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"Premium Choice" meat -- what does that mean?

  • CindyJ Jul 24, 2011 11:29 AM
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I did some shopping today at my local Fresh Market. I bought a couple of nice-looking Porterhouse steaks that were tagged as "Premium Choice" in the meat counter. Does that designation mean something specific, or is it a description fabricated by the store to make shoppers think they're getting something better than just plain old choice?

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  1. I've not heard this one, but my money would be on it being a term made up by the seller or supplier. The USDA is the agency that grades beef, and they have no "premium" designation. That being said, some pieces of "choice" beef will be nicer than others. If the steaks looked well and evenly marbled, you did get a "premium" product, even if that designation has no official backing. Now, if they're charging more for products so labeled than they are for those with official USDA choice labeling, I'd be asking who makes the decision about what qualifies as "premium."

    1. Yes, it's code for "Premium Price"

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        You could say that about many (most) of the products sold at The Fresh Market.

      2. "Premium Choice" means whatever the retailer wants it to mean. Or less.

        1. it's the same as marking something, "Special". It means nothing. USDA grades are Prime, Choice, Select and Commercial. Most stores carry Select, better stores and Costco carry Choice. Angus is another scam. True Angus has to be designated by the Angus board and any meat processor pays for that. Your best bet is to find Choice. If you're in a high-end market, you might find Prime, but it is very expensive and not necessarily the best in the case.

          Bottom line. Ask the meat person what is the USDA grade.

          3 Replies
          1. re: awm922

            Costco also carries Prime.

            1. re: robertesden

              Wow, really? I would like to find one near me that does. Haven't found it in CT or MA. Just choice. I would love a Prime Filet or Delmonico.

            2. re: awm922

              Very good advice

            3. The cynical view is that it means nothing, but what the supermarket presumably intends to suggest is that they're selling selected/better pieces of choice meat. Whether it's true or not, I don't know, nor whether it's worth any premium they might be charging for it, but given the overall vagueness of the basic grading system, there's a lot of variation within the basic grade levels so the concept isn't absurd.

              1. I decided to check out The Fresh Market's web site, and here's what it says about "premium choice":

                "Premium Choice
                The Fresh Market’s Premium Choice includes only the Top 10% of all beef in the United States. This marbling standard produces the juiciest, most savory beef imaginable. Add our aging requirements and steak trim standards, and our Premium Choice is regarded as the very best beef in the country!"

                I think that only adds to the confusion. From what I can gather, less than 2% of the nation's beef is prime; about 45% is labeled choice. So I don't get their claim at all! How can any meat labeled "choice" be "regarded as the very best beef in the country"? Isn't that intentionally deceitful and misleading?

                16 Replies
                1. re: CindyJ

                  "Isn't that intentionally deceitful and misleading?"

                  Probably. Much might depend on how strong consumer protection legislation is in the part of the world where they are. Where I am, they would get away with it as being such meaningless guff that the ordinary punter would see it as just advertising puffery, not a serious claim. But then , where I am, words like "premium" "prime" and "choice" are regarded as just meaningless puffery.

                  1. re: Harters

                    As applied to beef, "prime" and "choice" are legally defined in the US, albeit vaguely, but certainly subjective statements like "the very best beef in the country" are classic "puffery" in the eyes of US law, too.

                  2. re: CindyJ

                    I find that very misleading. My question again is who gets to decide what is premium? Yes, some certified choice meat is more marbled, better trimmed, and more nicely aged than others. But if the company selling it to you is the one doing the labeling, you're very right to be casting a suspicious eye on it.

                    Sorry, that should be in reply to cindy's follow-up.

                    1. re: FrauMetzger

                      ... and, predictably, the company that serves the best choice meat in the country doesn't bother labeling it "premium." (costco, in case you're wondering).

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        Well, being a retail butcher myself, I think my beef is pretty darn good! Honestly though, we are getting the first Costco in our area in the near future, and I can't wait to see what it is that everyone loves so much. I've heard nothing but positive about them.

