Wagyu Grades Explained

Beef grading systems differentiate premium products from low-end cuts of meat. Japanese Wagyu is one of the top-rated beef meats globally.

Since plenty of time and money goes into rearing Wagyu breeds, the Japanese government has a strict grading system for authentic Japanese Wagyu beef. Keep reading to learn more about Wagyu beef grades and how they work.

Why Is Wagyu Beef Graded?

With Wagyu beef gaining popularity for being of the highest quality, it has a reputation to uphold. Japanese Wagyu is expensive and challenging to raise, which explains why this top-quality meat has an exceptionally high price.

With costs that can reach more than $200 per pound, it’s crucial to maintain strict grading and authenticity tests for Wagyu beef. These strict grading criteria give customers and diners confidence in the unsurpassed quality and authenticity of the Wagyu they’re paying for.

Grading also helps to prevent counterfeiting and the sale of sub-quality Wagyu beef.

How Is Wagyu Beef Rated?

Japan is the traditional home of authentic Wagyu beef. However, several countries breed Wagyu cattle to meet the ever-growing demand for Wagyu beef.

These countries have adopted their unique farming styles and adopted varying grading systems. Therefore, the grading of Wagyu beef varies from one country to another.

Japanese Beef Grading System

The Japanese Wagyu beef grading system is a serious business. Wagyu beef farmers dedicate plenty of time and effort to caring for their animals. Wagyu beef grading in Japan protects Wagyu cattle farmers and their knowledge and expertise to support authentic Japanese Wagyu beef quality standards.

Wagyu inspecting officials undergo intense training for at least three years, and they’re highly respected in their field. The Japanese government registers each Wagyu calf and can trace it back to the farm that reared it, even when it’s exported outside Japan for consumption.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Commission sets the standards of Wagyu grading. Each specimen is inspected by three separate highly trained experts from the Japanese Meat Grading Association. These inspection officials take samples from particular areas of the carcass to ensure consistency, typically from between the 6th and 7th ribs.

The inspectors assess and score each carcass according to yield and overall quality grade. The yield grade is represented by letters, and the quality grade is represented by numbers.

The highest quality specimens receive the A5 award. For a carcass to use the “Japanese Wagyu” label, it must weigh no more than 499.9kg before slaughter and processing.

As a general guide, grade A is a superior standard yield, Grade B is regular, and Grade C is a lower standard.

When grading the meat’s quality, inspectors consider the ratio of marbling, color, fat, firmness, and texture, measuring all these factors individually and scoring them separately.

Overall, the extensive assessment produces an overall score of a letter and a number. The format measures the yield grade from A to C, followed by the quality rating from 1 to 5. A is the highest grade, and “1” is the lowest grade quality score.

Australian Grading System

Since Australia has the largest herd of Wagyu cattle outside Japan, they’ve adopted their Wagyu beef grades suited to the region’s cattle.

Australia has two prevalent grading systems: Ausmeat and MSA (Meat Standards Australia).

Unlike the Japanese system, samples typically come from between the 10th and 11th ribs of each animal. Scores range from Silver Label (BMS 6-7), Black Label (BMS 8-9), and Double Black Label (BMS9+).

USDA Grading System (USA)

The US grades Wagyu beef using a standardized USDA grading system. The scale classifies Wagyu beef as follows:

  • Prime Grade – slightly abundant to abundant marbling
  • Choice Grade – small to moderate marbling
  • Select Grade – slight marbling

But why are the Japanese and USDA grading scales so varied?

Why Does the US Classify Wagyu Beef Differently?

Wagyu produced in Japan is nowhere near Wagyu cattle reared anywhere else. For an animal to be considered “Japanese Wagyu,” it must be born, reared, and even slaughtered in Japan.

They even need to have a unique ten-digit identifier that traces the animals back to the farm where they were born. Moreover, they need to prove their heritage with a DNA test.

Since cultural palates vary, separate grading systems can be beneficial. Different Wagyu beef grades can serve crossbreeding programs and consumer tastes according to the varying requirements of each region.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam is the founder of Steak Revolution. He loves sharing his knowledge of steaks with everyone, ensuring you get the perfect steak every time.