February 6, 2023
When it comes to choosing the right steak, it can be extremely helpful to know how the various cuts of beef differ from one another. At the request and expense of meat companies, the USDA assigns a specific grade, or categorization, to beef to help consumers identify exactly what they’re looking for. In this article we’ll provide a brief overview on the various grades of beef, to ensure that your steak dry-aging efforts are the very best they can be.
Anyone who’s ever shopped for steak has surely seen the USDA markings on the packaging, though many have absolutely no idea what they mean. This is understandable, as they’re all made to reflect an image of safety and quality. But as you’ll learn, not all beef is graded equally.
USDA Prime beef is the best of the best, as it has dense marbling (streaks of fat) running through it which results in the most tender and flavorful cuts of steak. Even at a glance, you can see the high quality noted in its color, texture and feel. USDA Prime results in steaks that are juicy, tender, and bursting with noticeable flavor, especially when dry-aging.
Next on the list in terms of quality is USDA Choice beef. Most Choice steaks will have a fair amount of marbling, though not nearly as much as superior-grade USDA Prime. Choice beef has good flavor, and is more affordable than USDA Prime, making it the go-to for those who are on a budget but still seeking the flavor and tenderness that marbling yields.
USDA Select beef is what most people are familiar with, especially if they don’t have the budget for Prime or do most of their meat shopping at supermarkets and value-based stores. Select beef is very lean, has almost no marbling and, as a result, can be a bit dry when not properly prepared. Many people reserve it only for stews, as opposed to a featured entrée.
There are other lower grades of beef, including Standard, Utility, Cutter, Commercial, and Canner, however these are most commonly found in processed food products. So there you have it! Now that you have a better understand of meat grading, it’s time to get busy dry-aging your steaks. Be sure to check out our subprimal page for more detailed information on how to choose the best cuts for your dry-aging applications.