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Standard Grades Of Beef

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



There are seven grades of beef : Prime, Choice, Good, Medium, Common, Cutter, and Low Cutter. Using the corresponding numerical designations, the grades are No, A 1, No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6. In the following discussion, the terms and corresponding numerical designations are combined for the purpose of enabling one to associate them.

Not all classes of beef, however, are divided into the full quota of grades. For example, steer beef and heifer beef each are divided into seven grades, No. A 1, or Prime, representing the highest, and Nb. 6, or Canner, the lowest grade. Cow beef, bull beef and stag beef, on the other hand, are divided into six grades, No. 1, or Choice, representing the highest; and No. 6, or Low Cutter, the lowest.

The question arises as to why there should be this variation in the number of grades into which the various classes are divided. It might logically be argued that one of two courses should be pursued in. the matter: Either the various grades should be standardized, without regard to class distinction, or each class should be considered as a more or less distinct commodity.

If the grades, as such, are standardized, then Good beef is Good beef, whether it be derived from a steer carcass, a cow carcass, or a bull carcass. If, on the other hand, the grades are not standardized as grades of beef, but merely as grades of the various classes of beef, then it might be argued that there is no reason why all classes should not be divided into an equal number of grades.

Under this latter system there would be no such thing as Good beef, but in each case it would be Good steer beef, Good cow beef, etc., each differing from all others in certain essential respects. Under such a system, No. A 1, or Prime grade, would represent not the highest grade of beef as a commodity, but merely the highest grade within each class.

The idea of so standardizing the grade that Good grade beef, for example, would represent a definite, well-defined thing, regardless of the class from which it was derived, is one which appeals strongly to the imagination. From the standpoint of simplicity it would be an ideal arrangement. This is particularly true because when the beef reaches the consumer he is not at all concerned as to the particular class of beef it represents, and even if he were so concerned he would have extreme difficulty in determining the class unless it belonged to a grade near one or the other extremes of the range. The fact remains, however, that the trade does discriminate very carefully between the different classes. Hence there must be some definite reason for such discrimination.

Having in mind the three fundamental characteristics on which grading is based, it is impossible to so arrange the grades in the various classes that they will be wholly comparable as between classes. For example, there is probably no grade or possible grade of cow beef that is identical with any grade of steer beef, nor is it conceivable that any grade of bull beef would be wholly comparable with any grade of cow beef.

It frequently happens that two carcasses belonging to different classes are virtually identical with respect to one or two characteristics. For example, certain grades of cow beef frequently are fully equal in quality to similar grades of steer beef. When this is true, almost invariably there are variations in the other characteristics, such as conformation and finish, which are so pronounced as to furnish a decided distinction between the two and make it inadvisable and impossible, so far as trade practice goes, to put the two in the same group.

Perhaps the reason for the incomparability of beef belonging to the different classes, and hence the impossibility of standardizing grade irrespective of class, may be illustrated by considering three grades of steer beef and a corresponding number of grades of cow beef. If in each case grade No. 1 is represented by 100, grade No. 2 by 80 and grade No. 3 by 60, it will be obvious that in each class, grade No. 2 is 20 points under grade No. 1, and grade No. 3 is 20 points under grade No. 2. It should be borne in mind that it is all beef and that in both classes the grades are based on the three characteristics—conformation, finish, and quality. This being true, in each class the 20-point variation between grades represents a 20-point variation in each of the three characteristics—conformation, finish, and quality. Despite this fact, however, the two are not strictly comparable, grade for grade.

The reason for this consists in the fact that although in each class 100 points, representing the top grade, was made up of conformation, finish, and quality, the relative degree of these characteristics varied with the class. In other words, the starting point was not the same in both instances. For instance, in the case of steer beef the weights might run as follows: Con-formation 20, finish 30, and quality 50, where as in cow beef the weights might be assumed as: Conformation 15, finish 25, and quality 60. Considering grade No. 2 as 20 points under grade No. 1, the same weights would be applied to the different characteristics, and so on with grade No. 3 and the lower grades.

With this in mind, it is apparent that although grade No. 3 in cow beef is indicated by 60 just as it is in steer beef, and for that reason grade No. 3 in cow beef is 40 points under grade No. 1, and despite the further fact that all grades are based on the same three fundamental characteristics; the fact remains that grade No. 3 in cow beef differs from grade No. 3 in steer beef not because it is made up of different characteristics, but because in the two classes those characteristics appear in different proportions.

In a word, the beef grader does precisely what the student in stock judging does when the latter uses a score card. In his mind the beef grader assigns certain weights to each of the characteristics—conformation, finish, and quality—and, while those weights are uniform throughout a given class, they vary between classes.

