We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

What Does That USDA Label on Your Meat Mean?

A package of meat has a USDA Choice label.
Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com

Have you ever been searching for a steak in the store and noticed several choices of the same cut? It can be confusing if you don’t know what the USDA labels on your meat mean. After all, a ribeye is a ribeye, right?

Technically, yes, but the quality can make a difference. That’s why understanding the difference between USDA Choice, Prime, and Select can help you pick a better piece of meat.

The USDA sets specific standards for every piece of meat, but some are still better than others. That’s why they implemented “grades” based on things like quality, marbling, and tenderness.

Gorilla Grip Heavy Duty Meat Tenderizer

For tenderizing those tougher cuts.

USDA Select meat isn’t exactly “low quality”, but it typically refers to leaner cuts of beef that often need marinating. Select cuts typically benefit from cooking methods like braising or low-and-slow practices that allow them to tenderize over time.

If you see a USDA Choice label, you can expect a decent amount of marbling and great flavor. Choice cuts are typically less expensive than Prime, and while you can get excellent Choice steaks and tenderloins, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by going with cuts like chuck roasts, which can be braised to perfection.

USDA Prime is the top of the line when it comes to meat grades. Prime beef has a lot of excellent marbling (fat) and is known for its great flavor. Most restaurants use Prime meat, and they’re happy to market it so their customers know. If you want one of the best steaks of your life, make sure it’s Prime. Fat equals flavor!

You really can’t go wrong with any of these grades as long as you choose the right cooking method for each one. But, understanding what the labels mean can help you choose the right cut for your next dinner.

Stacey Koziel Stacey Koziel
Stacey Koziel is a news writer at LifeSavvy. She's worked as a freelance writer for over ten years, focusing on family and lifestyle content. She also has a background in marketing and social media, and is always eager to talk (and write!) about the latest TikTok trends. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on a single goal: helping you make the most informed purchases possible. Want to know more?