Many people assume that they are getting the best beef when they buy USDA Prime. However, this is not necessarily true. It is important to know the difference between these two types of beef (Choice Vs Prime) so that you can get what you pay for. What makes prime beef different than choice? The amount of marbling in your steak is what determines if it’s prime or choice. Marbling refers to the fat found throughout lean muscle tissue and will be most present in an animal’s ribeye cut, like with a cow. This fat content also gives meat its tenderness and flavor; however, excessive amounts of marbling can lead to tough steaks because there isn’t enough collagen to keep them tender during cooking time!
How The USDA Grades Beef?
Grading beef is a voluntary process in which each grade represents a specific quality of meat. There are eight different grades in total, with prime being the highest and canner being the lowest.
The USDA has three main factors that they take into consideration when grading beef: marbling, maturity, and color.
- Marbling refers to how much intramuscular fat is dispersed throughout the cut of meat – the more marbling there is, the more tender, juicy, and flavorful it will be since this fatty tissue helps to keep its structure intact while it cooks.
- Maturity affects flavor because older animals often have less tender meat due to an increased number of fibers between individual muscle cells since they’ve likely spent more time walking around than younger cattle. The more developed these fibers are, the tighter and chewier the meat becomes.
- Color is measured by taking a small sample of beef and comparing it to official Crayola crayon color samples. If it has less pink than 165 (the number for tan), then it’s labeled as “light” – anything with more pink than 205 (dark red) is considered to be “dark.”
3 Best Grades Of Beef
As mentioned above, there are three subcategories that determine whether beef qualifies as choice, select, or prime. These categories aren’t determined based on marbling alone; rather, they take into consideration how much marbling each cut contains compared to its overall maturity level.
Prime is the highest grade of beef, which means that it contains the most marbling. All prime cuts are tender, juicy, and flavorful due to increased intramuscular fat throughout the muscle fibers as well as an abundance of myoglobin within each strand of meat. This means you can expect more delicious results with dry heat cooking methods like grilling or pan-searing – although these cuts will turn out tender when cooked using moist methods too. You’ll also notice that they have a significant amount of visible marbling since there’s more blood circulating through them than lower grade options – this makes them appear pinker than other grades even when raw. Prime cuts are usually pricey because fewer cattle meet this category; however, not only are the end results worth the extra price tag, but it also means that you can expect a fresher product if purchasing from a reputable butcher or grocer.
Choice cuts have a slightly higher percentage of intramuscular fat as well as a small amount of myoglobin in between muscle fibers, making them juicy and tender with an increased amount of flavor compared to standard options. These cuts will turn out good when cooked using any dry heat cooking method such as grilling or pan-searing – although these beef cuts won’t be as impressive as those with high levels of marbling. Although there will be some visible marbling, these cuts aren’t as tender and flavorful as those with higher levels due to the reduced concentration of intramuscular fat throughout each strand of muscle fiber – therefore moisture methods such as braising or stewing may turn out better than dry heat cooking methods.
Select cuts of beef are juicy and tender thanks to their higher percentage of intramuscular fat as well as increased myoglobin within each strand of meat. Although not as flavorful as prime cuts due to their lack of marbling, they’ll still turn out good when cooked using dry heat cooking methods including grilling and pan-searing – although moist techniques such as braising will work too. There is less visible marbling on these cuts compared to those with high levels of intramuscular fat since there’s more muscle mass throughout each piece – this makes them appear slightly less pink than some grades even when raw. Although select cuts are slightly less flavorful than other grades, they still retain a little bit of juiciness and tangy taste due to the high concentrations of intramuscular fat within each fiber – therefore it’s important to follow proper cooking procedures so you can ensure your meal doesn’t end up tough or dry.
As you can see, all three grades of choice beef are still extremely tasty when prepared properly; however, due to their increased tenderness and flavor compared to lower quality options such as standard and canner grades, the prime cut is definitely your best bet for impressive results using dry heat cooking techniques including grilling and pan-searing. If you’re on a budget or want more variety in your meat choices, select grade cuts will still turn out delicious regardless of cooking method – just remember to follow the proper procedures so you don’t end up with a dry or tough meal.
Which Quality Should You Choose: Choice Or Prime?
Knowing whether to go for choice or prime will allow you to buy the right cut of meat for your grilling and smoking requirements.
Choice grade meats are less marbled than prime cuts, which means they tend to be drier and tougher than prime cuts. Often, choice grade meats need special care such as marinating before cooking or braising after cooking in order to tenderize them enough for consumption.
Prime grade meats have much more internal marbling than choice cuts. This means that these cuts will typically be both juicier and more flavorful than their less costly counterparts. As a result, steaks and roasts sold under the prestige “prime” designation are excellent candidates for dry heat methods, including grilling and smoking. Prime grade meats are generally best enjoyed rare to medium-rare.
Since the primary purpose of dry heat methods is to break down collagen, it’s important that your cooking method doesn’t reverse this process by thoroughly cooking out the moisture in the meat. This is where prime comes in – because these cuts have so much marbling, they require little assistance from marinades or braising liquids during cooking, allowing them to retain their moisture better than choice cuts on average.
Beyond being more flavorful and juicy, prime cuts are also easier on your budget since they are less common on retail shelves due to their higher price point of about 25% more per pound compared with choice grades. Since these premium-priced steaks go quickly once they hit the shelves, it’s a good idea to call your butcher ahead of time if you’re looking for specific prime cuts of beef, such as an “Aussie” beef roast.
As with anything in life, there are tradeoffs when choosing either choice or prime grades of meat. Choice grade meats tend to be less expensive and more widely available due to their increased supply compared with prime meats, but on average these meats don’t have the same tenderness or flavor potential as prime cut items. Meanwhile, prime cuts are prized for their resilience on the grill and unique flavors while being slightly pricier than their less marbled counterparts.
With these factors in mind, remember that all steaks and roasts labeled as a particular quality grade are not created equal – there is always variation within each grade in terms of tenderness, flavor, and juiciness. Because these differences exist between cuts, it’s wise to experiment with different qualities until you find one that works best for your individual palate.
Therefore, when buying steaks or roasts on the retail market it’s important to be aware of both cut quality (choice vs prime) as well as how the specific cut feels when handled at the store. The more marbled a certain steak or roast is, the easier it will usually be to tell which grade it belongs to simply by giving its exterior a feel. If you’re still unsure about which kind of meat you would like after picking up several cuts from the same quality grade, choose the one that feels like it has the most moisture and fat content.
Each of these cuts tastes best when prepared with dry heat cooking methods such as grilling or smoking due to their abundant flavor and juiciness. These methods allow you to cook your meat without adding extra moisture, which is why marinating and braising are often unnecessary for prime grade meats. If you’re looking for a premium steak or roast that’s both tasty and budget-friendly, try choosing one from the prime grade selections.
For those who enjoy slightly less tender steaks and roasts, choice cut items can be a great option since they tend to be more affordable than prime grades on average. On the other hand, if you prefer enjoying meat at its best flavor and texture potential, prime cuts are the way to go. Although they’re slightly more expensive than choice grades of meat, these premium-priced items tend to be more tender on average while also containing more natural juices that result in extra flavor when grilling or smoking.
Although there is no “best” cut for all palates – what you enjoy may vary from the next person based on your individual tastes – understanding how different grades differ from each other can help give you a better idea of what to expect from your meat as well as which qualities you prefer most as a connoisseur. This knowledge will allow you to weigh your options accordingly when shopping for steaks and roasts at the store so that you can select the best quality cuts for your preferences.