Yield Grades / Yeild Grades

Quality grades reflect the flavor and tenderness of meat and are primarily determined from carcass maturity and the amount of fat within the meat (i.e. marbling or intramuscular fat).

Quality Grades

Beef quality refers to the expected eating characteristics (tenderness, juiciness and flavor) of the cooked product.  USDA Quality Grades are used to reflect differences in expected eating quality among slaughter cattle and their carcasses.  There are eight USDA Quality Grades for beef: 

      • USDA Prime
      • USDA Choice
      • USDA Select
      • USDA Standard
      • USDA Commercial
      • USDA Utility
      • USDA Cutter
      • USDA Canner

Within a maturity group, marbling (the amount and distribution of intramuscular fat) within the ribeye is the primary determinant of USDA Quality Grade.  Visual evaluation of marbling in the ribeye (at the 12th rib cross-section) are related to differences in eating quality of beef.  Beef cuts with high levels of marbling are more likely to be tender, juicy and flavorful than the cuts with very low levels of marbling.  Studies suggest that beef from carcasses grading at least USDA Select are likely to acceptable in eating quality for most consumers.

Percent of Intramuscular Fat For USDA Quality Grades<>
Percentage Intramuscular Fat
USDA Quality Grade
Degree of Marbling
11% and Above Prime+ Abundant 00-100
9.5% - 11% Prime°  Moderately Abundant 00-100
8% - 9.5% Prime- Slightly Abundant 00-100
 7% - 8% Choice+ Moderate 00-100
 5% - 6% Choice°  Modest 00-100
4% - 5% Choice- Small 00-100
3.5% - 4% Select+ Slight 50-100
 3% - 3.5% Select- Slight 00-50
2.5% - 3% Standard+ Traces
 2.5% and Below Standard- Practically Devoid
Photographic Standards For USDA Quality Grades

High Prime
Low Prime
High Choice
Medium Choice
Low Choice

The age of a beef animal has a direct effect on tenderness of the meat it produces.  As cattle mature, their meat becomes progressively tougher. To account for the effects of the maturing process on beef tenderness, evaluations of carcass maturity are used in determining USDA Quality Grades.  There are five maturity groupings, Designated as A through E below.
Approximate ages corresponding to each maturity classification are:
  • A - 9 to 30 Months
  • B - 30 to 42 Months
  • C - 42 to 72 Months
  • D - 72 to 96 Months
  • E - More Than 96 Months
Maturity Chart
This table assumes that firmness of lean is comparably developed with the degrees of marbling and that the carcass is not a "dark cutter."
Carcass less than 48 months can grade prime through standard.
Carcass over 48 months grade commercial through canner
Carcasses between 30 and 48 months (B maturity) need more marbling to remain in the same grade as a carcass under 30 months.

Dark Cutter
Dark cutting beef or beef that is usually dark in color can lower the quality grade of all quality grades by one full grade.  It does not affect the grades of cutters and canners.