December is filled with holiday observances and family gatherings, many highlighted by a seasonal feast. While the centerpiece for these feasts is as diverse as our nation, beef is a popular choice, particularly the standing rib roast, a traditional favorite. Last holiday season, the standing rib roast accounted for one fourth of all beef roasts marketed in retail outlets.
The standing rib roast, cut from the rib portion and usually including six ribs, gets its name as it “stands” in the oven on its bones. It gets its nickname, prime rib roast, from its “prime” location on the beef rib, not to be confused with the USDA Prime quality grade.
Developed in the 1920s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) 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 and are regarded as symbols of high-quality American beef. USDA’s voluntary quality grades (Prime, Choice, Select) are widely used as a “language” within the beef industry and consumers, making business transactions easier and providing a vital link to support rural America. USDA grading services support the domestic and international marketing of a variety of American agricultural products in addition to beef—such as turkey, lamb, veal, chicken, and shell eggs.
Today, AMS employs 150 highly-skilled beef graders who, sometimes with the help of electronic monitoring, evaluate several factors that determine the grade, including the amount and distribution of marbling, which is the fine threads of fat dispersed within the lean. Marbling is what gives beef its flavor, juiciness, and tenderness. USDA Prime beef has the highest marbling score or fat content, followed by USDA Choice. USDA Select has only a slight amount of marbling.
USDA Choice is the most common grade, followed by USDA Select, and USDA Prime. During December 2017, 69 percent of graded beef was eligible for the USDA Choice grade, 18 percent for USDA Select, and 7 percent for USDA Prime. The USDA quality grade is your assurance that the beef you serve your holiday guests will provide a memorable eating experience.
As you sit down to enjoy your holiday beef roast this year, remember to think of the many ranchers, graders, and marketers whose hard work went into to making your holiday celebration a success!