How the USDA Grades Beef

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meticulously grades beef at the request of a meat packer and only beef that is USDA inspected may carry the USDA shield of authenticity. The grading system determines the quality rating of beef based upon a very complicated inspection system which measures the amount of marbling (fat specs) in the ribeye muscle (lean) portion and combines the maturity (age) of the beef carcass to determine the inspected grade.

The higher the ratio of marbling and the younger the beef, the higher the grade. It is the fat marbling which determines tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines beef texture and also affects flavor.

usda prime beef

USDA Prime Beef

USDA Prime is the superior grade with amazing tenderness, juiciness, flavor and fine texture. It has the highest degree of fat marbling and is derived from the younger beef. That's why Prime is generally featured at the most exclusive upscale steakhouse restaurants.

usda choice grade beef

USDA Choice Beef

USDA Choice is the second highest graded beef. It has less fat marbling than Prime. Choice is a quality steak particularly if it is a cut that is derived from the loin and rib areas of the beef such as a tenderloin filet or rib steak. Generally USDA Choice will be less tender, juicy and flavorful with a slightly more coarse texture versus Prime.

Maple Hill Farm only sells Prime or Choice grade meat.

There are lesser grades such as USDA Select, which would normally be the lowest grade of steak you would find at a restaurant or supermarket. You will find it tougher, less juicy and less flavorful since it is leaner than Prime and Choice with very little marbling. The texture is generally more coarse and not nearly as enjoyable or desirable.

You can learn more about the USDA's Beef Grading criteria at How USDA Beef is Graded
or on the USDA website: USDA Beef Grading Shields