Wagyu Beef Grades
“Wagyu” Japanese beef
Wagyu Beef Grades. Deliciousness of Japanese black beef consists of the following factors: the taste and flavor that spread out in the mouth, and the smooth texture. Amino acids, including glutamic acid of meat, and the broth which contains inosine acid causes us sense the savoriness, and a lot of oleic acid which is a component of flavor is also much contained in WAGYU. Therefore, “Japanese black beef” is different from other species of cattle, but has a special deliciousness of its own.
Smooth velvety texture, juicy flavor, delicate but rich taste will linger on the palate. These unique characters are created by the large proportion of amino acids (the basis of its umami or savoriness) and unsaturated fat.
In addition, “marbling” affects its taste. We have especially valued marbling on beef as a symbol of high quality so that it is the key to grade beef. However, the marbling fat in the beef is never too rich. Indeed, it will almost melt in your mouth as you put the piece in your mouth. The marbling is the evidence that cattle have been specially raised in the vast, lush wilderness using carefully selected feed, pure water, and clean air.
We are sure that once you taste “Wagyu” Japanese beef, you will find the new value and taste of beef.
— quoted from the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan
What is “WAGYU A5″ ?
Beef cattle is classified into four categories: Japanese Black, Seed Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.
It is Japanese Black of which number of breeding is the largest among them.
There are some grades for WAGYU beef, including the meat of Japanese Black, and A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef.
The standards of grading beef consist of Yield Grade and Quality Grade.
“A” of “A5″ means the yield grade, while “5″ shows the quality grade.
Moreover, the Japanese beef grading system has 5 quality grades. They are (1) marbling, (2) meat color and brightness, (3) firmness and texture of meat, and (4) color, luster and quality of fat.
A brief description of the Japanese beef grading system is as follows.
Yield Grade, in short, is the standard set to evaluate cutability (the proportion of meat obtained from a certain part of cattle body).
According to the yield grade, score A, B or C is determined.
Grade A : above standard
Grade B : standard
Grade C : below standard
Marbling is flecks or thin strips of fat in beef. In Japanese, “SASHI”.
Marbling is classified into five grades.
(The larger the number, the higher the grade. 5 is the largest and the highest.)
Furthermore, these five grades are ranked from No.1 to 12 by BMS (Beef Marbling Standard).
Grade BMS No.
5: Excellent 8 – 12
4: Good 5 – 7
3: Average 3 – 4
2: Below average 2
1: Poor 1
[Color and brightness]
Beef color and brightness are evaluated by visual appraisal.
2: Below average
[Firmness and texture]
The firmness and texture of beef are also evaluated by visual appraisal.
2: Below average
[Color, luster and quality of fat]
The color, luster and quality of fat is evaluated by the beef fat color standards, while evaluation of luster and quality of fat is by visual appraisal.
2: Below average
Thus the grade of beef is classified along the standards of Yield grade and Quality grade. Quality grade also has several items of evaluation.
In the quality grade, the lowest score from the four items of the yield grade is adopted. In other words, even if grade 5 was given to marbling, color and brightness, and firmness and texture, and only fat assessments was grade 4, the quality grade of this beef is classified as grade 4. Quality grading is severely done.
Through these strict evaluations, Japanese Black beef there are classified into 15 grades from C1 to A5. And even among the A5 grade, marbling varies from No.8 to No.12.
The A5 grade Japanese Black WAGYU cattle is fed only good quality grain (corn and rice straw) and raised with scrupulous care.
Particularly good balance of fat, extremely smooth texture, and juicy flavor spreads out in the mouth. These are the unique character of WAGYU A5, the highest quality Japanese beef.
More information on Wagyu Grades of beef
Wagyu Beef Grades JMGA (Japanese Meat Grading Association) Beef Carcass Grading Standard has been developed to measure those carcasses that are yielding higher marble scores. In 2008 Japan raised the bar on their grading standard whereby the BMS (Beef Marble Score) grade range is 3-12 (eliminating 1 and 2) and now a BMS 3 requires a min. IMF% of 21. If the US is going to raise cattle for export to Japan or compete with Japanese imports, it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of the Japanese meat grading system.
