth-generation family-owned company that is synonymous with superior beef products. We carry the full spectrum of Angus, Certified Angus Beef®, All-Natural, Wagyu, USDA Prime®, Hereford, Grassfed, Choice and Custom Blends of beef. Our CAB burgers are made from the finest beef, as only 3 out of 10 cattle receive this distinction. We’ve received the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Level 3 Certification, the highest level given by the World Standard for Safety initiative and use the same suppliers year-round to guarantee consistency in our products. We’ve been satisfying burger cravings for over 40 years, and can help you choose the best beef from our wide selection of everything from pre-formed patties to proprietary and custom blends. To learn more about the best grades of beef and how to select them, contact us today!

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