USDA Prime vs Angus Beef: Which Is the Better Choice of Meat?

November 25, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Experience has shown me that the surest way of buying good-quality meat in the US is to watch out for the beef quality assurance certification labels. This has been my little secret to sourcing quality beef since my days in culinary school.

Among the most common certification labels for beef in the US are the USDA prime beef and Angus beef. So, what does each mean when you come across them at the meat counter? Honestly, I wouldn’t say there is a huge difference. However, Prime is the highest beef grading in all the eight grades the USDA uses in the meat industry. But again, both the Angus and USDA Prime are quality beef. 

Never let a butcher sweet-talk you into a rash purchase. In this USDA prime vs. Angus beef comparison article, I’ll analyze what each term means and the differences.

USDA Prime vs Angus

What Is USDA Prime Beef?

Prime isn’t the name of beef. In reality, Prime is the superior quality level assigned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to categorize beef, veal, or lamb of the highest quality in relation to the juiciness, tenderness, and flavor.

You may have heard the terms Prime, Choice, or Select when referring to cuts of meat and have even seen labels with this classification.

The USDA assigns various quality grades to meats from companies that request them. This ranges from Prime, Choice, and Select. The labels are based primarily on parameters of tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, for which the amount and distribution of marbling created by fat in the muscle is observed. The grades of the USDA (Prime, Choice, and Select) are as follows:

USDA Select

This USDA beef is considered a lower grade. It does not have the flavor or texture of the higher ratings since it has very little marbling.

USDA Choice

Choice Beef has extreme variations in marbling, with some cuts being more like Prime and others more like Select. Choice is the most common classification; to find the juiciest cuts look for the ones with the most marbling.

USDA Prime Beef

Prime is the highest rating the USDA assigns to beef. Prime represents the highest degree of marbling and is an elite product. However, it’s not something you’d come across often.

Less than 2% of beef produced in the US has the Prime label. It’s often served in high-end and upscale steakhouses and restaurants. However, you should find them at Costco. I often get them at Albertson’s too.

Raw Meat on a Tray

What Is Angus Beef?

On the other hand, Angus is a type of beef from a special breed of cattle originating from Scotland and certified with the Angus label. Beef with this label are always juicy, tasty, and tender, just the way I like it.

Angus meat is the third most sought-after meat breed after Kobe beef and Wagyu beef. It is the star of restaurateurs who appreciate cooking it for its unparalleled tenderness and renowned marbling.

Behind the name, “Angus beef” hide names such as Aberdeen or Black Angus. The Japanese beef market is one of my favorite places for finding Angus meat. This market is one of the best places to get meat with good marbling.

What Is The Origin Of Angus Beef?

Angus comes from a breed of cattle native to Scotland and, more specifically, to the counties of Angus and Aberdeenshire. This sometimes earns it the nickname “Aberdeen Angus.”

If you really want to follow the process from the slaughterhouse, the coat of our favorite Angus cattle is uniform. It can be of two colors: black (we then speak of “black Angus”) or dark red (“red Angus”).

Typically, Angus cows are quite stocky: medium-sized. It can weigh around 1,000 to 1,300 pounds. It is relatively short on legs for a massive appearance. It has no horns, which makes it easy to identify.

Angus vs. USDA Prime Beef: What’s the Difference?

If you want to know whether to choose the prime or Angus, the bad news is there’s not a lot of difference in quality between these two types of beef.

The good news is that you can choose both or any of the two if your budget limits you. For me, Prime is the best quality type of beef to buy. Again, beef from Angus cows is usually of high quality and is usually also labeled “Prime.”

Even the certified Black Angus meat is divided into two categories, “Prime” and “Choice,” by the USDA. However, Angus meat is healthier: of course, it provides its share of protein, but it is also rich in Omegas 3 and 6, as well as vitamin A.

The fats in Angus beef are unsaturated, which will be pretty beneficial for those with high blood pressure. It’s also said to help decrease the risk of blood clotting. So, it’s an excellent option for older people, those with obesity, and others with a history of heart issues.

However, know that USDA beef, the Prime especially, has a lot of marbling. It’s taken from younger beef cattle. It’s a high-quality beef seldom found outside of top steakhouses, hotels, and posh restaurants. 

Also, Prime is the highest graded beef on the USDA scale in the meat industry. Maybe that helps drive the point home. However, that is not to discredit the quality of Angus beef. 

Strip Steaks

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Is Certified Angus Beef Better Than USDA Prime?

Honestly, it’s hard to say whether Angus is better than USDA Prime. I would say it boils down to preference. I’ll always ask you to go for the USDA Prime if you’re torn between these choices. Prime is the highest beef grading in all the eight grades the USDA uses in the meat industry.

Is Angus Beef The Same As Prime?

Although both have similar quality and strict certifications, real Angus cattle is from the Aberdeen Angus cattle. Meanwhile, USDA Prime meats are beef which butchers take from young, well-fed cattle. Sometimes they’re taken from grass-fed cows but not always. Just remember, Angus beef can be Prime but a USDA Prime can never be called Angus beef.

Which is Better, USDA Choice or Certified Angus?

Choice meat is usually a juicy cut with a lot of marbling. However, Angus meat is graded better on the USDA scale. This doesn’t mean Choice is flat out better than certified Angus. You have to know that certified Angus doesn’t dwell on the quality of the meat but the origin and maturity of the cattle.

Is USDA Prime The Highest Quality?

Yes, USDA Prime is regarded as the highest USDA grade of beef. It is considered the top 2% of meat on the market. It has abundant marbling and the highest grading according to the USDA grading system.

Final Thoughts

Tender with high marbling; that’s what you get when you purchase Angus meat. Meanwhile, USDA Prime-certified meat is also tender, but it’s pretty juicy and flavorful too. They both have intramuscular fat, which gives the meat a marbled, melt-in-the-mouth taste. Then they have good usable lean meat.

USDA prime refers to the quality of a cut of meat from any well-fed young cattle. Angus is meat from a special breed of cattle which is the Aberdeen Angus.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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