The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meticulously grades beef at the request of a meat packer. Only beef that is USDA inspected may carry the USDA shield of authenticity. The grading system determines the quality rating of beef based upon a very complicated inspection system which measures the amount of marbling (fat specs) in the Ribeye muscle (lean) portion and combines the maturity (age) of the beef  to determine the inspected grade.

The higher the ratio of marbling and the younger the beef, the higher the grade. It is the fat marbling which determines tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines beef texture and also effects flavor. Younger beef produces a finer texture and a lighter red color.  USDA Prime Grade has the highest rating of a combined high ratio of marbling with the youngest maturity of beef. That’s why prime is the most flavorful and most tender with the finest of texture.

USDA PRIME, CHOICE & SELECT GRADES OF BEEF  There are generally only three USDA grades of beef that you will find in a supermarket. They are USDA Prime, Choice or Select which is the order of grade from the highest to lowest.  When shopping, always look for the USDA shield.

USDA Prime is the superior grade with amazing tenderness, juiciness, flavor and fine texture. It has the highest degree of fat marbling and is derived from the younger beef. That’s why Prime is generally featured at the most exclusive upscale steakhouse restaurants.  And USDA Prime Cut New York Strip and Ribeye steaks are now available at our Harding’s Kalamazoo location on West Main, hand cut by our expert butchers!

USDA Choice is the second highest graded beef. It has less fat marbling than Prime. Choice is a quality steak particularly if it is a cut that is derived from the loin and rib areas of the beef such as a tenderloin filet or rib steak.   You will find USDA Choice Tender Ridge Angus Beef at all our Harding’s locations.  Tender Ridge Angus provides the tastiest, highest quality and most tender meat your money can buy. Now, we have the certification to prove it. Special cuts of the same great beef you’ve come to know and love now qualify to carry the USDA’s shield for Certified Tender.  To earn this distinction, these tender cuts of Angus beef must meet the following requirements:

  • USDA tenderness audits
  • 14-day minimum aging
  • Proper monitoring and labeling
  • Shear-force testing (scientific standard to evaluate tenderness)
  • Special employee training programs

USDA Select is generally the lowest grade of steak you will find at a supermarket or restaurant. You will find it tougher, less juicy and less flavorful since it is leaner than Prime and Choice with very little marbling. The texture of Select is generally more coarse.

Now that you know, stop in your local Harding’s for a perfect cut of beef!