Prepared with reference to, and selected material from, the United
States Food Safety and Inspection Service
's web site
. Inspired by the
terrifying Grade E Meat
The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate
programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection
for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for out of tax
dollars. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is
requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors.
Beef is graded for quality (tenderness, juciness, and
flavor), and for yield (amount of usable lean meat on the
There are eight quality grades, which are based on the amount of
marbling, color, and maturity. The quality grades are:
- produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant
marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts
and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking (i.e., roasting,
broiling, and grilling).
- high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice
roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy,
and flavorful and are, like Prime, suited to dry-heat cooking. Many of
the less tender cuts, such as those from the rump, round, and blade
chuck, can also be cooked with dry heat, but be careful not to
overcook them. Using a meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of
cooking and assures a safe internal temperature: 145 F is medium rare;
160 F, medium; and 170 F, well done.
- is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher
grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may
lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the
tender cuts (loin, rib, sirloin) should be cooked with dry heat. Other
cuts should be marinated before cooking or cooked with moisture to
obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.
- Standard, Commercial
- frequently are sold as ungraded or as store brand meat.
- Utility, Cutter, and Canner
- are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make
ground beef and processed products.
Note from the noder: it is apparently legal to sell these grades
for human consumption. Urk!
Beef yield grades are numeric and range from 1 to 5, with lower
numbers indicating greater ratio of lean to fat.
There are five grades for veal:
The FSIS website notes:
Prime and choice grades are juicier and more flavorful
than the lower grades. Because of the young age of the animals, the
meat will be a light grayish-pink to light pink, fairly firm and
velvety. The bones are small, soft, and quite red. Cuts such as chops
can be cooked by the dry-heat method of grilling or broiling.
There are five grades for lamb:
Subsequent grades are not normally found at the retail level, and
are seldom marked with the grade
Pork is not graded with USDA quality grades as it is generally
produced from young animals that have been bred and fed to produce
more uniformly tender meat. Appearance is an important guide in buying
fresh pork. Look for cuts with a relatively small amount of fat over
the outside and with meat that is firm and grayish pink in color. For
best flavor and tenderness, meat should have a small amount of
The USDA grades for poultry are A, B, and C.
Grade A is the highest quality and the only grade that is likely to be
seen at the retail level. This grade indicates that the poultry
products are virtually free from defects such as bruises,
discolorations, and feathers. Bone-in products have no broken
bones. For whole birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears
in the skin or exposed flesh that could dry out during cooking, and
there is a good covering of fat under the skin. Also, whole birds and
parts will be fully fleshed and meaty.
Grades B and C poultry are usually used in further-processed products
where the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground. If sold at
retail, they are usually not grade identified.
I was unable to find reference to Grade E Meat
, but perhaps that's not a bad thing
, perhaps Grade E is simply an alias for Commercial
, in which case it's still less terrifying than grades F, G, & H: Utility, Cutter, and Canner.