August 20, 2021

Prime vs. Choice Meats — What’s the Difference?

A selection of gourmet meats with sides of black peppercorns, sea salt, garlic, shallot, and butter

While high-end restaurants take pride in their American beef selections, it can be perplexing to know what kind of meat to buy when you're cooking at home. The price of meat is undoubtedly indicative of its quality, but understanding the differences between Prime and Choice beef can help ensure your next meal turns out even better than you’d imagined.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established a grading system for beef in 1927, dividing the protein into three categories: Prime, Choice, and Select. The grading system is voluntary, which means that meatpackers must pay for a designation. But what's the real difference between Prime meats and Choice meats? Let's take a closer look at how grades of beef are determined:

How Is Beef Graded?

USDA grading is based on the quality of the meat, which is judged by the ribeye muscle (located between the 12th and 13th and ribs of the cow). In addition to the texture and amount of visible marbling present, age is also used to determine grade. Yield grading is also done, which examines how much lean meat is available, compared to unusable fat.

Grading is also only based on one cut of meat, which doesn't account for the fat and marbling quality.

Fat marbling is probably the biggest deciding factor in beef grading. However, it can be misleading, as cows that are fed corn generally have more marbling, but are typically less healthy. Grass-fed cows, on the other hand, have naturally less marbling which may result in a lower grade, but the quality of their beef is superior. So, while meat grade can dictate qualities such as marbling and taste, it doesn't offer important insight about what the animal was fed, or how it was raised.

USDA Prime Meats

Distinctively superior to other grades, USDA Prime steaks account for under 3% of the beef produced in the U.S. Suffice to say, this grade showcases a high-class exclusiveness, meant to be enjoyed at home, and sold in upscale restaurants, hotels, and of course, online at

This grade includes abundant marbling and is usually produced by younger cattle. USDA Prime meats are often categorized as tender, juicy, and memorably flavorful. They are often selected for dry aging — and are sold only by the most select purveyors.

A Cut Above the Rest: Certified Angus Beef®

Kolikof is proud to carry the true “cream of the cattle” — Certified Angus Beef® brand Prime! Exclusive only to select purveyors — including Kolikof — this brand predicates its products on superior taste and quality, rising above standard USDA grading by having 10 of their own quality standards in place, including exceptional marbling, consistent sizing, and superior appearance. Learn more about Certified Prime Angus Tomahawk Steaks for a genuinely elite dining experience!

USDA Choice Meats

The second-highest grade of beef (Select is the lowest), and representing about half of all graded beef, USDA Choice meats are considered quality meats with moderate marbling. Due to this, these meats are less tender and juicy and have a coarser quality. USDA Choice beef is often sold at grocery store meat counters and is served at steakhouses and restaurants.

Order High-End Meat and Poultry Today

We specialize in premium grades, including Australian and Japanese Wagyu, which are not graded by the USDA. All of our meats are high quality. We proudly sell only Prime and Certified Angus Beef® Brand Prime grades of USDA beef. Browse our collection of specialty beef, including Dry-Aged USDA Prime Beef, all of which can be enjoyed alone or paired with wild-caught South African lobster tails or succulent Maine seas scallops.

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