Before discussing what qualities are used to differential grades of beef, a short introduction into cattle production will help.
Cattle raise for beef starting from calves are place in a feedlot. They are fed grain, usually wheat, until they are ready for market. There are also grass fed cattle that are then place in feedlots for finishing – that is fed grains to whiten the fat that otherwise will be yellow. For the majority of beef from Alberta, where most of our beef comes from, 70% – 75% are of the Angus breed.
Cattle for beef are fairly young, less than thirty months old. Grades of beef are primarily segregated based on how much, what size and distribution of fat deposited in the rib eye muscle of an animal - called marbling. In general, Canada Prime has the most marbling, followed by AAA, AA and A. Sometimes, there maybe lots of fat in the muscle, but the fat deposits are too large or is not evenly distributed across the muscle, this lowers the grade. At Super Grocer & Pharmacy, we primarily sell grades AA or AAA, with the intent to balance between tasty meat and lean meat.
In the United States, beef is graded similarly, with Prime, Choice and Select as the primary grades available in stores. Choice and Select would be equivalent to our grades AAA and AA or A respectively.
Dairy cattle is sometimes sold to retail customers. Some are “finished” with grain feed to whiten the fat and others are sold with their “natural” yellow fat.
Grass fed cattle is considered healthier than grain fed. Grass fed cattle yields a leaner beef and meat that have an almost ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid, 2:1 or better. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to the tender and the mild taste of meat from grain fed cattle.