The differences in grades of beef include the fat and marbling of the selection, age and diet of the animal, and where consumers can typically find the beef. The three grades consumers generally found in restaurants and stores are prime, choice and select, with standard or commercial grades found as store brand meat.
The prime grade is beef that has quality fat and generous marbling. The beef comes from young cattle that are well-fed and healthy. Because of the fat in the cut, prime grade beef is suitable for grilling, broiling or roasting and doesn't need additional cooking liquid. Many prime cuts served in hotels and restaurants.
Choice grade beef also features abundant marbling and is of high quality. It lacks the quantity of fat found in prime grades, but still produces a tender, juicy cut that can be cooked with dry heat. Even the lower end cuts in this grade are tender when braised or grilled carefully to avoid over-cooking. This grade can be found in stores and premium markets.
Beef in the select grade is leaner than prime or choice cuts, and it doesn't feature the rich marbling of the higher grades. This meat is still tender and flavorful, but less so than prime grades. These selections are not of lower quality than their counterparts, and certain cuts can be grilled or broiled to highlight their flavor and texture. Other cuts should be marinated or braised for best results. Select grade meats are available in most grocery stores and markets.