Tips on purchasing and storing beef cuts

National Cattlemen's Beef Association
When selecting a cut of beef, it is important to check for color, freshness, firmness and intact packaging.

What to look for

  • Select beef with a bright cherry-red color. Beef in a sealed bag typically has a darker purplish-red color. When exposed to the air, it will turn a bright red.
  • Choose beef that is firm to the touch.
  • Make sure the package is cold with no holes or tears.
  • Choose packages without excess liquid.
  • Purchase beef on or before the sell-by date.

Making the grade

The USDA grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of safe, high-quality American beef.  Quality grades are widely used as a "language" within the beef industry, making business transactions easier and providing a vital link to support rural America. Consumers, as well as those involved in the marketing of agricultural products, benefit from the greater efficiency permitted by the availability and application of grade standards.

What’s Your Beef – Prime, Choice or Select?

Beef is evaluated by highly-skilled USDA meat graders using a subjective characteristic assessment process and electronic instruments to measure meat characteristics. These characteristics follow the official grade standards developed, maintained and interpreted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. 

Storing Beef

When shopping, pick up beef just before checking out. If it will take longer than 30 minutes to get it home, consider keeping it cold in a cooler.

At-Home Storage

  • Refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible after purchasing.
  • Place beef packages on the lowest shelf in your refrigerator on a plate or tray to catch any juices. 
  • If you plan to freeze your beef, think ahead to your weeknight meals and re-package it into right-size portions for you and your family.
  • You can freeze beef in its original packaging up to two weeks. For longer storage, wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil or place in plastic freezer bags, removing as much air as possible.
  • Label each package with the date, name of beef cut and weight. Practice a FIFO (First In, First Out) inventory system.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly after serving (within 2 hours of cooking).