Deep Dive into SRF Beef Grades
Snake River Farms has focused on creating better beef for over five decades. Our experience has produced a range of beef ideal for any of your personal meal occasions. Understanding our grading system helps to choose the best steak or roast for your next holiday or weeknight dinner.
THE USDA GRADES – The American Grading Standard
The beef grades you see at the butcher shop or grocery store fall under guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These standards provide a common terminology between the domestic beef industry and consumers. The USDA grade on meat packages ensures a universal level of quality.
The USDA grades evaluate factors that influence the quality and palatability of meat. These factors include tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The amount and distribution of marbling, or intramuscular fat, is a primary consideration for beef grading. Marbling refers to the streaks of fat within the muscles and directly impacts the flavor, tenderness and juiciness of meat. Other characteristics that affect beef quality are texture, color of the lean meat and maturity (age of the beef cattle).
The USDA has eight grades of beef, but you will generally see the top three grades when shopping or dining out. These three grades are:
USDA Prime – The highest quality American beef with abundant marbling from well-fed cattle.
Choice – High-quality with moderate marbling.
Select – Uniform in quality but leaner than higher grades and what you’ll find in most grocery stores.
JAPANESE GRADES: BEEF MARBLING SCORE
All Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef grades higher than USDA Prime. Since American Wagyu exceeds the USDA scale, we use a system created by the Japanese beef industry called the Beef Marbling Score or BMS.
BMS, like the USDA grades, considers numerous characteristics, but relies heavily on the amount of marbling. The BMS scale runs from 1-12, with 1 the lowest and 12 the highest.
Here’s where the four grades fall on the BMS:
USDA Choice – BMS of 2 to 4. Leaner beef with good flavor and tenderness.
USDA Prime – BMS of 5. Abundant marbling, excellent flavor and tenderness.
SRF Black Label™ – BMS of 6 to 8. Rich marbling, exceptional flavor and buttery texture.
SRF Gold Label™ – BMS of 9 to 12. Highest marbling, flavor and buttery tenderness.
FLAVOR PROFILES – MORE THAN GRADE
The BMS score gives an excellent overview of the quality of a cut of beef. A higher BMS number equates to more marbling, and more marbling is a solid indicator of a steak’s flavor, juiciness and tenderness. Beef grades only tell a part of the story when it comes to how a steak tastes when it’s at your table.
All USDA graded beef (labeled with the Double R Ranch brand) sold by Snake River Farm is sourced from high quality continental cattle breeds raised in our unique ranch to table system. As a result, our USDA Choice and USDA Prime beef is superior to comparably graded products from other sources.
But how do Double R Ranch steaks and roasts compare to Snake River Farms? SRF Black Label™ and SRF Gold Label™ products are American Wagyu beef – a cross between high quality continental and purebred Japanese Wagyu breeds.
Unscientifically, most folks who try these two types of beef side to side, can tell you right away that SRF American Wagyu is unlike anything else they’ve tasted. While we feel the exactly the same, a recent study by the meat scientists at Texas Tech University identified exactly what makes American Wagyu beef different from domestic beef.
They compared USDA Prime and American Wagyu cuts using a trained panel of beef tasting experts. The results showed that American Wagyu beef has several key flavor differences from USDA Prime. The three attributes of American Wagyu with the most statistically significant differences were:
Buttery - Sweet, dairy-like aromatic associated with natural butter.
Juciness – The amount of juice released from the steak.
Umami – Flat, salty, somewhat brothy. Or more scientifically “The taste of glutamate, salts of amino acids and other molecules called nucleotides.”
Tenderness – The amount of force required to bite a piece of meat.
The study found the above attributes were were consistently superior in American Wagyu beef. If looking at a score card, these numbers and the higher BMS score places Snake River American Wagyu at a higher level of marbling and flavor than USDA Prime.
Separating science from the dinner table, we've found most people can easily taste these key differences and prefer the overall eating experience of American Wagyu.
Different is not universally better. Some people prefer the flavor profile of USDA grades to American Wagyu or prefer the less marbled beef for other occasions. Ultimately, the grade of beef to purchase is a personal choice.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
USDA and BMS grading are excellent ways to compare the level of marbling and overall quality of different beef types, however, in real world taste testing American Wagyu beef possesses tender buttery texture, unmatched juiciness and is rich in umami.
Fans of Snake River Farms American Wagyu love and know the difference. The best way to learn your favorite grade is to try them for yourself. The difference between SRF American Wagyu and our USDA graded beef is best experienced at your dinner table to taste each grade's unique qualities.