Beef is graded in two ways, quality grades for tenderness, juiciness, and flavour and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat from the carcass.

When it comes to grading beef, marbling is everything. The more marbling, the higher the quality grading.

 

note USDA is an international standardizaion , The Zimbabwean beef industry moved recently from a carcass grading system to a new carcass
classification system (Zimbabwean Carcass Classification & Grading Regulations, 2016). Under the new
system, beef carcasses are classified based on maturity (age), fat cover, conformation, gender and bruising
. In terms of age, carcasses are categorized into three classes (Table 3) according to the number of
erupted permanent incisor teeth in young cattle and the degree of spinal ossification in carcasses of fullmouth cattle. Fat cover is assessed objectively through subcutaneous backfat depth measured 5 cm laterally from the midline cut between 10th and 11th ribs and carcasses are allotted to one of five classes

 

There are eight beef quality grades (8) set by the USDA. Beef is assessed by highly-skilled  meat graders that determine where it is categorized.

Listed from highest to lowest quality:

  1. Prime
  2. Choice
  3. Select
  4.  Standard
  5. Commercial
  6. Utility
  7.  Cutter
  8. Canner

Many people mistake Wagyu for a beef grade, but it is not.  Wagyu stands for “Japanese cow.”
Wagyu beef is based on the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) guidelines. Wagyu is graded based on a 1 to 5 scoring system, with one representing poor and five representing excellent.Unlike USDA grading, Wagyu is assessed on the color and texture of the meat and fat. Like USDA grading, marbling is also assessed.

Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed steers (male cattle) where the marbling is abundant (8 to 13 percent fat). The age of the steers selected range between 9 to 42 months. They are not produced from heifers (younger female cattle) because heifers are used for breeding, and therefore the meat is tougher.

Cattle raised on grain will have more marbling than grass-fed beef. What’s interesting about this is that many people prefer grass-fed beef (with less marbling) because of its flavor.

Marbling Explained
Marbling is the white streaks of fat within lean sections of meat. It gets this name because it looks similar to a marble pattern. These white streaks melt away when cooking, hence the term “mouth-watering flavor.”

 

Choice beef is high-quality beef that comes from younger cattle, but it has less marbling than prime (4 to 10 percent). Choice grade beef accounts for approximately half of all graded beef. The age of the steers selected range between 9 to 96 months.

Select beef is leaner than prime and choice beef cuts because it has a lot less marbling (2 to 4 percent). Since it does not have as much (if any) marbling, it may be dry, tough in texture, and lacking in flavor.

 Standard and commercial beef grades are often sold as ungraded or as store brand beef.

Cattle producers who would like their beef to be graded must pay a service fee. USDA grading differs from mandatory meat inspections. Meat inspections are required by law, but they do not consider the quality and tenderness of the beef.

Since standard and commercial beef is ungraded, you run the risk of buying beef that lacks flavor and is not as tender as USDA graded alternatives.