North Dakota Beef Quality Assurance


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Quality Grades of Beef Carcasses


  • How quality grades are determined

  • Quality grades of beef carcasses


Beef quality grades are one of the main determinants in the value of a beef carcass. Two factors, marbling and maturity or age of the carcass, determine beef quality grades. Marbling is the intramuscular flecks of fat dispersed in the lean tissue. The degree of marbling is measured when a carcass is ribbed or split between the 12th and 13th ribs. There are nine different degrees of marbling (shown in Figure 1): Abundant, moderately abundant, slightly abundant, moderate, modest, small, slight, traces, and practically devoid. Abundant has the highest degree of marbling, while practically devoid has the lowest degree of marbling. The second factor, maturity is determined by analyzing the degree of ossification of the bone and cartilage in the thoracic vertebrae region. There are five maturity levels of carcasses, A, B, C, D, and E, with the most youthful carcasses graded maturity A and the oldest appearing carcasses being graded maturity level E. A and B maturity levels are eligible to receive the grades of prime, choice, select, and standard, and are considered youthful carcasses. Older carcasses, with maturity levels of C, D, and E, usually from cows and bulls, receive commercial, utility, and cutter grades.

Once both the marbling score and maturity level have been determined, the USDA quality grade chart (shown in Figure 2) can be used to determine which quality grade the carcass will quality for.


Figure 1. Degrees of Marbling

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Moderately Abundant           

  Slightly Abundant



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Figure 2. USDA Quality Grading Chart


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