Cattle In The Field

Meat Grading

Meat grading in Japan is very strict. Therefore, Wagyu cattle, or Japanese cattle, are graded under stringent rating conditions. Cattle in the US are also graded to reflect their quality. Because the Japanese Black is primarily used in Wagyu beef production, its grade is of particular importance. According to Japanese grading standards, this beef cattle, on average, rates BMS 5.6.

Eating Characteristics and Cutability

In the United States, the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, has established grade standards that are designed to facilitate the marketing of beef. Quality grading in both the US and Japan reflect the following eating characteristics:

  • Tenderness
  • Juiciness
  • Flavor

On the other hand, the yield grade in both the US and Japan refers to the cutability of the carcass.

USDA Quality Grades

In the US, the USDA assigns eight quality beef grades. They are as follows:

  • USDA Prime
  • USDA Choice
  • USDA Select
  • USDA Standard
  • USDA Commercial
  • USDA Utility
  • USDA Cutter
  • USDA Canner

Supermarket Grading Labels

In the US, the first three quality grades are labeled in supermarkets on the product’s packages. USDA Prime is designated as the top grade, USDA Choice is second in rank, and USDA Select is the third or least desirable grade for steaks. Generally, a USDA standard rating is selected for stew beef.

Standard and Commercial Grades

Both standard and commercial beef grades are normally not labeled because they have little marbling—the qualifying factor in quality. Standard or commercial grades go unlabeled or are marketed by a grocery’s house brand.

US Prime

The best kind of beef in the US is Prime, which means it comes from steers, or male cattle. The beef usually features a great deal of marbling. Therefore, it is normally considered the best of the beef featured in the marketplace, and ranks in the upper three percent of beef sold. To cook the meat, you only need a hot pan and salt and pepper. Generally, this quality beef does not need a complementary condiment, like steak sauce, to support its superior taste.

Choice Beef

Choice beef is both more economical and affordable and is an appealing alternative to prime beef. The higher quality end of choice beef features moderate marbling while the lower quality end of this grade is noted by its small amount of marbling. To enhance the taste, cook this meat with a hot pan, salt, pepper, and butter.

Select Beef

Select beef is the lowest labeled grade in grocery stores. It is also less marbled than prime and choice. Therefore this grade beef tends to be leaner and dryer. For easier chewing, select a cut from the line or rib sections, as they are tenderer. A toucher cut in this cut, such as chuck, is often used for making a slow-cooking stew.

How Enhance the Flavor of a Lower Quality Steak

Because select beef cuts lack the preferred marbling, you can enhance the beef by marinating it. Therefore, prepare the steak with glutamate-based sauces, such as Worcestershire or soy, about thirty minutes before cooking. The salt in the sauce tenderizes the beef and makes it juicy by breaking down the muscle fibers. Glutamates (types of amino acids) give the beef an umami or savory beefy taste.


Cattle age directly impacts a meat’s tenderness. As cattle mature, the meat will toughen as well. Therefore, grading for maturity covers five grades, or A through E,
as follows:

A = 9 to 30 months
B = 30 to 42 months
C = 42 to 72 months
D = 72 to 96 months
E = more than 96 months

Marbling – A Major Determinant

Within this maturity grouping, the marbling, or amount of intramuscular fat, is the major determinant of grade quality. Therefore, beef cuts with extra marbling are more likely to be flavorful, juicy, and tender than those cuts that do not display as much marbling.

An Example of Grading for Quality

Because marbling is so important, ten marbling scores are employed for quality grading. Both marbling and maturity determine the USDA quality rating. For instance, a carcass with an A grade in maturity and a small amount of marbling would usually be rated as USDA Choice.

Maturity Ratings for Quality

As a general gauge, the grades represented by Prime, Choice, Select, and Standard USDA beef are given to beef from young cattle – either an A or B maturity rating. However, a B maturity grade does not meet the requirements for Select.

Grades for Older Carcasses

Normally, the Commercial, Utility, Cutter, and Canner ratings are made up of carcasses derived from cattle that are older, or C, D, or E maturity ratings. Carcasses from bullocks, or “A” maturity bulls, are eligible for grading under the USDA classifications of Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, and Utility. Mature bulls in the US cannot be evaluated for quality grading standards.

