Unites States Department of Agriculture grading for meat is determined by its tenderness, juiciness and flavor while poultry is rated by its shape, meatiness and whether or not the cut is defect-free. There are different grading categories for beef, poultry, lamb and veal.
Although USDA ratings are federally regulated, they are not required and must come at the request of individual meat processors.
Beef is graded by quality or yield. In the quality category, cuts of beef from best to worst are prime, choice, select, standard or commercial and cutter. Cutter grade beef - also referred to as canner grade - is often used as ground beef in processed products. Yield grade ranges from one to five with one being the highest yield from a specific carcass.
The five ratings of veal are prime, choice, good, standard and utility. Cuts of lamb are prime, choice, good, utility and cull.
Poultry is rated A, B or C. Both B and C ratings usually delineate poultry products that have been further processed, such as ground chicken or turkey.
The USDA does not grade pork products but recommends choosing a cut that has a small amount of marbling, a thin rind of fat and that is pinkish gray in color.