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A couple of egg questions

What is the difference between Grade A and Grade AA? Is it just size?

What is the difference between "cage-free" and "free range" eggs?

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  1. Can't help you with cage-free vs. range-free, but A vs AA is supposed to be based on freshness (with AA being fresher than A). I always check the dates on the side of the carton though, as it is more reliable than the grade. X-Large, Large, Meduim, are sizes and have nothing to do with the grade. Large is the default size in recipes.

    1. I understood cage free to be inside chickens, in a barn, I think deep litter, as opposed to free range where the chickens get to roam outside and can come in and out of the hen houses to nap or lay.

      I am aware that cage free chickens can nontheless be overcrowded in the barns and it is not all that stress free for them, however an improvement on being kept in a cage. They may still get their beaks clipped when cage free.

      Me I go for organic free range chickens and eggs. I really don't care that they may be up to 5x the price of caged chicken eggs. I would rather have one or 2 less Sbux coffees or give up something else to make the sacrifice. I also refuse to eat crated veal. Just my contribution to animal welfare and I am aware that there are some horrible farm practices such as transportation of sheep and cows.

      4 Replies
      1. re: smartie

        Free range means they have "access" to range. Not that they actually can. For instance, a door too small for the chickens to get through, that is opened once in their lives, is enough for eggs to be labeled "free range".

        You have to be really careful.

        1. re: tzurriz

          Well, you're right, but biased in the sense you apparently think chickens are longing for blue skies and green pastures. The thing is, chickens basically have no particular interest in "roaming" - they pretty much tend to hang out wherever their food is unless they get spooked. (And they're not bright enough, in my experience, to find their way home afterward, which is why you have to run out and round 'em up if something happens.)

          I buy free-range but only because I abhor the whole cage business - personally, I really don't care what they do with their free time as long as they're not being seriously abused and to be reasonable, the beak thing is neither painful if done carefully nor really gets in their way - they're also not out in the wild "fiighting" for survival and they don't need full beaks to eat prepared feed...

          1. re: MikeG

            Sorry if I expressed a bias there. I didn't mean too. I'm familiar with chicken behavior, as I have family that raises chickens.

            I never said they were friendly, or liked to roam, just that "free roaming" doesn't necessarily mean what "we all" like to think it means.

            I don't judge how anybody buys their eggs. Personally, I go for the cheap ones. ;)

            I just didn't want people to misunderstand.

        2. re: smartie

          You can also look for humanely certified eggs. I have a friend who took her farm through the process and she said it was very rigorous and time consuming. They're very particular about it.


          Ideally, you'd know the local farm, etc and buy from them but Whole Foods also carries certified humane eggs.

        3. Cage free may mean they can go outside into a fenced yard. Free range means there's no fence. When I read caged I think battery chicken farms where the cages are so small the chickens can't move more than a few inches in any direction.

          1. Grade of the egg has nothing to do with freshness. Eggs are graded on appearance of the shell and condition of the yolk and white. Size is based on how much an egg weighs.

            Want eggs for baking/scrambling, but grade B. Want to cook your eggs sunnyside up, but grade AA

            3 Replies
            1. re: Alan408

              Actually, freshness has everything to do with the grade. Yes, the visible evidence (and the criteria for grading) is the shell, yolk and white, but this is a reflection of how old/fresh the egg is. A grade AA egg will become a grade A, then B... So, you are better off with an egg graded A that is fresher (by the date on the carton) than an older AA egg.

              1. re: bnemes3343

                Not according to the USDA. Classification (AA, A and B) is voluntary and is "determined by the interior quality of the egg and the appearance and condition of the egg shell." Alan408 is correct that different grades can be used for different purposes because freshness has nothing to do with it.
                For more details http://www.ams.usda.gov/howtobuy/eggs...

                1. re: bnemes3343

                  No, your grade AA egg will never become grade A. It will eventually go bad, but it will then be a rotten Grade AA egg.

                  Freshness does not have "everything" to do with grading. If it did, all eggs would be Grade AA. Freshness has nothing to do with grading.

                  Producer harvests 100 dozen eggs every morning. 10 dozen are Grade AA. The other 90 dozen are exactly as fresh as those. Why are they all not AA?

              2. One will spread more when making fried eggs, but can't remember which one is which.

                1. Always buy free-range over cage-free. They're happier.

                  1. Funny, I once asked the Grade A/Grade AA question at Wegman's, where they sell Grade AA, and I didn't know whether I was buying a "superior" egg or an inferior one. NO ONE at the store, including the dairy manager, was able to answer my question. I went home and looked it up and learned that the difference has largely to do with the appearance of the egg -- the contents of the shell, that is. The albumen of a AA grade egg is a bit more "gel-like" and it won't run or spread as much in a skillet or griddle -- it will stand higher than a similarly-sized Grade A egg. That's what makes them better for sunny-side up. Once you scramble the eggs up, there's no advantage to Grade AA. At least, that's my understanding. How they grade them, though, is a mystery to me.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: CindyJ

                      I actually was a USDA grader for a (mercifully) short period of time, so I had to learn this stuff.

                      Freshness can affect the grade of an egg, but it is equally true that out of 100 eggs laid on the same day, you can have AA, A, B eggs.

                      Grading has to do with shell shape, color, texture and interior color, consistency and presence or absence of blood or meat spots. (Blood and meat spots come from the reproductive tract of the hen. They have nothing at all to do with fertilization. Commercial hens never see a rooster.)

                      AA is rarely used and it very subjective. The eggs are pretty--no checks, cracks, odd shape or texture in the shell, and the yolk and white are firm and stand up, no runniness.

                      Grade A is pretty much the supermarket standard. B's and lower are used mostly commercially, for baking and scrambled eggs.

                      An egg that would have graded A or AA can be downgraded if it is graded after its peak of freshness. Commercial eggs can be held in cold storage for up to 30 days before being packed, so there could be some "slippage" due to loss of freshness.

                      Free range, in USDA terms simply means that at some point in their life, chickens have access to the out of doors. They may or may not take advantage of it, and the outdoors they are looking at is probably a small, fenced plot of chicken poo. No green grass, and probably no bugs to catch. Fly control is very important at a chicken facility, because they spread disease.

                      Paying extra money for free range broilers is just plain silly. For the first 4-6 weeks of a chick's life, it MUST be kept indoors, in a warm environment, or they die. Chickens are slaughtered at 8 weeks, so they have little time to "enjoy" being free range.

                      Pastured chicken, or eggs from pastured chicken, are a different story.

                      Cage free means hens are not raised in small individual cages, they are loose on the floor of a large building.

                      Also, grading when applied by any other agency (state dept of ag, for example) may have a totally different meaning than the USDA's grading system.