Prime vs. Choice – Who determines the USDA Beef grading and how?

The USDA determines prime vs. choice meat grades primarily based on marbling, but there are two factors they use to do this: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.

Prime vs. Choice – Marbling

Marbling refers to the fat striations throughout the meat. The more marbling, the more flavor and the better your steak is; the more likely it is prime over choice.

What are the grading levels in prime vs. choice meat?

Mr. Steak USDA Prime Filet Mignon

Mr. Steak USDA Prime Filet Mignon

Mr. Steak USDA Choice Filet Mignon

Mr. Steak USDA Choice Filet Mignon

USDA Prime

USDA Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. Prime beef 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.

USDA Choice

USDA 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.

Mr. Steak Prime and Choice Cuts
Mr. Steak Prime Cuts

USDA Prime vs. Choice – Why is it important to know the grade of your meat?

Without knowing the prime vs. choice grade of beef, you have no idea what you are paying for. You may be charged prime prices for a choice or even a select piece of meat. You should expect transparency from your online meat supplier, butcher, grocery store, or restaurant. That’s why it’s essential to know if it’s USDA prime or choice beef.

Steak Tip:

Always ask what USDA grade the beef is if it isn’t labeled. If the company can’t tell you the USDA grade for any reason, then we don’t recommend buying from them. “Premium” is not a USDA grade.

If you are at a restaurant ordering a steak, the USDA grade may be advertised. If it isn’t you should ask what grade the steak is. If it’s priced very high and it isn’t USDA prime, Mr. Steak doesn’t recommend ordering it.

USDA Prime vs. Choice – Most important cuts of steak to be prime:

NY Strip & Kansas City Strip

Why? You can really taste the difference between Prime vs. Choice strip steaks in terms of flavor and texture. We highly recommend you try our prime cuts.

Less important cuts of steak to be prime:

Ribeye & Filet Mignon

Why? Ribeyes contain so much other fat content through the ribeye that it’s still going have great flavor whether it’s Prime or Choice.

Filet Mignon meat is so naturally tender that it’s not as important to be a Prime cut. Of all the cuts, the filet is the least important cut to be prime.

Prime vs. Choice – The Bottom Line:

Mr. Steak offers the highest grade prime-cuts. Prime is always going to be better and recommended it if it’s within your budget. However, you can have a fabulous steak dinner by choosing the right choice cuts and following Mr. Steak’s 10 Commandments of Steak.

We also recommend checking out the USDA’s site, or PrimeTimeSteakhouses for more details.

You can also read more about grilling like a pro on the Mr. Steak Grilling blog. Make sure you get the right grill and the right accessories for your perfect steak dinner.