The Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA classifies all meat (except pork, which falls under special guidelines) according to 8 categories: prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner, as follows:
- Prime: highest quality meat, with abundant marbling for juice and flavour, best suited to dry-heat cooking and roasting.
- Choice: less marbling. Tenderness depends on origin; flank and loin cuts can rival Prime, though in general it is drier and less suited to roasting.
- Select: little marbling, and generally of uniform appearance, but also lean. While some cuts may still be roasted, this is best marinated or basted before cooking.
- Standard: this is generally used for ground chuck and round, and is often used for composite products. High quality hot dogs are made from standard quality meat.
- Commercial: restaurant-quality meat, sold often in bulk, and taken from non-descript parts of the animal not suitable for steak cuts.
- Utility, Cutter, Canner: There is very little difference among these. Old and stringy, intestines and other organs often form the greater portion of these cuts. Utility grade is generally still suitable for human consumption, while cutter and canner grade are often used for filler and fodder. None are generally sold retail. Just remember: more testicles mean more iron.
These classifications are determined at the slaughterhouse
by qualified inspectors, tested annually to ensure uniform application of criteria. This guide applies particularly to beef
, though it is roughly accurate
, and goat
, as well.