The U.S. Department of Agriculture grades beef carcasses according to quality and yield. The yield rating indicates the amount of viable meat a carcass contains, and the quality rating predicts the meat's juiciness, tenderness and overall flavor.
Beef carcasses receive a yield rating on a five-point scale. The lower the number, the greater the yield. Quality ratings include prime, choice, select, commercial and utility.
Prime beef is the finest grade available and contains extensive fat deposits. This type of meat typically comes from young cattle. Fine restaurants and hotels dominate the market for prime beef. Choice beef has less fat than prime beef, but it is still tender and moist. Both prime and choice beef are well-suited to dry-roasting and braising.
Select beef is leaner than prime and choice beef, which means that it contains a lower ratio of fat to meat. With the exceptions of rib, loin and sirloin, select cuts require wet cooking methods, such as marinating and braising, to remain tender.
Commercial- and utility-grade beef are usually sold as store-branded or generic meat. The lowest-quality beef in these categories often appears as ground meat or in processed meat products. Commercial beef may also be labeled "standard," and alternate designations for utility-grade beef include "canner" and "cutter."