What is Choice Beef?

Choice: Meat Quality Grade

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By Hamiltonham (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Choice Beef?

The word "choice" is a quality grade given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to describe very high quality beef and other meats (veal and lamb) in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavor. Choice is the second-highest meat quality grade, with prime being the highest.

This meat quality grade is given based on a combination of marbling and maturity. Marbling (or flecks of fat within the meat) adds flavor, and younger beef produces the most tender meat.

Therefore, the "choice" grade will be given to meat that comes from very young beef with moderate marbling, but not as much marbling as meat that has been graded prime.

Choice Meat: Very High Quality

In the choice category, the best cuts of beef will tend to come from the rib and loin primal cuts. Cuts such as these can be prepared using dry-heat cooking methods such as roasting and grilling.

You could get away with grilling or roasting some less tender cuts, like rump or round, but take care not to overcook them. For maximum tenderness, these other cuts are best cooked using a moist heat cooking technique such as braising.

The "USDA Choice" Grade

Finally, cuts of meat that have been given a choice grade will be marked with a purple stamp showing the words "USDA Choice" inside a shield symbol. While this mark will only be visible on the primal cuts, the retail packaging will feature the grade mark.

It is illegal to misrepresent the grade of meat or the shield symbol, or to use misleading language to describe the quality of the meat.

Note that meat grading is entirely optional, and meat producers who request a quality grade for their meat must pay for the service. This differs from the system of meat inspection, which is required by law, but is not concerned with quality or tenderness.

Also performed by the USDA (and paid for with tax dollars), meat inspection ensures that the meat you buy is wholesome, safe and has been properly packaged and labeled.