How does the USDA grading system work?

I felt it was off topic because it felt more like a question regarding the history of the USDA than a "food & cooking" question. It seems too much like a trivia question I guess. I could be prejudiced it simply because of the "And who came up with prime-choice-select instead of a simple letter grading system?" portion. I definitely don't think that portion belongs here.

Maybe it just needs to be "adjusted" to be a better question? I'm not very good at that.

Anyway, this isn't something I feel strongly about. I just didn't feel a good reaction to that question.


  • Fair enough. Thanks guys.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 14:12

3 Answers 3


The question is about what the grading applies to (carcass vs. primal or fabricated cut)and whether anyone knows why the applied terminology is used vs. another designation. At no point does it ask for the history of the organization.

"Food and cooking" includes a knowledge of ingredients. The basis for grading meat would constitute a knowledge of ingredients.

It seems like you're reading more into it than is there.

  • +1 from me, I agree wholeheartedly :)
    – Rob
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 9:02
  • "It seems like you're reading more into it than is there." - I think you are correct.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 14:30

[This started out as a comment on Darin Sehnert's answer, but ended up being too detailed for a comment]

Understanding the way meat is graded, i.e. understanding your ingredients, is essential to be able to cook. I don't live in the USA so don't know how the grading system works, nor do I need to. If I was cooking in the USA I'd certainly need to understand the grades to ensure that I didn't serve something that's of a lower quality than I deemed acceptable.

If I'm being honest, I really don't see the felt more like a question regarding the history of the USDA part of the original question. I suppose the who came up with the prime-choice-select part of the question comes close to being "history of the USDA", but that's not the core part of the question and seems to be more of an afterthought by the OP.


I completely agree with Darin and Rob that understanding your ingredients is essential to cooking and thus asking a question about how meat is graded is certainly on-topic.

Furthermore, a question does not need to be formatted in the best possible way in order for it to attract expert answers. Perhaps the person asking about USDA grading of meat only cares about it for trivial value and not because it effects how they will select their ingredients for their next beef bourguignon. It doesn't matter. An expert answer can still be provided and prove valuable to future visitors of the site who will use their newfound knowledge in their next recipe.

As a community responsible for moderating the site, it's not our job to predict the intent of the OP and thusly smite with the close-hammer every question to which we don't have a "good reaction." If we don't like the way a question is formatted, we have several options:

  • Add a comment to ask the OP for clarification.
  • Edit the question to help make it better.
  • If you must, down-vote the question (if it's really a poor question)
  • Ignore it. If no one answers or addresses the question, the community has effectively shown it to be of little value.

I would do all of those things before I voted to close. I would exhaust my intellectual brainpower trying to think up ways the question could be redeemed before I voted to close. It would have to be crystal clear that the question is off-topic before I voted to close. Why?

Because having your question closed really sucks. I understand we don't want the site to get filled up with crap questions, but there's nothing worse than being a new user who is excited to engage a community of experts and having your question closed and receive comments from a high-rep user about how off-topic your question (or answer) is. It says to the new user, "the community doesn't welcome you here."

I know I'm coming on kind of forceful in my answer, but I feel very strongly that those who have earned the right to moderate the site excercise temperance and exhaust all positive means of fixing questions/answers (commenting, editing, etc.) before resorting to negative ones (closing, downvoting).

  • 1
    Thanks Ben. I don't take offense to your forceful tone. I think it's appropriate and your point is well taken. I think my zeal with close votes is a holdover from my SO experience. That site is so inundated with "plz send teh codez" and "do my homewerk" questions that it's often not even worth my time to explain in detail why the question is off-topic (sucks). I'll definitely adjust my approach to what I consider to be potentially off-topic or poor questions. Hindsight shows that I probably should have started this meta first before voting.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 14:38
  • 1
    @hobodave Thanks for your response. It's worth pointing out that the second-highest-voted question on meta.stackoverflow is "Could we please be a bit nicer to the noobs?" - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9953/…. In the youth of our new site, one of the greatest virtues of those moderating will be to make sure that users feel welcome and not turned off by the side-effects of moderating. If we must close and downvote questions, we should do it gently and with a kind explanation. Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 15:29
  • Yep, I've read that. That's why I typically leave a comment explaining my actions, and I'm never "zomg learn 2 google!1" about it.
    – hobodave
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 15:54
  • +1000 for the last two paragraphs!
    – nohat
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 21:12

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