Q: What's the difference between "select" beef and "choice" beef? Why are these labels sometimes on packages of meat, but sometimes not?
A: Most beef sold in this country is graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Grading is optional, however, which is why some beef is not labeled. The USDA grades beef for quality by evaluating traits related to tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. These traits are marbling, color, and maturity. There are four USDA beef grades typically available to consumers: Prime, Choice, Select, and Standard.
USDA Prime accounts for less than 4% of all beef sold nationally and is typically sold to steak houses. It's the most expensive of all the grades. It makes for the most flavorful, tender cuts, but also has the highest fat content.
USDA Choice beef is also very flavorful, tender, and juicy, but is less marbleized than Prime. Virtually all of the beef we sell here at Bringhurst is USDA Choice (except grass fed beef, for which there are currently no grading standards). USDA Select beef is noticeably less tender, and can be fairly tough and chewy when cooked by a dry heat method like grilling or broiling. It accounts for much of the beef sold through grocery stores.
USDA Standard beef is considerably tougher and less flavorful. It accounts for much of the low-priced beef found at discount markets and dollar stores.
While these grades are an indication of marbling, color, and maturity, there are many other factors that determine quality. How and where the animals are raised, packaging methods, distribution, and dry aging are other factors that can make the difference between an ordinary steak and a superb one. We take all of these factors into account when we source our beef, which is why we’re able to consistently offer high-quality products.
Choosing the right cut is just as important as choosing the right grade. For example, if you’re firing up the grill, steaks like T-bones and rib eyes are excellent choices while leaner cuts could end up tough and dry. Although grass fed beef is not graded by USDA, it is typically leaner than conventional beef; you’ll get the best results using shorter cooking times and lower temperatures. You can find tips for cooking grass fed beefon our website.
It's important to note that the taste, tenderness, and juiciness of meat you buy can vary greatly even within a single grade. The animal's diet, use of antibiotics, time in transit, packaging choices, dry aging and other factors can be the difference between an ordinary Choice steak and a superb one.
There are a lot of factors to consider, but at Bringhurst help is always available. Our experienced butchers will help you find the cuts that are best for your needs, and might even introduce you to some you hadn’t considered.