How Judges Actually Grade Beef

Judge Graded Beef Saudi Arabia

In our previous article we discussed the different ways of grading beef. It’s quite complex, is it not? To help simplify this process, we are following up with an article that explains, in simple terms you can refer back to our previous article for, how judges grade beef. This article will be much easier to fully explain the grading process, and will help to make much more sense of our previous article. There are three main grades set forth by the USDA. They are: Prime beef, Choice beef, and Select beef. Here are the differences between each according to the USDA:

  • Prime Beef: Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling, and is generally sold in hotels and restaurants. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for broiling, roasting, or grilling. This is the top tier of beef you will see. If the beef carcass meets all the standards by a judge, it is then stamped as USDA Prime beef. It’s more expensive than the others, but absolutely worth it.
  • Choice Beef: Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime beef. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy and flavorful and are suited for broiling, roasting or grilling. Less tender cuts are perfect for braising, roasting or simmering on the stovetop with a small amount of liquid. Choice beef tends to be either less juicy or less flavorful than Prime beef, but never both.
  • Select Beef: Select beef is very uniform in quality and is normally leaner than Prime or Choice beef. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may not have as much juiciness or flavor. Select beef is best for marinating or braising.
  • Standard Beef: Standard beef are usually the last grades to make it to the stores. They usually won’t be labeled, have very little marbling and can sometimes go by “ungraded”. Standard meat, once again, due to not having very much marbling is tougher, less juicy, and has less flavor than the other three grades of USDA beef. Standard beef is best suited for being cut into tender slices or “cutlets” and cooked by way of slow, moist heat with an addition of a flavorful sauce.

According to the Canadian Beef Grading Standards, the breakdown is similar but different in name, as follows with their descriptions:

  • Prime Beef: Slightly abundant marbling, youthful maturity, bright red in color only, no yellow fat permitted only white with good to excellent muscling and firm meat texture.
  • AAA Beef: Small amount of marbling, youthful maturity, and bright red in color only, no yellow fat permitted only white with good to excellent muscling and firm meat texture.
  • AA Beef: Slight amount of marbling, youthful maturity, and bright red in color only, no yellow fat permitted only white with good to excellent muscling and firm meat texture.
  • A Beef: Trace amounts of marbling, youthful maturity, and bright red in color only, no yellow fat permitted only white with good to excellent muscling and firm meat texture.

Canada has a slightly more stringent mode of grading beef. Whereas yellow fat is permitted in the United States to allow for a grade of Prime Beef, it is not in Canada. The meat can only be bright red in color in Canada to earn any of the four grades available, this is not the case with the USDA grading system. To meet the Canadian standards of grading, the meat must always be firm, unlike the USDA which is slightly more flexible on the texture of the meat.

The differences between these grades of beef can range from unnoticed to extreme. When considering which beef to purchase, there are things to note about each type of beef. For instance, you don’t need to spend that extra money on Prime beef when purchasing loin cuts as they are naturally tender and are nearly identical to Choice beef. When springing the extra money for the Prime beef, make sure you pick a beef that can cook to perfection because of the marbling and fat, i.e. a rib-eye or New York Strip.

Also, when searching for your Choice beef, there is often a subsection that is not labeled known by either “small marbling” or “moderate marbling”. If you don’t pay close attention to the marbling of the Choice steak you’re purchasing, you may be paying for a lower quality grade of beef even though it’s labeled Choice and costs the same as all the other beef cuts of the same type that are labeled as Choice beef.

When purchasing a Select beef, make sure to go for the loin or rib section as they will be tenderer than any other cut of Select beef. If you do happen to purchase a tougher cut of Select beef, it’s best to put that into a stew, marinate it heavily, or braise it.

Now that you have a breakdown to go by when choosing your grade of beef, stay smart and make sure your beef is graded appropriately and is marked accordingly. The Market is fully experienced and educated on the beef grading process and only selects the finest grades of beef there are on the market. If you ever have any questions about what types of beef we carry, call us anytime at +966.13.845.6798 and we will be happy to answer any and all your questions. We look forward to hearing from you soon! And our next article will covering the difference between wet and dry aging of beef. Stay tuned!