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I understand it has to do with the marbling of the meat. Does the grading system apply to the entire cow, as in any cut from this cow is considered prime/choice/select? Or is it done by the portion of meat cut; could the same cow produce both prime meat and sub-select meat? And who came up with prime-choice-select instead of a simple letter grading system?

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@Hobodave: Why is this off-topic? It's no different than any other question asking about how to select and determine difference in quality of product. Most beef people are buying in the U.S. has some grade attached to it. Understanding what that grade applies to helps make them a more informed consumer. Not everyone on this site is from the U.S. but I'm sure there are probably questions about non-U.S. products that others could answer for us Americans and make us the wiser. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 26 '10 at 4:38
    
@Darin: I started a meta discussion for this: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/359/… –  hobodave Jul 26 '10 at 4:56
    
might as well go straight to the horse's mouth on this... origin-www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Inspection_&_Grading/… –  Shog9 Jul 26 '10 at 5:41

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The grade is by whole carcass.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beef#USDA_beef_grades

History of beef grading in the US

http://meat.tamu.edu/history.html

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At least for me, I sure would have preferred an answer to the questions, rather than a link to the answer. –  nohat Jul 26 '10 at 15:43
    
I answered the part I knew and provided a link to the history of who came up with the non-letter grades. If you are talking about the question in the title, I don't fully understand the whole grading process. You are welcome to provide your answer that does a better job of answering that question. –  Tim Gilbert Jul 26 '10 at 15:54

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