The USDA began grading meat in 1926, in response to a growing demand for more accurate and standardized reports on beef products. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is tasked with deciding which labels are put on the meat taken to market. Beef is graded in two ways: quality and yield. Our focus is on the former.
There are 8 categories of beef as determined by the AMS: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. Prime, Choice and Select are the most commonly recognized by consumers and are considered food-grade level by the USDA. Prime is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle and makes up less than 3% of the total beef produced in the United States. Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime, and accounts for about 60% of the beef produced in the US. Select may still be tender, but much leaner than the higher grades, which makes it less juicy and flavorful.
While most people have heard of Prime, Choice and Select as quality grades for beef, they may not be aware that there are differences within the quality grades that can make a difference to the discerning consumer. Most of the flavor you taste of a particular animal comes from the fat, which is why marbling is an important factor in determining the quality of beef. Marbling (intramuscular fat) is the intermingling or dispersion of fat within the muscle. Prime beef is rated on its marbling into 3 subcategories: Abundant, Moderately Abundant, and Slightly Abundant. Choice beef is rated on its marbling into 3 subcategories as well: Moderate, Modest, and Small. Choice grade beef is what most people eat regularly and is a fine cut of beef. Prime grade beef is the most juicy and flavorful beef on the US market and makes for a memorable cut of beef. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, our goal is to serve you a memorable and remarkable cut of Prime grade beef that was attentively smoked, sprayed and doted on for hours.
The cost of quality beef being so high presents a challenge to any restaurant trying to make their margins and keep their doors open. Some barbecue joints have opted to serve USDA Choice and Select beef to their customers in order to keep their food costs manageable. Serving the lower quality meat at a higher volume could be a sound business choice to make, especially given the difficulties facing small businesses. At Pit Fiend Barbecue, we are limited in how much barbecue we can make because of the size of our smokers and the long hours of cooking time. Our aim is to make the best use of this by making the absolute best BBQ we can. We at Pit Fiend Barbecue believe that serving the highest quality food is the top priority, and our business is to deliver on that promise. It is not enough to smoke the good stuff, we insist on smoking only the great stuff.