For most grading systems the primary determinant of beef quality degree is based on the Ribeye.
Beef quality grading varies by country. In the US, for example, we follow the USDA grading which are USDA Prime, USDA Choice, USDA Select, while other countries use letters, numbers, or a combination.
Generally, restaurants, supermarkets, and butcher shops tend to mix-and-match these grades but it often confuses more than it helps.
On a global scale, the predominant grading systems are the ones used in the US, the Japanese, and the Australian.
The common indicator across these systems is the BMS or Beef Marbling Score.
So, what is beef marbling score?
First of all, marbling is the white fat that can be seen in the meat muscle evaluated on a cut of beef. Moreover, marbling is vital for quality measurement of tenderness, juiciness, richness, and the Wagyu eating experience. This score is called "beef marbling score".
Notice how the US grades fall short compared to the Japanese system. As you may know, that is because the Wagyu beef is generally considered as the highest grade due to its extreme level of marbling.
The most predominant beef in North America is the Angus beef, and it averages a BMS of 2 but can reach maximums of 5. Grass-Fed beef will grade Choice at best.
Wagyu cattle averages BMS 4-6 but it all depends on genetics, diet, and age, it can go to maximums of BMS 11-12.
Interesting Fact, any beef above BMS 9 is rare and extremely expensive reaching up to the staggering price of over $1,600 for an A5 Whole Tenderloin!!
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), separates beef into eight different grades. The top five are sold to the consumer as cuts of beef, while the three lowest grades are typically used only for processed and canned meats.
Quality beef is usually graded USDA CHOICE and USDA PRIME. The American system focuses on quality grades for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.
Restaurants generally only sell the three highest grades. High-end steakhouses only serve USDA Prime and/or Choice.
A USDA Prime steak will present abundant marbling... there are no official grades above Abundant in the USDA specifications. The terms Very Abundant and Extremely Abundant are arbitrary.
The MSA is a relatively new grading system and it is not very popular (yet). When calculating the MSA grade for beef, several attributes are measured such as meat color, marbling, fat depth, carcass weight, maturity, and pH... it is very comprehensive.
The MSA marbling system is graded on a scale of 100 (no intramuscular fat) to 1190 (extreme amounts of intramuscular fat) in increments of 10.
The older standard is the AUS-MEAT grading, which goes from 0 to 9. It is VERY similar to BMS as it provides an indication of the amount of marbling in beef. It uses a scale of 0 (no intramuscular fat) to 9 (extreme amounts of intramuscular fat) in increments of 1.
So basically an AUS-MEAT Grade 5 will USUALLY be graded MSA 700-800.... kind of confusing.. isn't it?
The Japanese system is the most detailed. The grading of meat is managed by the JMGA (Japanese Meat Grading Association) Beef Carcass Grading Standard.
The overall grade consists of two grades: Yield Grade (designated by a letter) and Quality Grade (designated by a number).
Yield Grade measures the amount of usable meat on a carcass and range from A (the highest) to C (the lowest).
“A” usually means the cow was a full-blood Wagyu. “B” is usually a crossbred Wagyu. “C” is usually for Angus or Wholestain cattle.
Quality grade is calculated by evaluating four different factors:
1) Meat marbling
2) Meat color and brightness
3) Meat firmness and texture and
4) Fat color, luster, and quality.
Each factor is graded from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.
Now that you are an expert in beef grading, the next important step is to prepare that nice and expensive piece of meat to perfection!
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