Unraveling the Mysteries of the Wagyu Grading System

Wagyu Beef

If you’re a meat lover, you’ve probably heard of Wagyu beef and its renowned quality. However, navigating the intricate Wagyu grading system can be a daunting task for those unfamiliar with it. Luckily, we’re here to unravel the mysteries and help you understand what those numbers, letters, or words mean when it comes to the grade of Wagyu beef you’re buying.

The Art of Wagyu Grading

Wagyu grading may vary depending on the country and the organization overseeing it. Nevertheless, the goal remains the same – to identify exceptional quality, appearance, and flavor in Wagyu beef.

The Japanese Meat Grading Association

In Japan, the grading of Wagyu beef is overseen by the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA), similar to how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ensures the quality standards of American beef. The JMGA evaluates the fat color, meat color, rib eye shape, size of ribeye area, and IMF% (marbling) to assign a score to the Wagyu beef.

The Japanese grading system rates Wagyu beef on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest grade. The overall quality score, ranging from 1 to 12, takes into account factors such as marbling and coloring. The final grade, from 1 to 5, is determined as follows:

  • Poor (Quality score of 1)
  • Below Average (Quality score of 2)
  • Average (Quality score of 3 or 4)
  • Good (Quality score of 5 to 7)
  • Excellent (Quality score of 8 to 12)
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A Wagyu beef Grade 12 represents the ultimate pinnacle of Wagyu quality, boasting the highest quality score and rating possible. You may come across Wagyu cuts labeled as Japanese Wagyu A5, which signifies the highest grade achievable. In Japan, A denotes the yield grade, reflecting the cutability of the beef, with grade A indicating a yield of 72% or higher.

The Australian Grading System

Australia employs a grading system for Wagyu that closely mirrors the Japanese system. However, the Australian system only goes up to a quality score of 9, instead of 12. The quality scores required for each grade (1 to 5) remain the same, but the Excellent rating is exclusively reserved for scores of 8 and 9. Consequently, Grade A5 Wagyu in Australia is more or less equivalent to the A5 grade assigned to Wagyu in Japan.

The USDA Grading System

While American-raised Wagyu cattle are relatively scarce, their beef is subject to the same rigorous standards as those from Japan or Australia. The USDA employs a grading system focusing on three key designations: Select, Choice, and Prime. Wagyu beef typically falls within the Prime category, characterized by abundant marbling, optimal coloring and appearance, and low carcass maturity. A Grade 12 Kobe beef in the Japanese grading system would correspond to a Prime designation in the USDA grading system.

A Brief Guide to Wagyu Beef Grades

Understanding the nuances of Wagyu beef grades is no longer a daunting prospect. Armed with this knowledge, you can appreciate the significance behind those numbers and letters on your steak. Delve deeper into the world of Wagyu and Kobe beef by checking out Steak University, which offers valuable insights on finding the perfect steak, distinguishing between the two types, and mastering the art of cooking them to perfection.

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Wagyu Grading System FAQs