There is a lot of choice these days when it comes to beef, for some of us it can be overwhelming. How do we know what is of good quality or suitable for what we want to cook? Some of us like a little fat and others prefer a completely lean cut of beef. This is where the beef grading system comes in. It was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture to act as a guide for people.
According to Beef is What’s for Dinner, the beef grading program uses highly trained specialists and sometimes grading instruments to determine the official quality grade. It is a voluntary grading system that is administered by the USDA and paid for by beef packers. To receive a USDA beef grading, manufacturers must pay for a trained inspector to grade the beef.
One thing which is very important to note is that grass-fed beef is not graded Prime or Choice by the USDA because it contains a lower fat content. Grass-fed beef is leaner and healthier than grain fed beef. While it may not fall under these categories it does promote health, which is undoubtedly more important.
As reported by The Spruce Eats, there are eight grades of beef designated by the USDA, however, only the top 5 are sold to customers. The lower grades are used for processing or in canned goods. Each grade of beef has its own unique uses and recommended cooking methods. Let’s look at the top three beef grades.
PRIME – prime beef is produced from young well-fed cattle and has the most fat marbling of the high grade beef. It is produced in smaller amounts and is usually sold in hotels and restaurants. Prime beef is perfect for dry heat cooking because of its high level of fat marbling. These include roasting, grilling, frying and baking. Please consider that the high fat content of Prime beef means that it should not be consumed regularly. There are much healthier grades of beef to choose from.
CHOICE – choice beef is high quality and widely available to consumers in supermarkets and restaurants. US choice accounts for roughly 50 percent of all graded beef. Although it has less marbling than prime beef it is still a very juicy, tender and flavourful grade of beef, especially for roast and steaks. It is suitable for dry heat cooking but also stewing or braising. Even though choice graded beef is lower in fat than prime, it is still not as lean as grass-fed beef and according to The Globe and Mail, grass-fed beef is lower in fat and calories and higher in omega-3s and antioxidants than regular beef.
SELECT – select beef is leaner than prime and choice beef because it has less marbling. In comparison to the higher grades, select beef can lack some tenderness and flavour. However, it is a popular low fat option. It is most suitable for moist heat cooking, such as stewing, steaming and braising. Slow cookers are also an excellent way to cook select beef as it helps break down tough fibers that are usually present in this meat.
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