USDA Yield Grades

Again yield grades as based on cutability. This is classified as the combined or percentage of CTBRC, or closely trimmed, boneless retail cuts. These cuts originate from the loin, round, chuck, or rib. The yield is a projection of the amount of edible and lean meat from a carcass. Yield grades are ranked 1 through 5, or as follows:

1 = over 52.3% CTBRC
2 = 50 to 52.3% CTBRC
3 = 47.7 to 50% CTBRC
4 = 45.4 to 47.7% CTBRC
5 = below 45.4% BTBRC

Yield Grade Components

In the US, the yield grade is calculated by assessing the following components:

  • The external thickness of fat over the ribeye area
  • The ribeye area and carcass weight
  • The percentage of kidney, pelvic and heart fat or %KPH
  • The hot carcass weight
  • Fat Thickness

The fat thickness is measured, beginning at a point that is three-fourths the distance of the ribeye’s length – from the chine bone (or the backbone attached to the rib roast). This one measurement reasonably predicts the fatness of the carcass.

The Ribeye Area and Carcass Weight

The ribeye area, as it related to the carcass weight, is used for yield grading purposes to show differences in cutability – differences that are reflected by muscularity. The ribeye area typically ranges from around nine to 17 square inches among carcasses of similar weights. The area can be calculated using a plastic grid.

The %KPH

The %KPH (kidney, pelvic, and heart) represents the deposits of fat that surround the kidney, heart, and pelvic cavity – normally left during slaughtering, which affect cutability. Most beef carcasses maintain one percent to four percent of the carcass weight that is defined by kidney, pelvic, or heart fat.

The Yield Grade Formula

The formula used for determining yield grade is as follows:
YG = 2.5 + (2.5 x adjusted fat thickness in inches) +
(.20 of KPH%) –
(.32 x ribeye area in square inches) +
(.0038 x hot carcass weight in pounds)

The Hot Carcass Weight

The hot carcass weight of an animal is its weight immediately after slaughter.

The Grading System for Wagyu Cattle in Japan

Besides the above grading system established by the USDA, you also can gain a better understanding of quality and yield ratings by exploring the Japanese beef grading system. Again, the standards established for grading represent a yield grade and quality grade. Therefore, for a grade of “A5,” “A” is considered the yield grade while “5” denotes the quality grade.

How the Yield Grade Is Calculated

Like the US, the yield grade in Japan is used to determine cutability (or the cut of the meat obtained from a specific part of the steer’s body). Therefore, grading is denoted as follows:

Grade A = Above standard
Grade B = Standard
Grade C = Below standard

The Beef Marbling Standard or BMS

Marbling, which represents the thin strips or flecks of fat seen in beef, is classified into five categories, with 5 being the highest grade. Moreover, the five grades are rated 1 through 12 by the Beef Marbling Standard or BMS.
Evaluating Marbling – How the Ratings Assessed

The ratings for the BMW are calculated as follows:
Grade BMW Number –
5: 8-12 = Excellent
4: 5-7 = Good
3: 3-4 = Average
2: 2 = Below average
1: 1 = Poor

Other Grading Categories

Grading Categories, which are evaluated visually, also include the following:

  • The color and brightness of Wagyu
  • The firmness and texture of the beef
  • The luster of the meat
  • The quality of fat

The above categories are assessed visually. Each of these classifications are graded as follows:

5 = Excellent
4 = Good
3 = Average
2 = Below average
1 = Poor

Quality Grades – Evaluating the Meat Further

The quality grade is also assessed further. For instance, when calculating the quality grade, the lowest grade from the four categories is recorded. Therefore, if one category is given a quality grade of 4 and all the others were given a 5, the overall quality grade is designated as 4.

A Premium Quality Beef in the US and Japan
The grading that is used by the USDA and the system used by Japanese graders lead to ratings that give Wagyu beef a premium reputation. Supporting the meat’s high marks in the US and Japan is the beef’s juicy flavor and smooth texture. The meat also features a good balance of fat. All these attributes make Wagyu beef a popular choice of steak lovers worldwide.