Japanese carcasses are cut or ribbed between the sixth and seventh rib throughout Japan. There are three yield grades: A, B and C – classified by yield percentages estimated by an equation. There are five quality grades: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 – based on marbling, meat colour and texture, and fat colour and quality. Yield score is determined by an estimated cutability percentage that is calculated by an equation which includes four carcass measurements. The measurements are obtained at the sixth and seventh rib section. The yield grading is absolutely objective, delivering an estimated yield percentage as follows.
- Grade A – 72% and above
- Grade B – 69% and above
- Grade C – under 69%
- Quality grade
The meat quality scores are determined in terms of beef marbling, meat colour and brightness, firmness and texture of meat, colour, lustre and quality of fat. The relationship between beef marbling evaluation and classification of grade is as follows:
- Poor — 1
- Below Average — 2
- Average — 3-4
- Good — 5-7
- Excellent — 8-12
Meat colour is evaluated by the Beef Colour Standard prepared as seven continuous standards. The average colour range is from No. 1 to No. 6 and carcasses in this colour range can be graded in ‘Grade 3 or upper grades’. Beef ‘brightness’ is also a factor in this evaluation. Firmness and texture of meat are evaluated by visual appraisal and also classified into five grades. The firmness measure ranges from very good to inferior and the texture of the meat is evaluated on a scale from very fine to coarse. The colour, lustre and quality of fat is evaluated objectively against the Beef Fat Standards prepared as seven continuous standards. The remaining two factors, lustre and quality, are evaluated simultaneously by visual appraisal.
In recent years the Japanese have been focusing on developing objective carcass measurement utilitising the latest digital camera technology and image analysis software (Beef Analyzer II) to calculate important traits like;
•Rib Eye Area
•Rib Eye Shape
•Fineness/ Coarseness Index – Marbling
This technology is currently in use in the US (3 cameras) and Australia (1 camera) as a research tool to collate accurate carcass data for possible use in parameter estimation for genetic analysis(BLUP). This technology was recently presentation at the annual Wagyu Conference in Coeur d’ Alene by Japanese Researcher and developer; Prof Keigo Kuchida from Obihiro University. Below is a image taken with the technology here in the US with the Rib Eye traced.
For more information about Japanese BMS Grading, please view the following documents.
- MSA Beef Cuts Chart (PDF)
- Argentine Beef Guide (LINK)
Kobe vs Wagyu
Wagyu beef is intensely marbled with softer fat, has higher percentages of monounsaturated fats,omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is lower in cholesterol than commodity beef. The combinations of these fats deliver a distinctive rich and tender flavor compared to other beef.
The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan. People use the terms Kobe and Wagyu beef interchangeably in the U.S. thinking it refers to the same premium imported Japanese beef, when it does not.
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe
Many restaurant menus feature “Kobe Burgers” or “Kobe Steaks”. The internet is flooded with on-line companies offering Kobe Beef, Kobe Burgers, Kobe-Style Beef, and Wagyu beef. The truth is authentic Kobe beef is very rarely seen on restaurant menus in the USA.
Legitimate Kobe beef is priced around $200 per portion for a steak, and $50 for a burger. If you see something on a menu referred to as Kobe priced less than that, it is most likely domestic or imported Wagyu.
How can you tell the difference?
Key Terms & Definitions
Kobe A city in Japan and the capital city of the Hyōgo Prefecture. Kobe is also considered a region of Japan like Champaign is a region in France, and Parma is a region in Italy.
Wa Japanese or Japanese Style
Gyu The Japanese word for a Cow or Cattle
Wagyu Japanese or Japanese Style Cattle. Japanese cattle consist of four breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Poll, and Japanese Shorthorn. Ox-like in structure, these breeds are bred for field work.
Tajima-Gyu The cow that Kobe beef comes from which is classified as a Japanese Black breed.
Kokusan-Gyu Refers to cattle which are raised domestically in Japan. Regardless of the country or breed, cattle are classified as “Kokusan-Gyu” if they have spent more than half of their life in Japan.
Japanese Meat Quality Score Japanese quality meat scores are qualified by four factors: marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, and fat color, luster and quality. Each factor is graded from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.