                        1. re: FrauMetzger

                          yours probably is. Costco buys up the entire stock of "best in the country" choice beef. Being big, they can afford that. That said, you may have a supplier that, bein' small, costco couldn't afford to look at, in terms of sourcing anything. [they do have a single farm/plant supplying green olives, in spain. at least, that's what the packaging says. since it's from europe, i'll believe it.]

                          Sides, when I says best in the country, you know that whomever does the study can't afford to go into every butcher in the country, ya? (they can try all the supermarket chains, however, and probably do.)

                          1. re: Chowrin

                            I was just being facetious, and you're right about big companies snapping up the best of the best. All of my beef is choice, and some pieces are inevitably nicer than others. But what I wouldn't give for some of the prime beef that they always tells me has gone to the larger operations.

                            1. re: FrauMetzger

                              i'll take choice any day. I like lean beef.

                              1. re: FrauMetzger

                                Do you have one or more farmers or small abbetoirs in your area that you might be able to partner with? My corner butcher sells exclusively prime meats despite only having two locations; they apparently do so by local partnering. The farmer and/or abbetoir gets a better price than they'd get from the big companies, you get a unique product and the customer gets more choices. Everyone is happier.

                                1. re: nokitchen

                                  Be sure that prime beef has the USDA stamp on it. Otherwise, your corner butcher is just using a marketing ploy.

                                  I would suspect it's USDA Prime, but remember that less than 3% of all beef earns that stamp.

                      2. re: CindyJ

                        "regarded as the very best beef in the country"

                        This is not true and the company is no where near country wide.

                        It is good beef, but US PRIME is best domestic beef and some imports, like KOBE are even better. Some KOBE and WAGYU is grown domestically, I have not tasted them.

                        1. re: newbernbears

                          Kobe is not grown domestically.

                          Very little Kobe is imported and until the middle of 2012 it was not imported at all.

                          Kobe is a specific term like Champagne. To say you drank a California or Italian Champagne would be a false statement. There is no such thing. Same thing for folks who believe Kobe is grown in the US. It isn't.

                          1. re: JayL

                            What you say is true of course (up to a point) but it's also misleading to those who are trying to get at the actual characteristics of the product and are unaware of legalized place names that have been adopted to benefit a certain group of producers and exclude others.

                            The terms "Kobe" and "Champagne" and dozens of other such names (San Marzano tomatoes and Roquefort cheese for example) are geographical place names protected to some degree by law and/or custom, ie they have been declared by a government action to be "trademarks;" those laws have been put in place by legislators at the behest of the producers in those regions to help them maintain a monopoly and get a better price for their product, since producers elsewhere can't use that name. They don't necessarily mean that the same product produced elsewhere is less good.

                            Champagne is a bad example, since that place name is not protected in the US, so California growers can legally/legitimately use it for wines with certain defined characteristics. Of course the buyer needs to be aware the wine is from California, not Champagne, but calling it California champagne should cover that. In this case, the term is being used to denote a type of wine, not its place of origin. Many California champagnes have shown themselves to be competitive with Champagne.

                            There is no reason why beef substantially identical to "Kobe" could not be produced elsewhere. This is not to say that it has been so far, but it may happen. What it might be called is another question.

                            1. re: johnb

                              But as you "should" know, as someone who says they are in the business, Kobe is more than a place that lends it's moniker to the packaging. It is more than a breed.

                              So, Kobe beef was not allowed in the US until mid-2012.

                              Waygu isn't Kobe. Not to say all Waygu isn't any good...some of it is...some of it is as lean as USDA Select beef.

                              1. re: JayL

                                I'm not "in the business" and don't recall saying anything to suggest I am.

                                Kobe indeed may be more than just Waygu, but unfortunately a lot of that "more" is hype, not reality that lands on the plate and could, for example, be distinguished in a blind tasting. And that is the key to this and so many other similar arguments.

                                All products are perceived in part based on their actual physical characteristics and in part on their reputation and labeling. It's everywhere -- many people insist that Shell gasoline is better for their car than Brand X, even though they come from the same refinery and the same tank. Kobe lends an additional aura of certainty about the quality of the product, but that same quality might be available in beef not labeled Kobe but produced with substantially identical processes.

