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Here’s the Real Reason Most Grass-Fed Beef Isn’t USDA Graded

Here’s the Real Reason Most Grass-Fed Beef Isn’t USDA Graded

September 26, 2016

When you buy grain-fed beef in your local grocery store, it probably has a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grade on it. The USDA grades meat quality for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, and there are eight quality grades for beef. How are they determined? According to the USDA, “Quality grades are based on the amount of marbling (flecks of fat within the lean), color, and maturity.”

Prime grade, for instance, “has abundant marbling,” while Choice grade (the grade most commonly found in grocery stores) is “high quality, but has less marbling than Prime.” Select grade, meanwhile, “is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades…but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades.”

What's Your Beef infographic

So for the USDA, the grading is largely based on the marbling. Why? Because feeding cows grain not only gets them fatter quicker, it also enhances fat marbling. Marbling is the intramuscular fat that adds juiciness and some elements of tenderness to beef. Because almost all US cattle are finished on grain, and have been for decades, marbling became the quickest and easiest way to grade the beef.

This is why a lot grass-fed beef producers say their product gets the short end of the steak when it comes to grading. They’ll tell you that their grass-fed beef is leaner and healthier than grain-fed beef, but not as marbled, so for them to get a USDA Choice or Prime grade for their grass-fed beef is impossible. And frankly, for THEIR grass-fed beef, it probably is.

But it’s not impossible for our grass-fed beef to get a USDA Choice or Prime grade; we know that because ours does. In fact, Joyce Farms is one of only a few grass-fed beef producers in the country that elects to have our beef USDA quality graded.

Because we have cattle with the right genetics and we utilize superior raising and forage grazing standards, our grass-fed beef can offer the tenderness, the delicious taste and, yes, the marbling required to get a USDA Choice or Prime grade. Want proof? Just check this out...

Joyce Farms Prime Grass-Fed Ribeye

So don’t believe the myth that a delicious, well-marbled, USDA Choice or Prime grade grass-fed steak is unrealistic, and that off-flavors, lack of marbling, and a lack of tenderness is part of the grass-fed eating experience. To top it all off, that added marbling is loaded with healthy Omega-3’s and CLA’s and other healthy fats. If you’re looking for grass-fed beef that’s healthy and makes the grade, look no further than our Heritage Aberdeen Angus Beef.

Note to our web shoppers: The cuts sold on our web store are USDA Choice or Select grade, and grades are noted in product descriptions. Due to such high demand from our foodservice customers, we are unable to offer Prime Grade on the web at this time, but you can find it on the menus of a number of fine-dining restaurants across the United States!