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What Is an Egg Grade?
Egg grading is the process of sorting eggs into one of three classifications: Grade AA, Grade A, and Grade B. Those classifications are determined by measuring both the exterior and the interior quality of the egg at the time of packaging. From there, the eggs are sorted by weight and packaged accordingly.
How Are Eggs Graded?
Egg graders look for two things when determining egg grade: exterior quality and interior quality.
- Exterior quality: Eggs must have clean, smooth shells with no cracks, no flaws, and no rough areas; abnormal shells do not meet the necessary requirements. The unbroken shells must also be oval-shaped and be slightly larger at one end. Eggs that do not meet these requirements are classified as restricted eggs and cannot be sold to food manufacturers, retailers, or shoppers.
- Interior quality: It might not sound possible to grade an egg’s interior without cracking it open, but it can be done through a method called candling, or turning an egg over a candling light. Candling uses a bright light to evaluate the egg yolk, the egg white, and the size of the air cell. Egg yolks must have a strong yolk outline with no blood spots or embryo development, while egg whites must be clear and thick enough to support the yolk. The shallower the air cell, the higher the egg grade.
Standard cage eggs, cage-free eggs, free-range eggs, organic eggs, and other types of specialty eggs are all graded according to the same scale. Look for the official USDA grade shield on an egg carton to confirm the eggs inside were processed and certified according to USDA guidelines.
How Does Egg Color Affect Quality?
It’s a common misconception that the color of an eggshell tells us something about the quality of the egg. It doesn’t. It is simply a reflection of the breed of chicken that produced the egg. Shell color is cosmetic and has nothing to do with quality or taste. In most regions of the United States, the majority of chicken eggs are white. But in parts of the Northeast, particularly New England, brown eggs are more prevalent than white eggs. Such regional differences are a function of supply and demand. The same is true in many other countries.
Additionally, contrary to another common misconception, the color of an egg yolk does not reliably reflect the nutritional value of an egg. The color of an egg yolk is directly influenced by the makeup of the chicken feed.
What’s the Difference Between Grade AA, Grade A, and Grade B Eggs?
Grade AA and Grade A are the two types of eggs you’ll find in the dairy section of the grocery store. But what’s the difference? And what are Grade Bs?
- U.S. Grade AA: These eggs are almost perfect. A Grade AA egg is the highest quality egg you can buy. The whites are thick and firm, the yolks are high and round, and the shells are clean and unbroken. Grade AA eggs are great for frying and poaching, and any other preparations in which appearance is important (like Eggs Benedict).
- U.S. Grade A: This is the grade most often sold in stores. Grade A eggs have the same exterior quality as Grade AA eggs, but their interior quality is slightly lower, as their whites are not as firm. Don’t worry, they’re perfectly safe to eat! They just don’t have the near-perfect presentation of Grade AA eggs.
- U.S. Grade B: Grade B eggs don’t meet the same exterior or interior quality of Grade AA and Grade A eggs, but they’re still safe to eat. Their whites are thinner and their yolks wider and flatter than the whites and yolks of higher-grade eggs. Additionally, they may be misshapen and have rough or thin spots. You won’t often come across Grade B in stores because they’re usually used to make liquid, frozen, and dried egg products, as well as other products containing eggs.
Does Egg Size Affect Egg Grades?
Once eggs are graded, they’re sorted by weight. Eggs can be any grade and any weight; grade does not determine weight and vice versa. Learn more about egg sizes in our comprehensive guide.
What Grade Eggs Should You Use for Cooking or Baking?
Grade AA, Grade A, and Grade B eggs are all safe to eat. The differences are in appearance and quality. If you’re preparing a dish where the appearance of the egg is important, like a fried or poached egg (like Chef Gordon Ramsay’s perfectly poached egg recipe), you want to use a Grade AA egg, because it’s a better-looking and higher quality egg. But if the eggs are incorporated into the dish or mixed in to bake, using Grade A or Grade B is perfectly fine. (Find our baking recipes with Chef Dominique Ansel here.)
Now that you know the differences in egg grades, you can choose the quality that best fits your needs.