Prime or Choice. What's the Difference?

When walking to the meat counter of a grocery store to purchase a steak, the majority of steaks presented are graded Select. On rare occasions the store may offer a Choice steak but consumers have to do quite a bit of searching. When having dinner at an upscale steakhouse the filet or ribeye you order may be graded Choice and if you're lucky, Prime. What does this mean? Why is beef graded, and what do the grades actually represent?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has representatives who travel to different meat processing facilities to inspect those facilities to make sure they are clean and meet the USDA processing facility codes of business. The USDA also offers a service where USDA representatives travel to these meat processing facilities to "grade" the beef carcasses that are waiting to be cut in to steaks, roasts and brisket.  This service costs a fee and is usually charged to the meat processor or producer.

According to the article titled, "USDA Beef Quality and Yield Grades," (Dan S. Hale, Kyla Goodson, Jeffrey W. Savell) a "quality grade is a composite evaluation of factors that affect palatability of meat (tenderness, juiciness and flavor).  These factors include carcass maturity, firmness, texture, color, and the amount and distribution of fat marbling" within the beef. 

There are three main grades of beef; Prime, Choice and Select. The majority of beef you purchase at the grocery store or consume in restaurants fall in to one of  two categories, Choice and Select. Prime beef is distinctively superior. It is almost never found in grocery stores. The beef is tender, juicy and showcases a buttery richness. It has a very fine texture and has the highest degree of fat marbling. Prime beef generally comes from younger animals. Often times you can "cut the steak with a fork," so to speak. 

Of all beef produced in the United States, only 2% of the beef grades prime. It is extremely difficult to find prime steaks as they are in such great demand. Exclusive, upscale restaurants is where the majority of prime beef is sold and is why prime steaks are more expensive.

Choice is the second highest grade of beef. Choice beef has less fat marbling and tends to be less juicy and tender verses prime beef. The texture of choice beef is a bit more coarse. Choice is still a quality steak especially if it is cut from the loin and rib areas of a carcass such as the tenderloin filet or rib steak. Choice beef is sometimes sold in grocery store meat counters and can be served at nice steakhouses and restaurants as well. 

The lowest grade of beef is Select. USDA Select beef is what you will typically find in grocery store meat counters and restaurants across the county. Select beef has the least about of fat marbling and is distinctively less juicy and tender. You will find Select beef to be tough and less flavorful than Choice or Prime beef.  USDA Select beef is much less enjoyable and desirable.  

Crow Butte Beef produces all-natural, Nebraska-raised Prime and Choice beef. We pay a representative from the USDA to come to our meat processing facility to grade our carcasses before they are cut in to steaks. Our beef grades Prime or Choice and is well-marbled, tender, juicy and flavorful.  When you purchase a prime bundle from Crow Butte Beef, each steak will be packaged with the USDA Prime or Choice label placed front and center. When you purchase Crow Butte Beef you can feel confident knowing you're purchasing the best of the best and will experience a steak you'll want to eat again and again!