What Are the Different Beef Grades, and Which Should You Buy?

What Are the Different Beef Grades, and Which Should You Buy?
© Provide by Taste of Home

By Kelsey Rae Dimberg, Taste of Home

When shopping for beef, you’ve probably noticed that butchers label the beef with grades: premium, select, choice, canner.

Plenty of butchers will boast about their best cuts of beef, but what exactly do the grades of beef mean? And does it always matter which grade you buy? Here’s a quick guide to what beef grades really mean.

Read More: Your Oven Is The Secret to the Best Grilled Ribs Ever

How Is Beef Graded?

USDA beef graders inspect beef to assess its safety and grade its quality. A quality grading allows better pieces of beef to sell for higher prices, which benefits farmers. It also gives consumers a standardized ranking system to guide their shopping.

Two considerations go into grades. First, how much marbling, or the fat between lean muscles, appears in the beef. Marbled beef generally has a richer flavor and will remain moist after cooking. Second, graders consider the age of the cow, since younger cattle tend to produce more tender beef.

The Grades of Beef

What Are the Different Beef Grades, and Which Should You Buy?
© Provide by Taste of Home

There are eight grades of beef: prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner. Interestingly, only the first three are commonly sold at the butcher’s shop. Here’s a quick guide to each:


Just 4-5% of cattle makes the prime grade. Prime beef comes from young cows. The meat is amply marbled, with lots of white fat running through the beef. Fat might sound unappealing, but it’s what gives beef much of its flavor and juiciness. Wagyu beef, which is famous for its intricate marbling and highly regulated cow breeds, is one example of prime beef.

Prime beef tends to be bought by high-end restaurants, hotels and steakhouses. Occasionally, your butcher shop may have prime beef in stock. It’ll likely be a splurge, but the richness is perfect for a special occasion. Prime beef should be cooked quickly at high temperatures to preserve its incredible taste and texture: think grilled and seared steaks.


About 65% of graded beef is choice, and it’s the most common grade you’re likely to see at your grocery store. Choice beef has moderate marbling and is perfectly tender, flavorful and juicy. Buying a choice steak or ribeye is certainly cheaper than a prime option that will still result in a perfectly delicious piece of beef.

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About 25% of beef is graded select. Select beef has less fat, which tends to mean it has less flavor and moisture. Select beef typically still has a good texture.

Cooking lean beef over high heat can run the risk of a dry, tough piece of meat. If you’re grilling, roasting or broiling select beef, marinate it first to preserve moisture.

Select beef will taste great in a slow cooker, too. Certain cuts, like brisket, stew meats or ground beef, are just as tasty in a select grade as in a higher grade; they tend to be fattier cuts anyway, and are nearly always cooked low-and-slow, so they won’t dry out.

Standard, Commerical, Utility, Cutter and Canner

These lower-grade cuts of beef are seldom sold fresh to consumers. Only about 1% of beef is graded at this level, and it typically comes from older cattle. That’s not to say this beef is inedible. It’s commonly used in canned and processed food, or occasionally in cheap ground beef.

See more at Taste of Home

Everything You Need to Know About Different Beef Grades

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Food Magazine: What Are the Different Beef Grades, and Which Should You Buy?
What Are the Different Beef Grades, and Which Should You Buy?
Here's a breakdown of the different grades of beef you'll find at a butcher or grocery shop, as well as which ones you should put in your cart.
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