ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Grades of Beef - USDA Prime, Choice, Select, Black Angus, Grass Fed - What Do They All Mean?

Updated on July 6, 2008

Buy the Right Steak!

Choice, prime, Angus, organic, select…! Wow, buying a piece of meat sure can get confusing, and the prices can range pretty drastically too. So what do these terms mean, and what do you need to know to buy a piece of meat your family is going to enjoy, at a price you can afford?

USDA Grading System

The USDA runs a voluntary meat gradient system for beef producers. The grades are as follows and in descending order of quality and price

  • Prime
  • Choice
  • Select
  • Standard
  • Commercial
  • Utility
  • Cutter
  • Canner

Meat is graded by the amount of marbling in the beef. Cuts of meat with greater fat quantities inside the grain are awarded higher gradient scores. The fattiest cuts – USDA Prime, comprise only 4% of beef going to market, and these expensive cuts are destined almost exclusively for hotels and restaurants.

50% of retail meat is of USDA Choice quality, and most of the remaining supermarket meat is of Select quality. Lower quality meat is not normally passed through the USDA grading system.

Why is Marbling Important?

Intramuscular fat is important for high heat and dry heat cooking techniques, such as pan frying, broiling or grilling – how we typically cook our steaks. The greater quantities of fat within the grains of meat keep the cooked steaks juicy and tender.

As a general rule, if you have the choice of buying a USDA Choice sirloin, or a USDA Select rib eye, for example, and both were of a similar price, you would be better off going for the normally tougher and cheaper sirloin, of a higher USDA grade.

Other Terms?

Here is a short glossary of other beef terms you might see on a supermarket label.

Angus (Black Angus)

This is a breed of cattle loved by ranchers for putting on weight and fat quickly, and which often develops a high marbling in the meat.

Kobe (Wagyu)

Japanese style steak. The term Wagyu refers to a few breeds of cattle that have been bread for very high marbling in the meat. Wagyu cows are fed a unique diet (which has traditionally included beer) to provide a unique and delicious tasting meat. Japanese Kobe beef is some of the world's most expensive meat. Japanese Wagyu cows have been bred with American Angus cows to produce an also very tasty American Kobe beef.

Organic Beef

An organic certification indicates that the cow has been raised hormone free.

Grass Fed

Grass fed beef is raised primarily on pasture grazing rather than feedlot corn. Grass fed beef is more costly to produce, but aficionados say it presents with more complex meaty flavors. Grass fed cows are not generally as well marbled as corn fed cows, and grass fed beef is not generally entered into the USDA grading system for this reason.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I appreciate your wordpress web template, exactly where did you down load it through? kcegbddedkdc

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Judy, it is most likely angus. Angus is not a prolific type of beef- in fact, it is extremely abundant. It is a marketing ploy. People hear the term angus, and assume it is a better cut of meat. This is not true. So is it angus? Yes, is it better- No.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      all beef is not angus it is just one breed out of hundreds. its like callling all dogs german shepards. next time you order a burger or steak ask if its free if they cannot prove its angus breed coause they can't.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Can the name Angus also just a commerical handle? eg McDonalds is advertising an angus burger. Are there enough Angus cattle in the world to supply McDonalds, let alone others advertising "angus"? How does one know the difference between real Angus breed beef, and companies that call themselves "Black Angus" for instance?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Organic meat is not just hormone free. It means that the feed fed to the animal was also raised in an organic fashion, without commercial fertilizers or pesticides. All beef is technically hormone-free in that the hormone given to the animal at an early age has been excreted out of its system and can no longer be detected in the meat that you eat, making it safe.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      at or near the bottom usually they are cross bred with cattle that have higher marbling traits which are usually smaller framed the result being they are medium framed and the quality grade will follow into that same range with the average being low choice to high select

    • profile image

      Ted Steele 

      8 years ago

      Can you tell where Simmental stands amongst cattle breeds for standardized marbling scores

    • 02SmithA profile image


      10 years ago from Ohio

      Interesting. I love my steak but I didn't know the breakdowns of what each meat type meant.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)