What is USDA Prime Steak? - Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster | Orlando Fine Dining
  • Celebrating 30 years of legendary dining

What is USDA Prime Steak?

Understanding USDA prime steak and the grading system
Read Time: 2.5 minutes
Mar 16, 2020

USDA prime steak is the highest grade that a meat can be ranked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This superior grade of steak is known for being juicy, flavorful, and tender. It has the highest level of marbling and generally is only from younger cattle. Veal and lamb may also be given the grading of ‘prime’.

USDA’s Grading System

prime steak from christners

After mandatory inspections from Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to ensure a meat’s safety for consumption, a producer or processor can pay a fee to have their beef graded by the USDA. The USDA then assigns quality grades. These determine the tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and yield grades. Yield grade simply means the amount of usable meat.

What is the Best Grade of Meat?

The best grade of meat defined by the USDA is prime. Only 2% of all meat graded by the USDA makes it to this superior category. Prime has the highest amount of marbling. Marbling is a positive attribute that shows a higher level of flavor will be present in the cut of meat. It refers to the white flecks of intramuscular fat.

What Are the USDA Grades of Beef?

The USDA defines eight quality grades for beef:

  • Prime
  • Choice
  • Select
  • Standard
  • Commercial
  • Utility
  • Cutter
  • Canner
USDA prime steak and emblem

Prime meat (moderately abundant marbling) has the highest level of marbling over other quality grades. This is the most desirable of the quality grades for beef. You’ll see prime meats served on upscale steakhouse menus.

USDA choice steak and emblem

Choice meat (moderate marbling) makes up about 45% of the meats graded by the USDA. Choice meat is characterized by present but fewer traces of marbling. It is suited for broiling, roasting, braising, simmering, and grilling. It is still good quality but is not the superior quality of prime meat.

Select USDA steak and emblem

Select meat (slight marbling) is good for grilling, marinating, and braising. But due to its lack of marbling, it may lack the tenderness present in higher grades of meat.

Standard and commercial meat is still okay for consumption but has very little marbling. Cuts of standard and commercial meat can be found as store-branded meat or are sold without a grade.

Utility, cutter, and canner meat are rarely sold at the retail level. Instead, this grade of meat is used in processed foods and for ground meat.

Is USDA Prime Beef Grass-Fed?

USDA prime beef is sometimes grass-fed, but not always. You’ll notice that most grass-fed beef is not graded by the USDA. This is because, to avoid a lower rating, many producers will skip the optional USDA grading process. Some grass-fed beef has a harder time earning a ‘prime’ rating due to the lower amount of marbling. However, this doesn’t mean all prime beef is absent of the necessary marbling to produce the signature flavor of prime meat.

Why Prime Grade Beef?

Preparing prime steak

While all of the USDA grades are safe for consumption, nothing comes close to the quality, tenderness, and juiciness of Prime Grade Beef. It is most often produced from young, well-fed cattle and is characterized by its abundant marbling and incredible flavor and tenderness, making it the most sought-after and delectable grade of meat on the market.

Our Prime Steak

We care so much about the quality of our steak, we put it in our name. It’s our promise to always serve our guests the highest quality USDA Prime steak available in order to provide the best possible dining experience. Call or book online today to make your reservations.