There are 8 levels of beef grades in the USA. How do you know what is the best choice for what you want to make and how much you should spend? Next time you go shopping remember the top three choices you will see in the meat aisle: PRIME, CHOICE, and SELECT.
1. Prime beef is seen more often in you neighborhood store than it used to be. This grade beef used to be reserved for restaurants and hotels. Many retailers are now carrying this grade for the American consumer. It is from young cattle and is the most marbled of the choices and is about 3% of production.
Marbling is the amount of fat present between the layers of muscle fiber. The more marbling the higher the grade of beef. While cooking, the fat (marbling) melts and keeps the meat juicy and moist, providing a lot of flavor. That is why you should cook it quickly over high heat, searing and grilling are best, because when over cooked all the fat is rendered leaving the meat dry.
2. Choice beef is about half of all beef produced and it is still of a high quality. The cost will be less, but so is the marbling.
3. Select beef is the leanest of the selections and comes from the part of the cow that does the most work resulting in less fat and therefore, more tough meat. These cuts tend to be the roasts and stew meat that needs to be cooked low and slow to tenderize it.
4. Standard - economical, usually for ground beef
5. Commercial - from older cattle
The last three grades are not for the everyday consumer. They are reserved primarily for commercial purposes, what is in canned meat products, like chili, soup and sloppy joe mix.