Illustration for article titled The Different Types Of Beef And What They MeanPhoto: Natalia Lisovskaya (Shutterstock)

Humans “know” that meat comes from animals, but it’s easy to forget how complex these animals are. A cow’s diet, living conditions, and lifespan can all affect how steaks, roasts, or other cuts react to heat. One way to predict the outcome is to understand the various factors USDA beefs.

If you are a meat eater, you have most likely seen the little USDA sign stickers that inform us all that the USDA has looked at this meat and tell us what type of meat it is. There are actually eight (8!) Different types of beef, although supermarket shoppers are unlikely to come across the bottom five types (Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner). Grading is a service provided by the USDA and paid for by the manufacturer or processor. The appropriate grading is done after an inspector examines a hanging carcass cut between the 12th and 13th ribs, which allows them to easily see the piece of rib. The age of the animal and the color of the meat are also taken into account. According to“All cattle classified as Prime, Choice or Select are young cattle that have not yet reached full maturity.”


This is the chic boy meat with the most marbling and flavor. These cows are young and well fed, and their meat is tender and well marbled. However, these cows are not the most common. According to WeberThey only make up “4½ to 5 percent of total graded cattle,” which is actually a pretty big increase “from a few years ago when it was only about 2 percent”. Most meat goes to restaurants and hotels, but you can find it from time to time in butcher shops or fancier grocery stores. The intramuscular fat (marbling) means that steaks with a top rating will stay juicy and flavorful even in dry heat. So grab them when you see them (especially if they are reduced at all).


This is the most common type of beef. “Choice” cows make up about 65% of all graded cattle. Their meat is decently marbled (though not as marbled as “Prime”), and it’s what you’re most likely to find in the grocery store. Choice steaks can be really great, but it’s worth noting that “variety” is a choice and that some steaks with this variety may be more marbled than others. has some good pictures for each of the varieties, but it’s always a good idea to look at the meat you buy and choose the one with the most intramuscular fat that will flow through the meat. The more marble a piece of meat has, the more likely it is that it will do well in dry heat. (If you think your steak is at the low end of the range, you can always use a wet cooking method such as braising or braising Sous vide cooking.)

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This is most likely the lowest grade of USDA beef you can find in the grocery store. Some chains use this type of beef as a house brand. Selected meat is very even and fairly lean with very little marbling. Selected steaks aren’t as tender or tasty as their best and best counterparts Beat on a marinade If you intend to use a dry cooking method and try not to cook it for very long. If you’re making a stew, pot roast, or other dish that uses a liquid-intensive cooking method, selected cuts will work just fine.

What about Wagyu?

Wagyu beef comes from four very specific breeds of Japanese cows, and its classification is completely separate from the USDA system. Wagyu grading is carried out by the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) and is graded on a scale from 1 to 12, with “12” being the absolute best and “1” being the worst. According to the Chicago Steak Company Steak University“The JMGA gives a rating for Wagyu beef based on its fat color, meat color, rib eye shape, size of the rib area, and the IMF% for its marbling.” Most Wagyu beef would fall into the USDA “premium” rating due to its normally impressive amount of marbling.