It’s well known that the USDA grades cuts of meat based on their own outlined criteria. But why is it that Grass-Fed beef is rarely ever met with this distinction? You’ll see Select, Choice, and Prime on all its grain-fed counterparts, and that may impress upon you the quality of the cut. However, grass-fed beef is simply grass-fed beef, and you must perform a visual inspection to assess the amount of marbling you truly desire.
It’s certainly more difficult when your meat is ordered into your kitchen, rather than purchased directly from a butcher. As chefs, we all need a little more transparency when it comes to our foods, and USDA guidelines are an excellent way to help guide our decisions. However, grass-fed beef isn’t usually graded and there are several reasons why.
USDA Grading for Beef
USDA Prime, Choice, and Select grading comes with specific criteria for every cut and grade. This is straight from the USDA:
So, why is grass-fed beef not included? Ultimately, it’s due to the fact that their principal grading comes from the type of marbling that is specific to grain-fed cattle. Marbling is the intramuscular fat that adds flavor, and texture to the final product. Since most cattle in the U.S. is grain-fed, and thus fattened more quickly, marbling became the benchmark for quality.
Many chefs complain that grass-fed beef simply doesn’t have the marbling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s low quality. It’s premium product fed a diet more natural to the cattle, thus creating less intramuscular fat. This leaves many ranches with premium product effectively out to pasture, as far as grading is concerned.
How to Find USDA graded Grass-fed Beef
It is certainly not impossible to find graded grass-fed beef. If you find that you love grass fed beef, but are missing the flavor the extra fat adds, one must dig a little deeper. Few ranches in the U.S. have taken traditionally lean cuts and refined their feeding practices to ensure that they can produce a product worthy of USDA grading, while also fitting into the grass-fed criteria.
And you don’t need grain, for this. Ranches like Santa Carota have innovated the process and created even sweeter results. They’re unique in the fact that their meat is finished with carrots — not grains. You can read more about their process in our blog, and you can order their USDA Graded Grass-Fed beef through us!
It’s easier than ever to get what you want, and we’re just the (former) chefs to provide. Let us know if you have experience with USDA graded grass fed beef in the comments below! We’d love to hear your take on it!