To sum up, in the system of grading outlined herewith, the best or top grade of cow beef is called No. 1 or Choice, instead of No. A 1 or Prime, simply because the degrees of conformation, finish, and quality in best cow beef and in the second grade of steer and heifer beef are more nearly equal than is true of best cow beef and No. A 1 or Prime steer or heifer beef. In the same manner the best bull beef and the best stag beef produced are called No. 1 or Choice, because the variations in degree of con-formation, finish, and quality between such beef and No. 1 or Choice steer and heifer beef are less than between such bull and stag beef and the best beef in the other classes.

It is apparent that beef grading probably will never be reduced to the stage of exactness of application that has been reached in the grading of apples, oranges, potatoes, cotton, or grain. Some allowance must always be made for the personal equation of the commercial grader, who is forced to form his judgments at sight. However, there can be much greater exactness and much more uniformity in the determination of grades than has been in evidence in the trade heretofore.

Despite the fact that each class of beef has been subdivided into six or seven grades, each grade still represents such a wide range of variation in the fundamental characteristics that intermediate or subgrades are often resorted to by the trade. Generally these subgrades are indicated by the prefixes Top, Medium, and Low, the usual form of expression being Top Good, Medium Good, or Low Good, and the same with most of the other grades.

This "width" of the grades is generally reflected in a rather i ide range of market quotations on the various grades. The trade almost never quotes a flat price on any given grade, the market value of beef belonging to a given grade usually being expressed in the form of a price range, such as "good steer beef, $15 to $18 per 100 lbs." It is impracticable, however, to de-scribe these subgrades in a work of this sort. Detailed descriptions, therefore, of only the major grades, which are generally recognized by the trade and are therefore eligible for standardization, have been attempted.

In the descriptions of grades of beef which follow, no attempt has been made to fix definite lines of demarcation between grades. Reference to the definitions of grade and of the three fundamental characteristics on which grade depends will at once show, not only the wisdom of such a course, but the impossibility of doing otherwise. Grades consist in degrees of variation, in con-formation, finish, and quality, and no way has yet been devised whereby the degree of variation may be mathematically measured.

The purposes of this bulletin are to establish the principle of classifying and grading beef, and to fix as accurately as possible the type most representative of each grade. Minute descriptions of the carcasses, sides, or cuts which typify each grade are given. Such types, therefore, should be considered representative of the middle of the grade and reasonable variations both above and below the standard described should be expected. Obviously, in actual practice, specimens will be encountered which show considerable variation from the standards set up. The significance of this is merely that the specimen is very near the border line between two grades. In such instances the grader must check his data carefully with a view to determining the grade standard to which the doubtful specimen makes the nearest approach. Having made this decision, the beef will, of course, be placed in that grade.

Great care has been exercised in selecting nomenclature that is most suggestive of the grade. Those terms have been adopted which have been in most general use, but with varying significance, by the trade, the press, and students of the industry.

In order to standardize or fix these terms more clearly in mind, their definitions follow.

No. A 1, or Prime

No. A 1, or Prime, beef represents the best results of beef-cattle breeding, care, and feeding. Only beef from the highest types of beef cattle, that have been fed intensively on grain or other fattening and flesh-forming rations, are found in this grade. Cattle which produce this grade have unusually high dressing percentages and lack excessive amounts of wasty fat. The aver-age dressing yield is about 60 per cent of the live weight. They are young, usually under 3 years of age. The carcasses are perfect in quality, conformation, thickness of flesh, finish, texture, grain, and tenderness, and generally weigh between 500 and 700 pounds and not infrequently more. The number of such carcasses from all classes on the market during the year is very small, probably under 0.1 per cent of the total annual supply of carcass beef, excluding Canner and Cutter grades. They are in evidence in limited numbers, especially following the National and International Livestock Shows and during Christmas holidays. They are the "exhibits" of the beef trade, and are derived almost entirely from cattle that have been prepared for show purposes. The grade is composed principally of steers. There are a few Prime heifer carcasses, but no Prime cow, bull, or stag carcasses.

No. 1, or Choice

No. 1, or Choice, beef closely resembles No. A 1, or Prime, in nearly every respect. It generally is slightly deficient in quality and in finish. The fat may be slightly excessive or wasty, or it may be less than required for the Prime grade. Carcasses in this grade usually are from young animals of superior beef breeding, under 3 years of age, that have been fed intensively, but possibly not to the degree of those producing Prime beef. Such carcasses are blocky, thick, smooth, and far above the average. Beef of this grade is more plentiful in winter and spring, but is available in limited quantities throughout the year. Steer carcasses predominate.

