This section is from the book "Experimental Cookery From The Chemical And Physical Standpoint", by Belle Lowe. Also available from Amazon: Experimental cookery.
Federal grading and stamping of meat was inaugurated in 1927. Davis states that because the government grading is not influenced by season, geographical location, or any other factor, the purchaser is assured, whether by long distance or over-the-counter sales, of always securing, within certain narrow limits, the same quality of meat when buying a definite United States grade. The service has grown until United States graded meat can be purchased in many, though not all retail markets.
Classes of meat. Bovine animals are divided, because of characteristics at different ages, into veal, calves, yearlings, and mature beef. Sometimes baby beeves are given as a separate group between calves and yearlings. The usual trade practise is to group baby beeves with yearlings. Sheep are divided into lambs, yearlings, and mutton. The division into classes is based on sex. Thus the classes of beef are steer-, heifer-, cow-, bull-, and stag-beef. Carcasses from each class are further subdivided into grades. Grading divides, in so far as possible, the carcasses, or subdivisions thereof, of the uncooked meat into groups, the various grades indicating the relative desirability of the meat for ultimate consumption, there being no exact dividing line between one grade and that just higher or lower.
Basis for grading. The basis for grading is on what the grader calls quality, conformation, and finish. Quality in so far as appearance can foretell includes relative tenderness, juiciness, and palatability. By conformation is meant the form or shape, animals having broad, large, full muscles, with relatively smaller proportion of bone, being graded highest. Finish refers to the amount, quality, and color of fat within and around the muscle. A few points considered in grading do not always affect the palatability of the meat. For example, the fat of beef usually becomes more yellow with age, so that whiter fat is graded higher than creamy or more yellow fat. Yet in animals of the same age the deeper yellow color of the fat indicates that the animal with more yellow fat had more carotene in its feed. If conformation and finish both rated high, the meat from the animal with yellow fat would undoubtedly be as palatable and also have more nutritive value than meat from an animal with white fat. Grass-fed animals, because the meat is darker in color, may be graded lower, even when all other points rate high.
Fig. 19. - Showing the manner of branding for the hind and fore quarters of United States graded beef. The small round marks are inspection brands.
United States grading is a promiscuous service. The grading may be done by federal graders or by the packers, but if by the packers only for packer grades. If done by federal graders the meat is stamped with the class of animal and the United States grade. See Fig. 19. The service is paid for by the buyer of the meat. Grading is not a compulsory service but a promiscuous one. Davis states the cost of grading varies in different establishments in proportion to the number of carcasses graded and stamped. But the cost is small, being less than 1/20 of a cent a pound. Hence, any extra cost to the consumer should be largely for the quality obtained rather than the cost of stamping. Grading insures the purchaser of uniform quality, and both buyer and purchaser use the same terminology for specifications and qualifications. In Seattle and in some other cities, all retail cuts must be plainly labeled with the United States grade.
Grades. In general classes of carcasses are divided into seven or six United States grades, though pork because it is more uniform in quality than beef or mutton has only four grades. Steer- and heifer-beef are divided into seven grades, but cow-, bull-, and stag-beef are divided into six grades, the top grade, Prime, being omitted. Lamb and mutton are divided into six grades.
The seven United States beef grades are designated by both a name and a number and follow: No. A1, Prime; No. 1, Choice; No. 2, Good; No. 3, Medium; No. 4, Common; No. 5, Cutter; and No. 6, Low Cutter. The grades for lamb and mutton are similar to those for beef, except that No. 5 is called Cull and there is no No. 6. The pork grades are No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and Cull.
The stamp indicating the grade is put on with a roller. The material used for stamping is an edible, vegetable compound which often disappears during cooking. Stamping starts at the shank, continues over the round, the rump, the loin, along the back over the prime-rib beef cuts, and to the neck. See Fig. 19. In beef another line is put over the shoulder. Thus the stamp indicating grade occurs on all major retail cuts. Although, as has been indicated, all the grades may be stamped, in actual practise the bulk of the beef that has been graded and stamped has been the Prime, Choice, and Good grades of steers and heifers. Some Choice cow-beef is stamped. Only a small amount of steer- and heifer-beef below Good is graded and practically no bull- or stag-beef is graded.
The proportion of classes to total beef, in percentage, for a 30-month period, July 1, 1918, to Dec. 31, 1920, are given by Davis and Whalin as follows: Steer, 49.94; bull and stag, 3.57; cow, 36.53; and heifer-beef, 14.96.
The approximate distribution of steer-beef by grades is given by Davis and Whalin as follows: Prime, about 0.5; Choice, 4; Good, 22; Medium, 53; Common, 17; and Cutter and Low Cutter combined about 3.5 per cent.
Very little of the two lowest grades can be purchased on the retail market, practically all of the meat, except that used for boneless cuts such as tenderloin, being used in products like sausage.
Packer brands. Packers designate their better quality of meat by brand names. If the United States grade is stamped on the meat the packer brand is not used.