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Grading lamb meat

New grading efforts are bringing consistency to the dinner table

There are 85,000 producers of lamb meat in the United States. Different breeds and raising practices have led to consistency issues in cut size and taste in the meat product. Industry partners are working to resolve these issues. One way is with a new electronic grading system that’s now being used by the three largest processing plants in the country.

Jim Percival with the American Lamb Board says meat consistency is their goal.

"There’s two plants in Colorado and one in California that are the three plants right now that have the electronic grading systems," says Percival. "But we believe that this will allow us to have a much more consistent product so that if you buy lamb in Los Angeles or if you buy lamb in New York City, you’re getting the same wonderful consistent product that you’ve come to expect."

Percival says grading lamb is just like any other animal protein – carcass size, quality, cutability, fat, and other characteristics. The USDA yield grades are rated from one-to-five, with grade one indicating the highest yielding carcass, and grade five the lowest. Normally you’ll only find two grades of lamb at the retail level, which are labeled as prime and choice.

Producers can take their lamb to any of the three major facilities. But there are many smaller meat processors scattered around, too.

"Part of what we’re doing there is working within the industry, with other industry partners to come up with production practices and other things that will bring that consistency in line no matter where you’re at in the United States," says Percival.

The industry is also communicating best management practices in the sheep and lamb supply chain, and decisions that affect the quality of the end product.

Learn more:

Understanding yield grades in beef and lamb

Tips for buying and storing lamb

Find recipes for cooking with lamb

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