What Is USDA Prime? (And How to Better Understand the USDA Scale)

Quite a few people think that USDA prime beef is a type of beef in which it really isn’t. USDA prime is part of a grading system that is used in assisting with distinguishing the quality of meat you are purchasing.

According to the USDA, Beef is evaluated by highly-skilled USDA meat graders using a subjective characteristic assessment process and electronic instruments to measure meat characteristics. These characteristics follow the official grade standards developed, maintained and interpreted by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The USDA meat graders grade the beef in two different ways. The first way they grade the meat is by checking it for tenderness, flavor, and juiciness. The second way that the beef is graded is by the amount of usable lean meat that is available on the cow once it has been partially butchered and hung up for further processing.

Prime Beef

Prime beef is usually found in higher end restaurants, hotels and usually at a high price point from a local butcher. The USDA scale says the the prime beef is produced from younger cattle. What also makes the prime beef “prime” is the amount of marbling that can be found in the beef itself (fat content). This type of beef is the ideal cut/choice for any grilling or dining out as it is quite a bit better with flavor, tenderness and juiciness.

Choice Beef

As one would suspect, choice beef is just a step below the prime beef. The choice beef is still pretty good quality and will still be loaded with tenderness, juiciness and flavor but the choice beef usually has a little less marbling than prime (which makes it not quite as tender and juicy…).

Select Beef

As you continue to go down the scale it is also correct to assume a lesser quality meat with the select beef. As stated by the USDA, select beef is uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades on the scale. The select beef is still fairly tender but due to less marbling it will most likely lack some of the juiciness and flavor than the higher grades and this is due to less fat (marbling).

To regain some of the lacking tenderness and juiciness most will simply marinate the select beef. This will help with the lacking tenderness and juiciness. You can even baste the beef while it cooks to help keep it nice and moist.

If you are looking for more information on beef grading I recommend watching this YouTube video on beef grading. Prior to watching though, take note that it does show cattle carcasses being marked and the process.

What Is Angus Beef?

Grilling in the Garage Safe

Unlike the Prime, Choice and Select cuts of beef Angus beef has nothing to do with the quality of meat on the USDA’s scale. Angus is actually the name and breed of the cattle. People tend to get confused because Angus in general tends to naturally be graded higher on the USDA’s scale but that is just the nature of the animal.

The Angus cattle originate from Scotland and are also known as Aberdeen Angus. The male Angus cattle get to be about 850 pounds in weight while the female Angus cattle get to be about 550 pounds in weight. The Angus cattle are also very hardy which is another reason why they are so popular. They are great at surviving all kinds of storms, snowfalls…

What Is the Difference Between Angus and Black Angus Meat?

The Angus cattle can literally be found in two different colors, black and red fur coated cows. It wasn’t until about the 20th century until the new strand, the red furred Angus, began to emerge. Prior to then all Angus cattle were black. Outside of the color of the fur, there is no genetic difference between the red and black Angus meat despite them being categorized separately.

As discussed above, Angus meat is known for its great marbling in its meat. This is why they are so popular and stand out on a menu at any restaurant as a “bigger” ticket item. It also usually gets a better price tag on it when ordering.

In Summary of USDA Prime vs Angus (And Which Is a Better Choice of Meat)

The USDA Prime is the top quality piece of meat on the USDA’s meat scale for tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The scale is followed by choice and select pieces of meat which basically have less marbling, tenderness, juiciness and flavoring.

Angus has nothing to do with the USDA’s scale. It is in fact an actual animal which is known for its excellent marbling that in return produces that nice tenderness, juiciness flavoring. Most Angus cattle naturally rank as either a Prime or Choice beef on USDA’s scale which is why its is a preferred meat on most menus.

Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

6 Comments

  1. Hi thanks for the article. I do habe a question though.. I have been buying a product that says grade Choice Angus beef. Now from your knowledge does choice angus beef is considered Certified Black Angus? And how does the quality compare to a regular Choice beef. Thanks!

    • Thanks for stopping by! According to Certified Angus Beef’s website, independent USDA graders inspect black hided cattle and give it a grade. At this point all beef considered for the brand must be the best choice or prime beef which is supposed to be the top of the scale. The Angus beef is then evaluated again using the brands “10 science based specifications” for marbling, size and the meats uniformity. If it is good enough to make the cut, then it earns the distinctive certified Angus beef brand. So in short, yes a choice Angus beef can be considered Certified Black Angus as long as it meats the 10 science based specifications that they require. Hope this helps!

  2. “the red furred Anus, began to emerge.” might be the best typo in the history of printed language. Thanks for the explanation, too.

    • Wow, that is definitely a unique typo! This has been fixed. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Write A Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

Pin It
shares