The grade also contains a small percentage of heifer beef and, occasionally, a few carcasses derived from well-finished young cows of the beef type. Practically no bull or stag beef is comparable in quality to No. 1, or Choice, beef in the steer, and cow classes. The trade, however, finds it convenient to apply this grade to bulls and stags, and for that reason the grade in those classes is recognized.

No. 2, or Good

The No. 2, or Good, grade includes a larger number of carcasses than Prime or Choice. Good beef is above the average in quality, conformation, and finish. It admits a wider range in age than do the higher grades. The carcasses are blocky, thick, smooth, and well-covered, usually showing some beef-type breeding, care in handling, and a moderate amount of intensive feeding on grain or concentrates. Such beef may meet most of the requirements of Choice beef, but be too fat and wasty to rank in that grade, or it may lack the necessary finish.

A small percentage of beef derived from superior types of beef cattle fattened on grass and feeds other than grain and concentrates, also appears in this grade. This grade is the lowest that shows any appreciable amount of marbling. Good carcasses are found on the market throughout the year, but are more plentiful in winter and spring. The weight rarely falls below 450 pounds. The relative rank of the classes with respect to numbers of carcasses contributed to this grade is as follows: steer, cow, heifer, stag, and bull.

No. 3, or Medium

No. 3, or Medium, grade represents the average of beef carcasses. More than 50 per cent of all carcasses marketed annually fall within this grade. They are neither superior nor strikingly deficient in quality, conformation, or finish. The frames are slightly angular, the bones relatively prominent, and the flesh of average thickness. The fat, while in evidence and fairly well distributed, is not plentiful, except in fat cow carcasses.

Carcasses of this grade are in good supply throughout the year, but are more abundant in the summer and fall, when the better grades are relatively scarce. Weights range as low as 350 pounds. The relative rank of the classes numerically is about the same as that in the Good grade, but cows and steers are about equal.

No. 4, or Common

Beef falling in the No. 4, or Common, grade is all the term implies. It is usually derived from poorly-fed animals, scrubs, dairy, and thin range cattle. It is very deficient in quality, con-formation, and finish, and generally shows advanced age. Carcasses are angular in shape, the bones are very prominent and generally white and flinty. The fat covering and the interior fats are yellowish, very scarce, and of poor quality. Often the exterior fat is so thin as to give the carcass a dark or bluish appearance. The flesh is usually tough and very shallow in all parts. Common is the lowest grade of beef offered regularly to the trade in carcass form under normal trade conditions. The entire carcass of a lower grade is not suitable for the butcher's block, and many Common carcasses are used for Cutter and Canner purposes. Common grade beef is usually in evidence throughout the year, but is more abundant in the summer and fall. Cows contribute most to this grade, with steers, bulls, stags, and heifers, ranking in the order named. This grade represents about 20 per cent of the total annual supply of carcass beef.

No. 5, or Cutter

Cutter grade beef is so deficient in form, finish, and quality that it is rarely marketed in carcass form, except in seasons of scarcity. The word "cutter" is a trade term, and refers to the manner in which such carcasses are marketed—generally in cuts. Usually, only the ribs and loins of such carcasses will be accepted by the retail fresh-meat trade. Cutter carcasses, as a rule, lack fat covering, except for a thin coat over the back. The flesh is too thin, except in the ribs and loins, to make satisfactory cuts. Carcasses of this grade are therefore usually boned out for the boneless meat trade, and for curing, sausage, and canning purposes. The rounds often are converted into dried beef hams. Cows contribute most to this grade, which includes very little beef from the other classes. Carcasses thrown out of any grade because of extensive bruises often are referred to as "cutters," because they are never sold in sides or quarters, but are sent to the cutting departments, where the sound parts are converted into commercial cuts. When thus treated, the cuts fall in the grade to which they belong on the basis of quality, conformation, and finish. "Cutter" in this sense has no reference to the "cutter" grade.

No. 6, or Low Cutter

No. 6, or Low Cutter, grade is the lowest form of beef that is offered for human food. Carcasses that are unfit, in whole or in part, for the butcher's block come within this grade. They are often in such poor condition as to appear to be from animals suffering from anemia. This is especially true of old, worn-out dairy cows. The grade is composed very largely of beef from this class of livestock, and of starved or emaciated animals from other classes. Practically all carcasses of this grade are boned out. The meat is used chiefly for canning and sausage. A small percentage of boneless strips and cured beef is also obtained from this grade.



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