Browsing the long aisle of meats at your local grocery store can feel overwhelming, as there are many options to choose from. Unless you’re a butcher or own a grocery store, it can be hard to tell the differences between each grade and cut of meat and what you can use them for in your home cooking.
There are a total of eight grades of beef, but you’ll primarily find Prime, Choice, and Select options available at your grocery store. Beef gets graded for tenderness, flavor, and juiciness. Usually, beef has yield grades as well, which are general estimates of how much usable meat is on a given animal. These grades typically apply to ribs, loins, chucks, and rounds.
Beef and other cuts of meat get graded by the United States Department of Agriculture by skilled meat graders. The meat goes through a series of assessments using multiple instruments to ensure the meat is of good quality and to help determine which grade category the meat falls into. This is a voluntary process that many meat producers pay for.
Based on the two grading systems, Prime and Choice steaks tend to be the better grades. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two types of steak and the Prime vs. Choice steak taste.
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What Is Prime Steak?
Prime beef is the highest grade given to beef, and it comes from young beef cattle. It is of rather high quality, and because of this, you’ll usually find it offered at high-end restaurants and high-quality steakhouses. You’ll probably find it on the menus at five-star hotels as well.
If you’re looking for Prime beef at your local grocery store, your options can be scarce. Some grocery stores don’t even sell it. If they do, there’s usually only a handful of options to choose from, and they can come with a hefty price tag.
Prime beef gets this grade because it has a beautiful marbling look to it. Marbling relates to the white streaks and pockets you’ll find throughout your cut of meat. These streaks are fat. It makes the beef look like a red slab of marble, which is why it gets this name.
Cattle typically get this marbling effect due to their diets and other factors. Research shows that grain and corn-based diets create more fat marbling in cattle. Grass-fed cattle tend to have leaner meat and a significantly lower percentage of fat.
Typically, higher amounts of marbling, such as in Prime beef, means that the meat is more flavorful. When you grill or roast these cuts of meat, the fat keeps it soft and moist.
The result will be a juicy, tender, and flavorful piece of beef. It feels almost soft as butter when you chew it, making it a rather desirable cut of meat.
What Is Choice Steak?
Choice steak is a grade below from Prime beef. It is still a high-quality cut of beef, but it has slightly less marbling, which means it has a lower percentage of fat. Choice beef typically has a fat percentage of about 4.3%, while Prime is typically higher than this at up to 10%.
This grade of meat is more widely available than Prime, so it shouldn’t be hard to find at the grocery store. While it has less marbling, it is still a rather tasty cut of meat and can be tender and juicy.
You might notice that the meat isn’t as soft as Choice due to the lower amount of fat, but it’s still fairly easy to chew compared to Select and other lower grades of beef.
Meat from the loins and ribs is typically the best from this grade of beef.
What Is the Difference Between Prime and Choice?
The primary difference between Prime and Choice beef is the amount of marbling within the meat. Prime tends to be more juicy and tender and has a flavorful meatiness to it. Choice beef is a little leaner, as there is a little less marbling, but it still has a great flavor.
The difference in marbling causes slight texture changes between Prime and Choice beef. Prime beef is very soft and almost melts in your mouth, which is why it is sought after by high-end places.
Choice beef is slightly firmer, as the lower fat content leads to less moisture inside your cooked steak. However, these grades are only one level apart, so the Prime vs. Choice steak taste and texture differences are usually small and subtle for most people.
Which Is Better: Prime, Choice, or Select?
Based on the USDA meat grading system, Prime beef is the best option out of the three primary grading categories. Prime beef is the highest beef grade you can find due to its high amount of marbling. The marbling fat provides the steak with a hefty amount of moisture, creating a tender and delicious steak.
Choice beef is the second best option, as it has slightly less marbling but a fair amount of flavor. This grade is also much easier to find than Prime, so you’re more likely to eat this grade of meat unless you visit a high-end restaurant.
Select is below both Prime and Choice beef, sitting on the list as the third best Choice. This type of beef is much leaner than Prime and Choice, meaning the amount of fat marbling is minimal.
Due to Select beef having less fat, the steak can be a little tough to chew, have less flavor, and can be a little dry. Marinating and braising this grade of meat is the best thing to do to get the optimal amount of flavor and tenderness.
If you have the option, try to choose Prime beef, as this is the tastier option. If you cannot find Prime or don’t like the price tag, opt for Choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions people tend to have when considering their steak options.
What are the best grades of steak?
The eight USDA grades that your steak can be includes the following:
The further you go down the list, the meat becomes poorer quality with less marbling. Due to this, the top three best grades in order are Prime, Choice, and Select. The best one is always Prime beef.
Is Prime steak tender?
Prime steak is the most tender out of all the steak grades. It provides you with a large amount of fat to help with juiciness, which then makes the meat softer to chew. Prime steak has a buttery consistency to it, so make sure to savor every bite.
Is Prime worth the price over Choice?
If you’re worried about pricing, Prime is typically quite expensive compared to Choice and the other grades below it. While Prime is the tastier and juicer option, the difference between Prime and Choice is very subtle. The difference in marbling is only by a small percentage.
Most people cannot tell the difference between Prime vs. Choice steak taste. If you’re a meat connoisseur, the grade difference might matter to you, but for most people, it isn’t worth the dent in their wallets. So, no Prime beef is not worth the price over Choice beef. However, this is a personal preference you need to think about.
What makes prime beef better than choice?
Prime beef is superior to choice beef due to its distinct flavor and texture. The leaner nature of prime strip steaks and filet mignon accentuates the importance of marbling, resulting in a more pronounced difference in taste. Additionally, filet mignon stands out as one of the most tender cuts of meat available.
Is Prime really better than choice?
Prime is indeed better than choice because only a small percentage, approximately 2 percent, of beef available today is classified as prime by the USDA. Prime beef is known for having the highest level of marbling, which contributes to its exceptional tenderness and juiciness. However, it is important to note that choice graded beef is also of high quality, although it has slightly less marbling compared to prime.
Why are prime and choice cuts of beef more expensive?
Prime and choice cuts of beef are more expensive because of their scarcity and high demand. This is due to the fact that prime beef, which only accounts for approximately 2% of all beef produced, has a significant amount of marbling. This marbling ensures that even when prepared rare, the steak remains tender and easily cut with a fork. The limited supply of prime beef coupled with its desirable qualities results in its higher price.
How do you make choice beef taste like prime?
To make choice beef taste like prime, you can enhance its flavor by following these steps: Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt on each side of the steak. Allow the salt to sit on the steak for 1 hour per 1″ thickness. For instance, if the steak is 1/2″ thick, let it sit with salt for 30 minutes. Rinse off all the salt and pat the steak dry with a paper towel. Season the steak with pepper or other desired seasonings, avoiding the addition of any extra salt.
What is the best choice of beef to purchase?
The best choice of beef to purchase includes chuck roast, bone-in ribs, flat iron steak, ribeye roast, ribeye steak, tenderloin (also called filet mignon), sirloin steak, and skirt steak.
Is Costco beef choice or prime?
Costco beef includes both Choice and Prime options. When shopping at Costco, you will find Prime steaks alongside Choice steaks. By taking a moment to compare them, you may discover that some packages of Choice graded steaks have nearly the same amount of marbling as the Prime steaks.
What’s better USDA choice or prime?
Prime cuts of beef, such as roasts and steaks, are ideal for dry-heat cooking methods like broiling, roasting, or grilling due to their excellent quality and high marbling. On the other hand, Choice beef, although still of high quality, has slightly less marbling than Prime. However, Choice cuts from the loin and rib are still very tender, juicy, and flavorful, making them well-suited for dry-heat cooking.
Is prime beef better than premium?
Prime beef and premium beef have different qualities that make them better suited for different types of dishes. Prime beef mince, which has a reduced fat content, is ideal for making juicy burgers. The moderate price of prime beef makes it a great option for those looking to enjoy flavorful burgers without excessive fat. On the other hand, premium beef mince has the lowest fat content and is more expensive. This makes it perfect for dishes like stir-fries and pasta, where the added fat is not necessary.
Which beef steak is the most tender?
The most tender beef steak is the tenderloin steak, which is lean and renowned for its delicate, butter-like texture and thick cut. These delectable steaks are so tender that they can be easily sliced with a butter knife. Tenderloin steaks are also commonly referred to as filets or filet mignon.
Is there higher grade beef than prime?
Beyond USDA Prime, Choice and Select are the three top grades of beef. Prime Beef is sourced from well-fed beef cattle and possesses ample marbling, which refers to the fat content within the beef. Cattle that are grain-finished tend to exhibit more marbling compared to grass-finished beef.
What are the different grades of steaks?
The different grades of steaks include prime, choice, select, standard, commercial, utility, cutter, and canner. However, it is important to note that only the first three grades are considered significant. While the USDA inspects all meat for safety, not all of them are evaluated for their quality.
Is premium better than choice?
Certified Premium beef is essentially choice beef, but it represents the highest quality within the choice category. This grading program involves a thorough examination of choice beef, and only the cuts that meet the strict criteria set by various organizations receive the certified premium label.
What are the 4 grades of meat?
The four grades of meat are Prime, Choice, Select, and Standard. These quality grades, along with four additional grades (Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner), have been utilized by the beef industry since 1927.
Is Choice or Prime better?
Prime beef is superior to Choice beef due to its higher marbling content, ranging from 4-10% fat. It is the ultimate cut with the most marbling and flavor, making it the highest quality beef option. Consequently, Prime beef is highly sought after by commercial establishments like restaurants and hotels.
What are the top 3 grades of meat?
The top 3 grades of meat are Prime, Choice, and Select. Prime is the highest grade of beef and lamb, representing the best quality. Choice is the next grade after prime, offering a better quality option. Select is the lowest grade available to consumers and comprises the remaining meat found in supermarkets.
What are the meat grades best to worst?
The meat grades range from best to worst as follows: USDA Prime, USDA Choice, USDA Select, USDA Standard, USDA Commercial, USDA Utility, USDA Cutter, and USDA Canner.
What is the difference between steak grades?
The difference between steak grades lies in the eight beef quality grades, which are determined based on two main criteria: the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) in the beef and the maturity (estimated age of the animal at slaughter). These grades include Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Cutter, and Canner.
What are the four highest quality grades of beef?
The four highest quality grades of beef are Prime Beef, Choice Beef, Select Beef, and Standard Beef.
What is the difference between choice and prime meat?
The difference between choice and prime meat is that prime roasts and steaks are ideal for dry-heat cooking methods like broiling, roasting, or grilling, while choice beef, although still of high quality, has less marbling than prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib are exceptionally tender, juicy, and flavorful, making them well-suited for dry-heat cooking.