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- Introduction to Beef Grading
- USDA GRADES
- BEYOND PRIME: BMS
An understanding of beef grading can help choose the steak or roast that’s the appropriate for your next meal or special occasion. It is a tangible way to determine the quality and eating experience before you actually savor your steak. Taste tests are not used in the grading process. Instead, USDA inspectors do a visual examination of the quantity and quality of intramuscular fat, commonly known as marbling. This is performed between the twelfth and thirteenth ribs. The score determined by the inspection is then assigned to the entire carcass.
Beef sold in the U.S. is graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are eight total grades, although the lower five grades are not recommended for use on your grill. The two grades you need to know are Prime and Choice.
Prime is the highest quality conventional beef available in the U.S. According to the USDA, beef that grades at this level is “slightly abundant to abundant marbling and is generally sold in hotels and restaurants.” Age is another grading criteria and USDA Prime beef must come from cattle between 30 and 42 months of age. Historically, only about 3% of the beef sold in this country grades Prime. This percentage is growing and experts predict the numbers will slowly tick upwards to 5% to 6% due to improved cattle raising practices.
Choice is the next tier down on the USDA scale and accounts for 70% of U.S. beef production. This is generally the grade of beef you’ll find at your local grocery store. The USDA describes Choice as “high quality, but has less marbling than Prime.” The age criteria for Choice is the same as Prime, specifically between 30 and 42 months of age. There is a marbling difference of Choice beef that grades at the top of the scale compared to the carcasses that grade at the lower end. Since such a high percentage of beef grades as Choice, there is a large swing in variation from top to bottom. Whenever possible, we work to use beef from the top one third of Choice for the highest quality possible within the grade.
All Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef grades above Prime. How is that possible if Prime is the highest grade on the USDA scale? Special breeds of cattle like Japanese Wagyu are capable of producing marbling beyond their American counterparts. The Japanese beef industry created a rating system to capture this superior marbling using the Beef Marbling Score (BMS).
THE JAPANESE BEEF MARBLING SCORE
The USDA grading scale was created to rate conventional cattle raised in the United States. On rare occasions, conventional U.S. beef might exceed USDA Prime marbling, but the system doesn’t measure, or give credit, for any beef that goes beyond this scale. In order to fully capture the marbling found in Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef, we adopted the Japanese Beef Marbling Score.
Using BMS, beef marbling is measured on a scale from 1 to 12, with a 1 being Select beef and a 12 being the highest level of marbling possible.
BMS 2 to 3 USDA Choice
BMS 4 to 5 USDA Prime
BMS 6 to 8 SRF Black Grade
BMS 9+ SRF Gold Grade
The collar is located at the top of the shoulder between the blade and underblade. It is a muscle that starts at the jowl and ends close to the loin. This cut includes part of the “money muscle” used by competitive barbecue teams. The collar is well marbled and can be cooked low and slow or roasted.
- Top Pork Cuts
- Top Pork Recipes & How-To’s
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