Beef Grading Shields

U.S. grades are based on nationally uniform standards of quality developed by AMS.  These standards promote uniformity and assurance of product quality on a continuous basis regardless of supplier.  The official USDA grade shield indicates the product's quality level.

Grade shield files are available for download as png or pdf files

Beef Grades

The USDA grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of high-quality American beef.  Quality grades are widely used as a “language” within the beef industry, making business transactions easier and providing a vital link to support rural America.

Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has at least slightly abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in upscale restaurants. View the marbling images for Very Abundant (png), Abundant (png)Moderately Abundant (png) and Slightly Abundant (jpg)

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. It has at least a Small amount of marbling.  View the marbling images for Moderate (jpg), Modest (jpg) and Small (jpg)

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. It has at least a Slight amount of marbling. View the marbling image for Slight (jpg).

Standard and Commercial – Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail. Instead they are used to make ground beef and processed products.

USDA Certified Tender or Very Tender

USDA Certified Tender or Very Tender is a marketing program that aids consumers in making decisions on which beef cuts to purchase, and allows beef processors to market products as USDA Certified Tender or Very Tender. In order to become qualified to carry the Tender or Very Tender label, wholesalers or retailers are required to have certain beef muscles pass a slice shear force test that determines the tenderness of the muscle and associated muscles.

Additional Quality Labels

Accepted as Specified

Additional Resources