In the present study, a national consumer evaluation was conducted for beef tenderness on USDA Select strip loin steaks of known Warner-Bratzler shear (WBS) force values, ranging from tough (> 5.7 kg) to tender (< 3.0 kg), and to assess the monetary value that consumers place on tenderness by determining the average price a consumer would pay for a steak in three tenderness categories. Three supermarkets in each of five metropolitan areas (Baltimore, MD/Washington D.C.; Chicago, IL; Dallas/Fort Worth, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and Lubbock, TX) were selected to represent a wide range of income, education, and ethnicity at each city. Five trained research teams traveled to the cities to collect data during the same 10-d period. Consumers (n = 734; minimum of 15 consumers/panel, three panels/store, three stores/city, five cities) were asked to evaluate samples from each tenderness classification (tender, intermediate, or tough) for overall and tenderness acceptability, overall quality, beef flavor, juiciness, tenderness, how much they would pay for the steak ($17.14, 14.28, or 10.98/kg), if they would pay more than current market price if guaranteed tender, and to estimate the number of meals in a 2-wk period that included beef. The consumers were 52% light beef users, consuming 0 to 8 meals containing beef in 2 wk, 41% heavy beef users (greater than 12 meals/2 wk), and 6% moderate beef users (9 to 12 meals/2 wk). Consumer tenderness acceptability increased as WBS values decreased (P < 0.05). The transition in consumer perception from tender to tough beef occurred between 4.3 and 4.9 kg of WBS based on > or = 86% consumer acceptability. Consumer acceptability for tenderness decreased from 86% at 4.3 kg for a "slightly tender" rating to 59% at 4.9 kg for a "slightly tough" rating. Data from the present study suggested that consumer WBS tenderness values of < 3.0, 3.4, 4.0, 4.3, and > 4.9 kg would result in 100, 99, 94, 86, and 25% customer satisfaction for beef tenderness, respectively. Seventy-eight percent of the consumers would purchase steaks if the retailer guaranteed them to be tender. The retail steak value differences found in this study would result in the opportunity for a premium to be paid for a guaranteed tender (< 3.0 kg WBS value) carcass of $76.26 vs the toughest (> 5.7 kg) classification. A premium of $66.96 could be paid to the tender classification carcasses vs the tough (> 4.9 kg) classification carcasses, and a premium of $36.58 could be paid for the tender classification carcasses vs the intermediate (> 3.0 to < 4.6 kg) classification carcasses. Results from the present study show that consumers can segregate differences in beef tenderness and that consumers are willing to pay more for more-tender beef.