Guide to Meat: Understanding the Grades of Meat
In general, American meat is the best in the world. Breeding
has become more scientific, and methods of animal care, feeding
and slaughtering have improved. Processing, refrigeration
techniques and transportation have also improved, resulting
in better quality as meat moves from the farm to the packing
center and the wholesale markets.
The U.S. government conducts stringent inspections of both
live animals and carcasses. Each wholesale cut of an inspected
and approved carcass must be stamped ´´Inspected and Passed
by the Department of Agriculture.`` All fresh and processed
meat products shipped from one state to another must have
this federal stamp. Every butcher automatically looks for
the stamp, because it indicates that meat is wholesome. However,
the stamp tells nothing about the quality or grade of meat.
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Meat inspection protects your health. The grading system describes
quality, and predicts how tender, juicy and flavorful the
meat will be. There are only three grades of meat for you
to select when shopping: Prime, Choice and Select. Other grades
are sold to canners and meat processors.
When you are shopping for meat, ask your butcher about the
grades he carries. Lobel´s of New York sells only USDA Prime.
The highest grade of beef and lamb. Prime meat is marked with a purple shield-type roller stamp. Prime sells at premium prices, because it is produced in smaller quantities than other grades. Within the category of Prime, Lobel´s of New York selects only the upper end of the USDA Prime. It takes a trained eye to pick only the top Prime.
Don´t expect to find Prime meat in the supermarket. Top restaurants and hotels purchase most wholesale Prime meat and the rest is sold to the top butchers.
The next grade after prime is Choice. Much of today's supermarket meat is USDA Choice. It is the most popular grade overall, and often bears a brand name.
Select is the lowest grade available to the consumer, and makes up the rest of meat in the supermarket. It may be sold with a house brand name.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides grade stamps to
meatpackers for a fee. These stamps give both wholesale and
retail shoppers a guide to meat quality. If you are dealing
with a new butcher, ask him what grade of meat he is offering
you. A butcher who wants your future patronage will show you
the grade stamp.
Many packers use brand names to indicate the quality levels
of their products, instead of using the top three federal
grade stamps. Your butcher will be aware of what each name
means, although you may not. Therefore, it is important to
do business with a butcher you trust. If you have a good customer-butcher
relationship, you can expect honest service.
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© Lobel's of New York