America is one of the largest producers of beef, and with so many beef cuts, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you went to a butcher shop and wondered whether to get Angus or USDA Prime, you aren’t the only one.
I’ve been on a carnivore diet for more than a decade, and during this time, I’ve tried pretty much all kinds of meat, but beef remains my favorite. I’ve been buying and cooking different beef cuts for years, and Angus and Prime are two of my favorite.
Today I’ll explain everything you should know about these beef cuts, so you can choose the best one for you.
Summary of the Key Findings
- USDA inspectors measure meat characteristics and label meat based on a beef grading scale.
- Beef can be graded Prime, Choice beef, or Select beef.
- Certified Angus beef comes from the Angus cattle breed and is often given the Prime category on the USDA’s grading system.
USDA Prime isn’t actually beef. This term refers to a grading system used by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which defines beef characteristics. Highly-trained USDA meat graders label the meat using subjective assessment and electronic measuring instruments.
USDA prime beef industry label refers to a standard of meat and not a type. It’s based on the quality and meat marbling.
USDA grades beef based on its flavor, juiciness, and tenderness. They also check how much usable lean meat is left on the cow after it’s partially butchered. All these criteria are used to label meat Prime, Choice, or Select.
Any breed of cattle that’s grass or grain-fed can get USDA Prime label, but factors such as age, diet, and cattle genetics are considered. Prime is USDA’s highest grade, and it needs to have an abundance of marbling, which makes the meat super flavorful.
USDA Prime breed of cattle spend their days grazing on pastures and aren’t cooped up in feedlots. The animals are given a lot of attention and care and have access to natural light and air.
“The age of each animal is evaluated using dentition techniques by trained personnel. Animals that are identified as being 30 months of age or older are clearly marked with numerous designations. The color of each animal is also observed by trained personnel. Animals with a predominantly black hide color greater than 51% black can get Angus label.”
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The USDA Scale
USDA Prime Beef
USDA Prime beef is the highest grade a beef can get. It comes from young cattle and has a lot of marbling, which makes it extra flavorful. This kind of high-quality beef is usually found in high-end restaurants. You may also find it at a local butcher shop but expect a high price tag.
Beef cattle don't need to be grass-fed to receive USDA prime classification because grain-fed cattle make the cows fatter, which results in better marbling.
Read More: Is USDA Prime Beef Grass-Fed?
USDA Choice Beef
USDA Choice is the second-highest USDA grade. It’s also very flavorful and tender but has less marbling compared to USDA Prime, which means a lower fat content.
Because USDA Choice has lower fat, it won’t have the same juicy quality as USDA Prime beef.
USDA Select Beef
USDA Select is the most widely produced kind of beef. It’s leaner compared to Choice and Prime beef, so it has less tenderness and marbling, which means it isn’t as flavorful.
Marinating or basting the select beef can regain some tenderness and juiciness.
Angus beef is the name of the breed of cattle that the meat comes from. Unlike Select, Choice, and Prime beef, Angus isn’t related to the meat quality but the cattle breed. Still, this kind of beef is usually highly graded in the USDA grading system because of the way the cattle are raised.
Angus is also called Aberdeen Angus, and it originally comes from Scotland. This breed can withstand harsh winters and hot summers, which makes them very resilient, and this shows in the beef quality.
Angus beef is rich in marbling and has juicy flavors. Female Angus cattle grow to be around 550 pounds, while males grow to be 850 pounds.
Angus cattle produce meat rich in marbling, which is another reason why it’s highly graded. Apart from the genetics, the diet and cattle raising practices dictate the Angus beef quality.
Angus vs. Black Angus
Angus vs. Black Angus store brand meat isn’t actually different.
Until the 20th century, all Angus cows had black fur. But, at the turn of the 20th century, red Angus began appearing in the herds. Red and black Angus cattle are completely the same, and there’s no reason to choose specifically black Angus. Also, red is a much rarer Angus breed.
Still, Black Angus is the most popular breed in the US and certified Angus beef is sold at high prices at butcher shops and restaurants.
USDA Prime vs. Angus
If you’re wondering if you should get USDA Prime of certified Angus beef, the good news is that it’s possible to get both at the same time. Meat from Angus cows is of the highest quality, so it often gets the Prime grade label.
Here are the differences between USDA Prime and Angus beef:
- Certification — Certified Angus beef comes from Angus cattle. This is good-quality meat and has been certified by the American Angus Association, and meets standards for flavor, tenderness, and juiciness . USDA beef labeled Prime doesn’t come from a certain breed but is graded on the USDA beef grading system. It's the highest grade of beef, and it’s graded by an agency authorized by the US Department of Agriculture.
- Origin — Certified Angus beef can only come from cows born and raised in the US. USDA Prime can come from any country in the world, as long as there are inspections in place to ensure beef safety.
- Fat amount — Certified Angus beef Prime has less than 2% of marbling. USDA beef labeled Prime has 18% of fat.
- Cost — Angus beef is more expensive than Prime USDA Beef because there are stricter guidelines for animal raising practices.
Is Angus considered Prime?
Yes, Angus is considered Prime. Most Angus cuts are labeled as either Prime meat or Choice on USDA’s scale.
Is Prime the Highest Quality Meat?
Yes, Prime is the highest quality meat. It has the most marbling based on the USDA rating system, so ground beef is rich, tender, and juicy.
Why Is Angus Beef So Expensive?
Angus beef is so expensive because it’s naturally raised beef of the highest quality. It has top of line diet, genetics, and raising practices.
Angus or USDA Prime: What Should You Choose?
You won’t make a mistake with either of these meat cuts. You won’t even have to choose in many cases, as certified Angus beef is graded Prime most of the time.
The main difference to know is that USDA Prime is a label on USDA’s beef grading scale, while Angus is a cattle breed. In most cases, the cattle eat grass and have plenty of marbling, so you’ll end up juicy and tender beef cuts.
If you’re looking for Angus or USDA Prime cuts, check out ButcherBox, a meat delivery company focusing on transparency and sustainability. Their premium cuts are 100% organic, antibiotic and hormone-free.
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