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What are the different grades of USDA beef?

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Quick Answer

The different grades of USDA beef are Prime, Choice, Select and Standard. They're followed by Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. A Prime cut is the highest quality beef and has a large amount of marbling. Marbling is fat laced throughout the muscle, which makes the beef juicy and tender.

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Full Answer

Less than 3 percent of all cuts of USDA beef qualify as Prime.

Choice is the second highest in quality. Most cuts of beef are Choice. These are very good cuts of beef that have a bit less marbling than Prime cuts. Choice cuts of beef can be sold in restaurants and supermarkets.

Select has even less marbling than Choice and is the lowest grade of beef that's readily available in stores. It is good, but lean and can be tough. Standard cuts are inexpensive and have almost no marbling.

Commercial cuts of beef are cheap, tough and rendered from older animals. The last three grades of beef, Utility, Cutter and Canner are generally not found in restaurants or sold in supermarkets or meat markets. They are most likely the main ingredient in pet food.

Aside from marbling, other qualities that determine the grade of beef are the physiological age of the animal, its muscle texture, as well as color and firmness.

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