In the United States, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has identified eight different grades of steak. These grades are critical in identifying beef meat that is safe and high quality:
The skilled professionals charged with grading steak have a specific set of standards for beef. These standards are regulated by the USDA, and the language of grades is used across the cattle and food industry. Understanding steak grades is also important to consumers and other professionals like chefs, restaurant managers, butchers, and grocery store personnel.
According to the USDS, “Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.”
Below we’re going to dive into the eight unique grades for quality and identify specific differentiators across them
Steak that is graded prime is the highest in quality in this system. It’s also the rarest, as only 2.9% of cattle grade prime. You often see prime steaks featured in higher-end restaurants, and they will probably have higher price tags as well.
Prime steak comes from younger, healthier cattle, and a key component is extensive marbling caused by higher fat content. Marbling means that there is a nice percentage of intramuscular fat throughout the meat, and you will visibly see white fleck patterns. It also means that this cut of meat should be juicy, tender, and full of flavor.
Two examples of a prime-graded steak are a prime rib and a wagyu steak cut.
Choice steak is also higher quality, but it has less marbling than prime. It’s also more popular, so thus more widely available (53.7% of cattle grade choice, over 50% more animals when compared to prime).
Choice steak is seen throughout restaurants and grocery stores. It is a good grade but will not have the same fat content texture, look, and taste as a prime-grade steak.
An example of a choice steak is a ribeye.
Select steak is typically the medium/discounted grade you’ll see distributed in restaurants and grocery stores. Select grade steak will not have as much flavor as prime or choice options and often needs to be marinated for tenderness.
These steaks are lean with very little fat, so you might not see any marbling at all. These steaks are also considered more affordable, but they can be tough and dry if not prepared and cooked correctly.
Some examples of select steak cuts are brisket and stew meat chunks.
Note: Prime, choice, and select grades are typically written out on restaurant menus or labels at butcher shops and/or grocery stores. These are labels and/or stickers consumers want to look for to identify top-grade cuts
While standard grade is rated for human consumption, it is under a lesser label. Standard steak is typically the lowest grade steak you will find at a grocery store, and it will probably be the cheapest option.
Similar to select steaks, consumers of standard steak should tenderize and/or marinate this cut.
Commercial grade steak is a lower quality than standard grade, but it is still available for human consumption. Commercial-grade beef typically comes from older cattle, and it’s often ground for higher-quality or leaner hamburgers or combined with other meat for added fat and flavor.
You will probably never see a utility steak either, as this meat is also typically used for ground beef and processed meat products. This meat usually has very little flavor and is tough, so it needs to be combined with other products.
You will probably not see a utility beef label at a store.
Corned beef hash or discount canned beef stew might use utility cuts.
Cutter grade meat is even lower than utility and is commonly used in canned and/or processed food. This is cheaper meat that is also sometimes used in animal food.
Canner grade meat is the last and lowest grade on our list of eight. As the name suggests, canner meat is used for canned food, at least at the survival level.
At Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, we know a thing or two about steak, and we want you to join us in historic Stockyards City in Oklahoma City!
We’ve been in the steak game for decades and are open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse has been featured by Guy Fieri, “Man v. Food” on the Travel Channel, Bon Appétit, and Southern Living. We’ve been awarded the “Best Steak” award by the Oklahoma Gazette as well, but don’t just take our word for us. Check out our menu online and come visit us at 1309 S. Agnew, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma!