USDA Prime, Choice, Select - What's the Difference?

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 Prime, Choice, Select - What's the Difference? 

You may have seen these red and blue shield-shaped stickers on meat at the grocery store. One says "Prime", one "Choice", the other "Select". They are food grades from the USDA, letting the consumer know where the particular cut of meat is ranked so they can make an informed decision. 

The difference is helpful (when putting together meals) and very important to know where pricing and quality is concerned. If you know what cut of beef you're working with, you'll know how to cook it so that its flavor and texture best compliment your recipe, and you'll know what is a reasonable price to pay for it. 

Most of Angus Meats' steak offerings are Choice or Prime cuts of beef. 

The following is taken from the USDA website in an article called, "What's Your Beef": 

Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. From a consumer standpoint, what do these quality beef grades mean?

Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (the amount of fat interspersed with lean meat), and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.

 

For further reading, here are some helpful articles:

Breaking Down USDA Meat Grades 

Understanding USDA Beef Quality Grades


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