                                1. re: johnb

                                  It was someone else who claimed to be a butcher not you.

                                  Have you ever seen a lean Waygu ribeye? I have. I have also seen well marbled Waygu, but never as well marbled as the ONE Kobe steak I've layed my eyes upon.

                                  Yep, I've only ever seen but a single Kobe steak. A few months ago, imported (obviously), and $180...like I said, I "saw" it...I didn't "eat" it. LoL

                      3. Cindy,

                        Go with the USDA grading: Prime, Choice, Select, in that order, Prime is best. Forget all else, too confusing. I worked for them 4 years (butcher). Very good beef, but still USDA choice, end of story.

                        Allen

                        1. Check the marbling. Usually the "premium" choice cuts they carry behind the counter have better marbling than the regular choice cuts they put in the aisle.

                          1. I agree that it can be confusing (and I used to work for a packer) but there is a reason for Stores to run their own "brand". Take a look at page 2 of this link. http://www.beefresearch.org/CMDocs/Be...

                            See how much ground Choice covers compared to Prime and Select? In 2011 the % of Choice being graded ranged from 67-59. That's a lot of Choice! So when Fresh Market says they only have the top 10% that really does mean something.

                            Boutique/speciality items are in and beef is getting on the band wagon. The packer wins because they get paid based on a USDA formula and guaranteed tonnage. The store wins because they get the top of choice and can toot that no one else has their brand.

                            I'm not saying that all house brands are the same. But some Stores know that competition is fierce and people want good beef and they want to provide that. And of course on the other end you have some Stores that are more price conscience.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: aziline

                              They sell Hereford cattle, that is biggest difference for them. It is very good beef. I cut meat there 4 years.

                            2. Like most folks have said, it's a store moniker and has nothing to do with an actual USDA grade of beef.

                              Any competent consumer will pay the package designations no mind, open their eyes, and actually LOOK at the beef in the package to make their purchase decision.

                              I've seen Select that should have graded Choice, and I've seen Choice that should have graded Prime or that borders on Select. I choose steaks by looking at the meat itself.

                              Even when I buy whole rib loins...I look at each loin in the case before making my purchase. I don't just pick up a loin stamped "Choice" and go with it.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: JayL

                                What is a "rib loin"?

                                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                  No such thing. Rib is whole Rib eye with bone. Loin is bone-in Sirloin, Porterhouse, T-bone.

                                  1. re: newbernbears

                                    Yes there is such a thing.

                                    A loin is just the long pieces of meat located in various parts of the back and usually along the spine & ribs.

                                    Where the rib steaks come from is the rib loin.

                                    A rib eye does not include the bone...it is a rib steak devoid of bone and deckle. A rib eye is nothing more than the "eye" of the rib steak.

                                    I have purchased literally hundreds of rib LOINS. It is nothing more than the whole loin before cutting into individual rib steaks.

                                    And like I said...I look at each one until I find the ones I want to purchase. It's easy to see which has more marbling.

                                    1. re: JayL

                                      Must be a local term.

                                      Trade terms and nicknames vary a lot from region to region. Always good to know what something is called in another area.

                              2. There is a good deal of misinformation in this thread. USDA does indeed grade meat into much finer distinctions than just "Choice," "Prime," and so on. This relates to marbling (the most important determinant of beef quality grade) and other characteristics. See this link:

                                http://meat.tamu.edu/beefgrading/

                                Nevertheless, the meat is only stamped with prime, choice etc. grades (also yield grades). Finer distinctions are not stamped onto the carcass.

                                Many stores have their own programs related to the quality of beef, and claim to choose the higher levels of choice. Certified Angus Beef is similar. As to Fresh Market or any other specific program, their beef may well be chosen properly and sold honestly, and be of a higher quality than "choice" that might be offered at the competitor down the street. Or it may not. At that point, you are trusting them, as well as the inspector who graded the meat in the first place. As always, it pays to know what you are doing and select the best yourself.