Steak Grades 101

We were perusing the menu of a Las Vegas Steakhouse that we are planning to visit and review. The “Steak and Chop” section of the menu offers both USDA Choice cuts and USDA Prime cuts.

You could simply order the more expensive one and hope for the best! Another option is to actually know the difference. breaks it all down for your right here.

  • What is the USDA?
  • Which steak tastes better, Choice or Prime?
  • How should I order so my friends don’t laugh at me?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades beef for meat packers if they ask them to. Only USDA-inspected beef can be labeled USDA. No Inspection, no shield. The organization grades for quality based on the amount of marbling combined with the maturity (age) of the beef. Marbling determines flavor and how tender and juicy a steak is. Age determines texture and also affects flavor.

The higher the ratio of marblingm and the younger the beef, the higher the grade. 

There are eight levels of grading. Here is a hierarchy of the types of cuts you would typically order in a steakhouse or buy at the store:

USDA Prime is the superior grade. It is the most tender, juicy and flavorful, with a fine texture. It has the highest degree of fat marbling and comes from younger beef. No hocus pocus needed here. Just season generously with salt and pepper and throw it on the grill.

USDA Choice is the second-highest grade. It has less fat marbling than Prime if you’re into that sort of a thing. Choice cuts from the loin and rib areas of the beef are quality meats. If you’re craving the peppercorn sauce that night, maybe spend a little less and go Choice.

USDA Select is generally the lowest grade of steak you will find at a supermarket or restaurant. It’s leaner, with very little marbling, so you will find it tougher, less juicy and less flavorful. Bust out that Trader’s Joes coffee rub for these cuts. Or just don’t even bother.

If the menu at the steakhouse doesn’t list clearly what the USDA Grade is, ask! Hopefully, you’ll get a convincing Choice or Prime. If not, consider ordering from the “Sea” portion of the menu.