If you’re like most Americans, you buy your meat at your local grocery store, checking for freshness, price, and likely, quality. Price is usually pretty straightforward, but when it comes to freshness and quality, grocery store labels and grades can be misleading.
Since Congress passed the United States Agricultural Products Inspection and Grading Act in 1924, the standards for grades of livestock and meat have changed extensively and frequently. Today, beef grading by the United States Department of Agriculture is voluntary, which is why you’ll find graded and ungraded beef in the meat aisle.
Though there are eight official USDA beef grades, many consumers are only familiar with the top three—Prime, Choice, Select. The USDA Prime grade is the highest-grade beef and is given to less than two-percent (2%) of all beef cattle in the United States. It is known for its marbling, flavor, and tenderness, and is typically sold to five-star hotels and fine-dining restaurants.
The most popular grocery store grade is USDA Select, followed by USDA Choice. You will rarely find USDA Prime at your local market. You may also find beef labeled “USDA graded” in supermarket aisles, meaning the quality of the beef is unspecified. While truthful, the practice is misleading. Unfortunately, it is also a common practice for grocery stores to mark lesser grade, store-brand beef as Prime, Choice, or Select in an effort to influence their customers to buy.
So, what’s a shopper to do?
First, if shopping in a grocery store, ask a reputable butcher for help choosing to ensure you are getting the grade specified. Or, second, purchase your beef from producers such as SteakChop who guarantee their beef quality and grade.
Ultimately, the quality of your beef purchase will be evident in its flavor and tenderness, and given USDA’s meticulous grading process, USDA Prime remains the grade most sought after.
Feed your family nothing but the best, because they deserve no less.