The USDA grades beef with one of eight possible grades:
Of these, steak and beef consumers should be concerned only with the top three grades: USDA Prime Grade, USDA Choice Grade and USDA Select Grade. These are the grades that most steakhouses, butchers and markets sell to their consumers.
Each of the top grades have sub-grades. For example, the USDA divides the USDA Prime Grade into:
- Prime+ (called "Prime plus")
- Primeo (called "Prime zero")
- Prime- (called "Prime minus")
USDA grading is not mandatory. Beef processors must pay the USDA for the grading service. As a result, processors do not ordinarily pay for the USDA to grade any beef which is unlikely to achieve one of the top three grades.
Ungraded beef is sometimes called "No Roll", since the USDA inspector did not roll a grade stamp onto the beef carcass.
The percent of each grade and ungraded beef is as follows:
|USDA Prime+|| |
|USDA Primeo|| |
|USDA Prime-|| |
|USDA Choice+|| |
|USDA Choiceo|| |
|USDA Choice-|| |
|USDA Select|| |
|Other USDA Grades|| |
|Ungraded (No Roll)|| |
USDA Prime+ Grade is the highest official USDA sub-grade. In 2011, the United States processed 34.4 million cattle, an average of 662,000 per week. Since only 0.1% of all cattle achieve the highest sub-grade of USDA Prime+, only an average of 661 cattle per week receive the highest grade.
Because USDA Prime+ Grade beef is so very rare, processors set this aside for only their very best customers (the "best of the best" steakhouses and butchers). As a result, the vast majority of steakhouses, butches and markets do not have any USDA Prime+ Grade beef.
As the Table shows, the item labelled as "Other USDA Grades" equal 3.2% of all beef. This item includes beef that is graded USDA Standard Grade or lower. Processors who paid the USDA to grade this beef made a mistake. They thought that the beef would grade higher, since otherwise they would not have paid the USDA for the grading service.
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