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Wagyu Beef Grades – What Are They and What Do They Mean?

wagyu beef grades

The Wagyu beef grading system can be confusing to those who aren’t familiar with what it is. The Wagyu grading system is designed to determine the quality of the meat based on appearance and flavor. The most important factors that go in to grading Wagyu beef is the tenderness, color, and fat to lean meat ratio.

The Japanese Meat Grading Association currently handles the grading of Wagyu beef because that’s where the main population of Wagyu cattle is raised. Wagyu beef grades are determined by the fat color, meat color, and the marbling. What is the best rating for Wagyu beef? How is the Wagyu beef graded on these characteristics?

About Wagyu Beef

Wagyu is a Japanese cattle breed used for beef. Wagyu quite literally translates to Japanese cow, as ‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow. Originally these cows were used to help in agriculture and were specifically selected because of the endurance and intra-muscular fat cells that provide the cows tons of energy. Typically, Wagyu are horned and black or red in color.

There are four breeds of cows that are considered Wagyu in Japan. These breeds are the Japanese Black (exported the most to the US), Japanese Brown (referred to as Red Wagyu in the US), Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn. The Japanese Polled and Shorthorn are specifically bred only in Japan.

Wagyu production is extremely regulated, and a cow DNA test is absolutely mandatory. Only the top and most improved genetics are kept for breeding purposes. The Japanese government knew how popular of a product they were dealing with, so they banned export of the Wagyu cows to other countries and declared them a national living treasure.

Wagyu beef is highly marbled meat, making it insanely delicious and tender. The best thing about Wagyu isn’t how good it tastes, it’s how healthy it is for you to consume. Experts have determined that Wagyu beef has a minimal impact on raising cholesterol than other kinds of beef. The marbling in the beef makes it more beneficial to human health.

About Wagyu Cattle

To ensure the most delicious kind of meat, Wagyu cows live a life that many other cows would consider luxurious. Each cow that is going to be raised for Wagyu beef is given a name after it arrives at the feeding farm it will call home. They are also allowed to roam in a completely stress-free environment, so they are more likely to remain happy. The cows will continue to live this incredible life of constant care until they are 2 to 3 years old or gain around 50% of fat.

Another great thing about Wagyu cows is they are never given any kind of growth hormones, steroids, or drugs that will make then grow faster. The process of raising a Wagyu cow for beef is completely natural. The cows are fed three meals a day that are rich in energy provided by hay, grain, and wheat. Generally, a Wagyu cow will be weighed once a month and they are expected to gain 2 to 3 pounds every day.

Wagyu Beef Grades Overview

Ratio of Fat to Lean Meat

Marbling is one of the most important things that makes Wagyu taste as great as it does. The marbling means that the meat is sprinkled with fine speckles of muscle. While being cooked, this will dissolve and is where the meat gets flavor and tenderness from.

Color of the Fat

The color of the fat is also super an important thing that is considered when grading the meat. The lighter and shiner the fat, the more tender the meat will be. The meat will also be able to melt in your mouth if it contains high quality fat.

Firmness of the Meat

It is important for the meat to be firm, but still tender. The perfect firmness will keep the meat from falling apart during the cooking process but also keeps the meat from getting too chewy. If a piece of meat is too chewy, it will not be pleasant to eat.

Japanese Wagyu Beef Grading

The Japanese beef grading system rates Wagyu beef on a grading scale of 1 to 5. 1 is the lowest and 5 is the highest. They are also given quality scores, which range from 1 to 12. The quality scores are based off of all the characteristic that were mentioned above. The final score (1 to 5) is based on the quality score and characteristics.

As mentioned above, Wagyu beef is rated on quality that gives it a final grade. The quality grade most commonly consists of features like marbling, coloring, texture, and fat content. The color and fat content standards range from 1 to 7 to determine the quality. The texture determines the firmness of the meat (for moisture, not stiffness).

Wagyu Beef Grades Explained

Final Grade 1

To score a final grade of 1, the Wagyu beef will have a quality score of 1.

Grade 1 will have no marbling at all.

To receive this rating, the color of the meat will be one that is not even on the scale.

The texture of grade 1 Wagyu is coarse due to the fact that the meat is not very firm.

The fat content of grade 1 is not even on the scale.

Final Grade 2

To score a 2, the Wagyu beef will have a quality score of 2.

Grade 2 features very little marbling, if any at all.

The color of this grade meat can range from 1 to 7, which is close to standard.

The texture of grade 2 is close to standard.

The fat content of grade 2 ranges from 1 to 7, bringing it close to the standard.

Final Grade 3

To receive a 3, the Wagyu beef will have a quality score of 3 or 4.

Grade 3 will have slightly more marbling than grade 2.

The color of this grade meat ranges from 1 to 6, which is right on standard.

The texture of grade 3 meat is considered standard.

The fat content of the grade 3 Wagyu will range from 1 to 6, which is standard.

Final Grade 4

To get a score of 4, the Wagyu beef will have a quality score of 5 to 7.

Grade 4 will have a little bit less marbling than grade 5, depending on the quality rating of the meat.

The meat color of this grade is 2 to 6, which is considered good.

The texture of grade 4 Wagyu beef is good, because it is decently firm.

The fat content of the grade 4 beef will range from 1 to 5, which is good.

Final Grade 5

The highest score available, the Wagyu beef will score a 5 if it has a quality score between 8 and 12. A quality score of 12 will have the most marbling.

The highest quality, grade 5 Wagyu will range from 3 to 5 in color, which is excellent.

The texture of a grade 5 Wagyu steak is excellent.

The fat content of grade 5 will range from 1 to 4, which is considered excellent.

Letter Grading

You may have noticed in the past that some Wagyu meats are classified as “A”. This refers to the yield grade, not the quality grade. The yield grade pays closer attention to the cutability of the beef.

A Wagyu steak with a higher yield of quality meat will result in an A grade and has a 72% or higher yield.

A grade of B will have a 69% or higher yield.

A grade of C will have under a 69% yield rate.

After the yield grade is determined, you would then combine the letter grade with the final grade to get A1-A5, B1-B5, or C1-C5. A5 is the best meat, while C1 would be the worst.

Final Thoughts

A lot of time, care, and thought goes into the upbringing and selection of Wagyu beef. The goal is to create the best quality meat possible so the meat can be properly graded by the Wagyu grading system. Wagyu beef grades can be confusing to follow if you aren’t familiar with it, but once it’s explained it makes more sense.

With a score of 1 to 5, we can determine the rating of Wagyu by taking a closer look at the qualities of the meat. The meat is graded on features like texture, marbling, and color. The quality ratings range from 1 to 12 which then correspond with the final score of 1 to 5. You may also see ratings with letters like A, B, and C. These ratings refer to the yield of the meat, not so much the quality.

When it comes to the ratings, a rating of 1 is the lowest score and a rating of 5 is the highest score. A quality rating of 1 is the lowest meat quality and a rating of 12 is the highest meat quality. As for A, B, and C, A is the highest quality and C is the lowest quality.