Ingredients for cooking burgers. Raw ground beef meat cutlets set, on old dark wooden table background

Grades of Beef

Although there are many grades of beef, as determined by the USDA, only 3 are generally provided by grocery stores and restaurants:
Prime, Choice and Select.

Ingredients for cooking burgers / Yayimages

These grades differ in texture, age and marbling, among other factors. Marbling is what gives the meat its flavor and tenderness. In order of tenderness and flavor (and price) Prime grade is the top grade, then Choice, then Select.

The label “lean” is used very loosely on beef and can apply to very different quality meat. It is probably better to ignore “lean” and look for the words “round” or “loin” on labels if you want what most people consider “lean”.

Storage and Safety of Beef

Beef may be stored in the refrigerator set at 35 to 40 degreed F. or in the freezer at 0 degrees or colder.

Steaks may be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days and in the freezer 6 to 12 months.
Ground beef may be kept in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days and in the freezer 3 to 4 months.
Cooked beef may be kept in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days and in the freezer 2 to 3 months.

If all the meat in a purchased package has turned gray or brown, it may be beginning to spoil. It is probably best to discard it.

Never leave ground beef or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

You should fully defrost beef before cooking to prevent the exterior becoming overdone before the interior is cooked. It is best to thaw frozen beef in the refrigerator. You can also defrost in the microwave oven or in cold water. If using the microwave, cook the ground beef immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting.

To defrost in cold water, put the meat in a watertight plastic bag and submerge in a bowl of cold water. Change the water in the bowl every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after defrosting. Do not refreeze ground meat thawed in cold water or in the microwave oven.

Bacteria on food will rapidly multiply when left at a temperature between 45 and 140 degrees F. Beef should be cooked as soon as possible after it is defrosted.

It is advised to use a meat thermometer when cooking ground beef and cook to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F.

Tips on Cooking Beef

To slice meat thin, as in many Chinese dishes, place in the freezer for 10 or 15 minutes first and it will be much easier to slice.

When cooking over an open flame, as in barbecuing, do not place the meat directly over the flame. Place to one side, over glowing coals. An open flame will discolor the meat and impart undesirable flavors.

Be aware that meat with a bone in it will take longer to cook than without a bone.

When cooking hamburgers, handle the beef gently. Do not press down on the meat with a spatula while cooking. This makes tough hamburgers.

Cheaper cuts of meat can be very tough. However, meat may be tenderized by beating it thin with a mallet, marinading or cooking in liquid for extended times. One of the best ways to cook a tough cut of meat is to cook it in a crock pot (slow cooker). Five or six hours in a crock pot will make practically any meat tender.


Reference for meat safety on this site is the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) guidelines. You may obtain additional information at the USDA website (google for site since the site address changes occasionally). The owner of this web site assumes no responsibility for your use of information presented here since the USDA may revise guidelines periodically.