Which Beef is Best – USDA Choice or USDA Select?

Neither. The top spot goes to Prime Beef.

Followed by Choice, then Select, then 6 more levels.

The USDA defines 9 quality levels for beef. They are stamped on the carcass but by the time you buy your cuts at the butcher counter, you’ll only know by examining the sticker pasted onto the plastic packaging.

From the USDA:

  • Prime grade Image of Prime Label is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking (broiling, roasting, or grilling).
  • Choice grade Image of Choice Label 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, like Prime, suited to dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts, such as those from the rump, round, and blade chuck, 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 grade Image of Select Label 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 (loin, rib, sirloin) should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.
  • Standard and Commercial grades – are frequently sold as ungraded or as “store brand” meat.
  • Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.

Want to take a guess what’s in your TV Dinner, hot dog, or burger?

What to do at the supermarket:

We used to never remember what the top 3 grades where. A friend suggested remembering the acronym PiCkS when buying beef. good luck.

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  • Harry Jarvis

    The USDA grading system for beef is limited in terms of the information it provides. It is based on the amount of fat in the beef and how it is distributed (marbling).

    But it should be noted that the way most American beef gets its marbling is from being fed corn in a feedlot, a most unhealthy way to feed cattle (cattle are ruminants, designed to eat grass, not grain).

    Grass-finished beef, on the other hand, is usually less marbled, but to my mind tastes better (I spent several years in Argentina where all the meat is grass-finished, so I may be biased), and is certainly healthier – more Omega 3 oils vs. Omega 6. But it certainly wouldn’t qualify as “prime” under the USDA system, since it hasn’t the marbling.

    And the USDA top ranking is relative. Prime, our top rating, only reaches the #4 grading out of 10 in Japan, where they go way overboard in trying to achieve marbling (hand massaged cattle, anyone?).

  • http://www.buildbackusa.com Lcadieux

    why is USDA Hereford considered higher quality beef?

  • Rick Joseph

    Much of it is also very subjective and psychological. Many people prefer leaner meat for health purposes and prefer select over prime. I know some who would pay 4-5 times as much for the identical grade and cut if it comes from a butcher shoppe or some boutique meat shoppe versus a market due to the snob appeal, rationalizing the more you pay the better it is.