Photo by Austin Keys licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Do you want to try some incredible Wagyu beef, but have no idea what to make of the wagyu grading system? You aren’t alone! The system can be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with it. Fortunately for you, Chicago Steak Company is here to help you navigate the Wagyu beef grading scale so you know if the Wagyu beef grade on the cut you just bought is the best your money can buy.
How Does Wagyu Grading Work?
Wagyu grading differs a bit depending on the country and the overseeing organization. But, the qualities that the organizations seek in this type of beef is much the same, even though they grade a bit differently. Wagyu steak is expected to be of exceptional quality, appearance, and flavor, so the grades of Wagyu are taken seriously within each system.
Japanese Beef Grading System
The Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) currently oversees the grading of Wagyu beef, much like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the beef from cattle in the United States. The USDA grades beef to ensure that it meets the standards that Americans expect when they purchase it. Wagyu grading is similar in that the JMGA gives a score for Wagyu beef based on its fat color, meat color, rib eye shape, size of ribeye area, and IMF%, which refers to its marbling.
The Japanese beef grading system gives Wagyu beef a grade from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5, the highest. Quality scores range from 1 to 12, and this score encompasses all of the factors we just mentioned, like marbling and coloring. The final grade, 1 to 5, is based on the quality score 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)
Wagyu beef Grade 12, then, would be the cream of the crop as far as Wagyu beef is concerned because it has both the highest quality score and the highest Wagyu rating.
You may see some cuts referred to as Japanese Wagyu A5, but what does it mean? This is the highest grade that Wagyu beef can achieve, and typically is reserved for cattle who are fed the best foods, like corn and grain, and have had exceptional care during their raising.
The “A” specifically refers to the yield grade, which is different than the quality grade, which is always a number. Yield grade shows the cutability of the Wagyu cut, with a higher yield of quality meat resulting in the A grade. Grade A is given to cuts with a 72% or higher percentage yield, whereas B and C grades are for lower percentages.
Australian Grading System
The Australian grading system for Wagyu is very similar to the Japanese system. However, instead of going up to a quality score of 12, the Australian system only goes up to 9. The ranges of quality scores required to achieve a quality grade from 1 to 5 are also the same, but the Excellent rating only includes scores of 8 and 9. Grade A5 meat in Australia, then, is very similar to an A5 score given to Wagyu in Japan.
USDA Grading System
There aren’t many American-raised Wagyu cattle around, but their meats are subject to the same standards as those from Japan or Australia. The USDA, however, uses a grading system that focuses on three important words: Select, Choice, and Prime. Wagyu beef typically falls in the Prime category, which includes abundant marbling, low carcass maturity, optimal coloring and appearance, and more. Grade 12 Kobe beef in the Japanese grading system would equal a Prime designation in the USDA grading system.
Conclusion: Your Guide to the Wagyu Beef Grades
Hopefully, this handy guide helped you navigate the Wagyu grades you find on your steak so you can understand just what those numbers, letters, or words mean! If you want to learn even more about Wagyu and Kobe beef, we encourage you to check out Steak University, which provides helpful articles about finding the perfect steak, how to spot important differences between the two types, and the best ways to cook them. Enjoy!
Wagyu Grading System FAQs
What is the highest grade Wagyu?
The highest yield grade and meat quality grade for Wagyu beef is A5, where A represents the yield grade, and 5 represents the meat quality grade. A5 Wagyu beef denotes meat with ideal firmness and texture, coloring, yield, and beef marbling score.
What are the different grades of Wagyu?
Wagyu beef gets graded from 1 to 5, with 1 being the poorest quality and 5 being the highest. The number depends on how well the beef meets coloring, texture, and fat standard criteria. The letter grade represents the Wagyu yield, or the amount of the cattle’s meat that can be cut into quality portions of beef.
Is an A1 or A5 Wagyu better?
A5 Wagyu is regarded as the best grade, so A5 is better than A1 Wagyu in terms of overall quality. Therefore, A5 Wagyu usually costs more per pound than A1 Wagyu beef.