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Beef Grades and Carcass Information

Filed Under:
Publication Number: P2522
View as PDF: P2522.pdf

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses a dual grading system for beef carcasses: a Yield Grade for estimating cutability and a Quality Grade as a comprehensive evaluation of factors that affect beef palatability. The USDA grades segregate carcasses into similar categories based upon cutability and estimated palatability. Yield Grade identifies differences in cutability or yield of boneless, closely trimmed retail cuts from the round, loin, rib, and chuck. Quality Grade indicates the relative desirability or expected palatability of the meat in a carcass or cut. 

A highly-trained USDA employee known as a USDA grader or approved electronic instrumentation assign beef Yield Grades and Quality Grades to beef carcasses postharvest following a period of chilling typically ranging from 18 to 48 hours. Grading beef carcasses is optional. Carcasses can receive both the Yield Grade and Quality Grade or only one of these grades. To have beef carcasses graded, a packing plant must request that carcasses be graded and must also pay for this service. While not all beef carcasses from U.S. fed cattle are designated for grading, most are now officially graded. More than 95 percent of beef cattle harvested receive USDA grades. 

More and more fed cattle are now sold by cattle feeders, to packers, in transactions such as “grade-and-yield” or “on-agrid” that require that all carcasses in such groups be officially Yield Graded and Quality Graded. Some packers may also have their own in-house grades and premium/ discount programs independent of USDA grades. Questionnaires from the 2005 National Beef Quality Audit suggested that more than half of the fed cattle marketed in the U.S. are now sold “on the grid” or “in the beef.” In addition, the percentages of source and age verified cattle are small but increasing. 

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