BBQ Meat Grades

Beef - Prime (Prime)
Highest Quality, Most Tender, Juicy, Flavourful
USDA Prime or Canada Prime beef is the superior grade with amazing tenderness, juiciness, flavor and fine texture. It has the highest degree of fat marbling and is derived from the younger beef. That's why Prime steaks are generally featured at the most exclusive upscale steakhouse restaurants. Prime brisket makes excellent BBQ. In competition BBQ a prime brisket is what the champions use to achieve a little more tenderness and flavour.


Beef - Choice (AAA)
Most Popular Quality, Very Tender, Juicy, Flavourful
USDA Choice or Canada AAA is the second highest graded beef. It has less fat marbling than Prime. Choice is a quality beef particularly if it is a cut that is derived from the loin and rib areas of the beef such as a tenderloin filet or rib steak. A choice beef brisket makes great BBQ. If you look around you should be able to find a good cut of untrimmed Choice brisket for as low as $1/pound. Generally Choice (AAA) will be a little less tender, juicy and flavorful with a slightly more coarse texture versus Prime. The truth is only an experienced palette will taste the difference.

Beef - Select (AA)
Very Lean Quality, Tender, Not as Juicy or Flavourful
USDA Select or Canada AA is generally the lowest grade of beef you will find at a supermarket or restaurant. You will find it tougher, less juicy and less flavorful since it is leaner than Prime and Choice with very little marbling. The texture of Select is generally more coarse. Therefore, Select is not nearly as enjoyable or desirable. Select brisket is a good choice for BBQ beginners as it allows you to practice with your smoker and experiment with different rubs, sauces and wood smoke flavours for a lower cost per pound.


Meat Marbling are small streaks of white-coloured fat that are found within the muscle and can be seen in the meat. Marbling has a strong beneficial effect on juiciness and flavor and may also have a positive effect on tenderness. The assessment of marbling is based on the average amount, size and distribution of fat particles or deposits within a meat cut. Meat which has little marbling may be dry and flavorless. Excessive amounts of marbling will not necessarily increase the juiciness and flavor over those cuts of meat with modest marbling.

Meat Colour
* Beef (Bright Red)
* Veal (Brownish-Pink)
* Lamb (Light Red)
* Mutton (Light Red)
* Pork (Grayish-Pink)
* Chicken (Grey-White to Dull Red)


Pork is not given US-Canadian quality grades as the meat is generally more uniform & tender. When buying pork, look for meat that is firm, grayish-pink in colour and has good marbling.



Lamb 
Prime
Has abundant marbling and is generally very juicy and tender.
Choice
Has less marbling than Prime grades, but is still high quality.



Chicken & Turkey
Grade A is the highest quality poultry and usually the only grade found in
retail stores.Grade A poultry is free of defects such as bruises and broken bones.Whole birds and parts are fully fleshed and meaty. For birds and parts with the skin on, there are no tears in the skin and a good covering of fat under the skin.

Grade B & Grade C
are used in processed meat products.
If sold in retail stores they are not usually grade identified.


USDA:
How to Buy Meat (PDF)
Grades of Beef (PDF)
Focus on Beef - Information about cooking and handling beef.
Focus on Pork - Information about cooking and handling pork.
Focus on Chicken - Information about cooking and handling chicken.
Focus on Turkey - Information about cooking and handling turkey.

Canada:
Canadian Beef Grading Agency
Canadian Beef Standards
Canadian Pork (PDF)
Canadian Pork Council