BMS Beef Marbling Standard. BMS is a score rating given to red beef for the amount of intramuscular flecks of fat which give the meat a marble like pattern.
Facts & Criteria
Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only came from Hyōgo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city) of Japan.
Kobe cows are fed a special diet of dried pasture forage and grasses such as rice straw with nutrition-rich feed supplements made by blending soybean, corn, barley, wheat bran, and various other ingredients. They are not fed pasture grass.
To be authentic certified Japanese Kobe Beef the following criteria need to be met:
- Breed of cattle is pure lineage Tajima (Tajima-Gyu), between 28-60 months of age, born, raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan.
- Certified as having a yield score of A or B.
- Japanese Meat Grading Association quality score of 4 or 5.
- BMS score of 6 or higher on the Tajima-Gyu marble grading scale of 1-12.
- Has the “Japanese Chrysanthemum” seal officially certifying it as Kobe Beef.
Kobe Beef, Kobe Meat and Kobe Cattle, are also all trademarks in Japan. The United States does not recognize these trademarks thus promoting free use of the term “Kobe” in the US without regard to Japan’s strict standards. Consequently restaurants and retailers market various types of American or Australian Wagyu beef as “Kobe beef”.
Japanese beef was actually banned from being imported into the United States from 2009 until August of 2012. (The “first-ever” Kobe shipment is now on its way to the US according to Meating Place.) What we see most of domestically, is American Wagyu or Australian Wagyu (Kobe Style) beef.
American Wagyu (Kobe Style)
Four Wagyu bulls were brought to the USA in 1976 from Japan’s Tottori Prefecture for cross breeding with Angus cattle creating the American Wagyu Kobe Style Beef. The crossbred Wagyu cattle were fed a mixture of corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat straw mimicking the Japanese cattle diet. In the mid 1990′s, about 40 more full blooded Wagyu male and females were imported to the US for breeding.
There a few domestic ranches raising pure blood American Wagyu beef today, however, most of what we see domestically are a Wagyu/Angus mixed breed. The Wagyu influence contributes to the intense marbling and the Angus influence contributes to the animal’s size.
The USDA scale for upper grade meat quality has 3 levels: Select, Choice, and Prime. Prime is the highest USDA grade. Roughly, 3% of traditional US cattle harvested are graded as Prime – equivalent to a Wagyu BMS score of 5.
Over 90% of domestic Wagyu cattle grade out as at least Prime, with most reaching a BMS score of 7-8. Wagyu’s intense marbling occurs from genetics and from the cattle spending more time on special feed, about 30 months as compared to commodity beef cattle which are fed about 24 months. The Strube Ranch in Pittsburg, Texas is a notable American producer of quality domestic Wagyu beef.
Australian Wagyu (Kobe Style)
Australia first imported Wagyu in 1990 and began a breeding program using artificial insemination. In the mid 1990′s Australia imported full blooded Wagyu bulls and cows from the United States to enhance their Wagyu breeding program. Over the years, the Australian Wagyu breed has gained in strength and popularity for intense marbling and taste.
Different from the USDA and Japanese grading systems, the Ausie marble scoring range is 1 to 9 +. One of the most notable brands of Australian Wagyu beef is marketed under famed professional golfer and entrepreneur Greg Norman. Greg Norman Signature Wagyu beef is sold under BMS 5-11.
There are Canadian and European Wagyu producers, but most of the US market is supplied through Australian imports and domestic purveyors.
Uber expensive and delicious, Wagyu’s American popularity is growing. Remember, true authentic Japanese Kobe Wagyu is still a rarity in the US. When you see it on it a menu, judge it by price. Ask your server if they can attest to the Kobe quality. If their response is at least somewhat knowledgeable to facts in this article, odds are it is authentic.
Wagyu in BBQ Competition
Its taken the country by storm. Some people on the circuit starting talking about how Wagyu was one to win with. Lots of people decided to go to Wagyu paying as much as $200 for a brisket.
Walmart packers have beaten Wagyu’s. Wagyu’s have won a lot of contest. The first thing when you start is you need a quality cut of meat. We sell Wagyu on BBQSuperStars