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What Is No-Roll Beef?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the United States, all beef that is sold must pass a safety inspection by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). You may have noticed that many types of beef are sold by grade: select, choice or prime. Of these, select is considered of the least quality with less fat marbling. It may generally be tougher and is best suited to barbecuing, thin slicing, and usually best served after marinating. Prime is the highest quality of beef, exhibiting the most fat and promising the greatest flavor and tenderness.

Having meat graded is optional and costs extra money. Graded meat is stamped on the outside “fat” of the cut with a rolled stamp. Obviously you won’t see this stamp when you purchase hamburger, but you might notice it when you purchase a roast. When beef is not of a superior grade, at least USDA choice, butchers or beef growers may choose not to have it stamped. This is called no-roll beef.

Most no-roll beef would probably be graded select and it’s therefore often the cheapest you can find. Occasionally you’ll find a no-roll beef selection that is a little darker in color and has more marbling. It’s possible this no-roll beef would actually have been graded as choice. You will virtually never find beef without a stamp that would have been graded as prime, because prime beef fetches such high prices. It’s an advantage to beef growers to pay the extra money for the stamp because they can then charge more for their meat.

It should be noted that no-roll beef, which can come in the form of ribs, steaks, roasts, and hamburgers, has been inspected for safety. It just hasn’t undergone grading. As a cook, if you want to save money, you can be safely assured that barring unforeseen problems, the meat is safe to use. Every now and again, even graded meat is later found to have been produced in a contaminated environment. Keep an eye on your local paper for any food recalls that may affect any of the foods you buy.

This may be particularly important with no-roll beef because typically you’ll want to prepare select grades more rare. If you like your beef well done, no-roll selections may not be a good choice, since cooking the beef longer translates to much tougher beef. Alternately, marinating the meat for at least 12 hours before cooking, especially with an acidic marinade, can help break down some of the toughness and produce a tenderer end product.

If you do buy no-roll hamburger, or hamburger of any grade, you do want to prepare this beef fully cooked. You can serve any unground beef rare, but hamburger or ground beef means greater chance of contamination with E. coli. It should always be cooked until no pink color remains and the juices run clear. Making thin hamburger patties with no-roll beef will help cut down on any toughness. Moreover, the grinding process tends to act as a natural tenderizer.

FAQ on No Roll Beef

What is no roll beef?

No roll beef refers to beef that has not been graded by the USDA or any other grading service. This means it hasn't undergone an official evaluation for qualities like marbling, tenderness, and flavor that are typically used to classify beef into grades such as Prime, Choice, or Select. No roll beef is often less expensive than graded beef and can vary widely in quality, as it hasn't been assessed for specific standards.

Is no roll beef safe to eat?

Yes, no roll beef is safe to eat. While it hasn't been graded for quality, it still must meet the safety standards set by the USDA for all commercially sold beef. This includes passing inspections for wholesomeness and being processed in a sanitary environment. However, because it lacks a quality grade, consumers have less information about the expected tenderness, flavor, and marbling of the meat.

How does no roll beef differ from graded beef?

No roll beef differs from graded beef primarily in the absence of a quality assessment. Graded beef has been evaluated and labeled with a grade that indicates its level of marbling and expected quality. For example, USDA Prime beef is known for abundant marbling, making it very tender and flavorful. No roll beef, on the other hand, could range from high to low quality and does not carry this guarantee.

Where can I purchase no roll beef?

No roll beef can often be found at local butchers, smaller grocery stores, or through direct purchases from farmers and ranchers. It may not be as readily available in larger supermarket chains that typically sell graded beef. When purchasing no roll beef, it's a good idea to ask the seller about the source of the meat and any known quality characteristics to ensure you're getting a product that meets your expectations.

Can no roll beef be used in the same recipes as graded beef?

Yes, no roll beef can be used in the same recipes as graded beef. However, because the quality and characteristics of no roll beef can vary, adjustments in cooking methods and times may be necessary. For instance, if the no roll beef is less marbled and therefore potentially tougher, it might benefit from slower cooking methods like braising to achieve a tender result. It's important to assess each cut individually and adjust your cooking technique accordingly.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon321655 — On Feb 23, 2013

It is a common belief that marinating adds to tenderness, but not so! It affects the outer few millimeters only and often leaves the surface mushy. It can add a flavor enhancement, but it is limited to the edges. Either buy a better grade or use a tenderizing method, like a pin rotator to, in effect, break down the collagen some. It's best to use a cooking method that is low and slow. Barding and larding are often used here, or braising or slow roasting. Season and sear first.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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