Here's What Each Egg Grade Actually Means

Eggs are one of the most versatile and ubiquitous ingredients. From bolstering the structural integrity of cakes and cookies to adorning millions of breakfast plates, there's a carton of eggs in nearly every fridge. While there are slight differences — extra-large vs. large, brown vs. white, organic vs. non-organic — many tend to use eggs interchangeably. Masterclass also notes that the color is really just for aesthetics, so while some may have a personal preference there is no difference between brown and white eggs when it comes to flavor or quality. One burning question for many, though, has to do with egg grading. The USDA has a 50-page manual reviewing the nitty gritty of egg grading, which may leave the typical consumer confused.

As AllRecipes notes, all egg grading is handled by the US Department of Agriculture, primarily to separate eggs into 3 categories: Grade AA, Grade A, and Grade B. Allrecipes notes that the grade is an evaluation of both the inside of the egg and the outside of the shell. According to Business Insider, size and color do not factor into the grading process at all, only the physical nature of the shell and interior itself. Egg graders do not check for safety and they primarily look at the specifics of the egg from a physical perspective and do not check for salmonella or other issues.

How are eggs graded?

According to Allrecipes, the shell shape and texture, soundness of shell, and shell cleanliness contribute to the grad. Interior quality is evaluated by "egg candling," which involves holding it up to bright light in a dark room to see inside. Some of the internal grading categories involve air cell, or the distance between the shell and egg membrane. The yolk and white are always checked, ensuring no blood spots or blemishes for grades AA and A.

Both A and AA eggs are high quality. Some of the primary differences are that grade AA eggs must have an air cell that doesn't exceed 1/8 inch in depth, while grade A eggs must not exceed 3/16 inch. The whites of an AA egg should be clean and firm, while in grade A eggs the whites are clear and "reasonably firm." The yolk of an AA egg "must be only slightly defined when twirled before a light," while a yolk for a grade A egg is only "fairly well defined," as noted by Allrecipes. Grade B may have blemishes and blood in the egg (via Allrecipes).

Food and Nutrition describes how the shell integrity is evaluated. It is tapped in order to determine the sound. Graders are hoping to hear a ringing sound, while a thumping sound means there is a crack in the egg. The shell of an AA or A-grade egg must be pristine and unstained, while a B-grade egg may have stains or a spotted eggshell.

How are the egg grades different?

When you're looking at the cartons in the grocery store, you might wonder what the difference between the different grades are and how that should affect your choice. The USDA notes that a grade AA egg is great when you want a dish like fried eggs to look pretty, while Grade A or B eggs are perfectly suitable for any recipe that requires mixing the ingredient in — think omelettes, homemade mayonnaise, ice cream, scrambled eggs, or baked goods. (via Allrecipes). Grade B eggs are often reserved to create derivative egg products and are not often sold in grocery store aisles.

MyRecipes clarifies that the grade is strictly based on the quality of the egg and has nothing to do with size. While it's important to be mindful of egg grading, the difference between AA and A is pretty negligible, and only an ardent egg purist should let these minor differences influence breakfast and baking. So no matter if you prefer extra-large brown eggs or white large eggs, you can make your meal with confidence.