At Snake River Farms, we’ve been pioneering a better beef experience for decades. If you care about serving your family the best possible meat, read our breakdown of beef grading systems to get insight on how they translate to your plate.

USDA Guidelines for Beef Grading

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created grade standards for beef as a kind of shared language between the domestic beef industry and consumers. The USDA grade shield on steaks and other meat cuts indicates a level of safety and quality that is generally uniform.

The USDA uses a combination of subjective characteristics and electronic instrument data to place all U.S. beef into eight categories, although the top three grades are the ones most commonly available in stores and restaurants. 

USDA beef grading place all  quality American beef into three grades:

  • Prime – Abundant marbling from young, well-fed cattle, almost always sold to high-end restaurants, gourmet grocers and better butcher shops
  • Choice – Less marbling but still high-quality meat
  • Select – Uniform in quality but leaner than higher grades and the most common grade found in grocery stores

Remaining USDA grades of beef include commericial, utility, cutter, and canner. These grades are rarely found displayed in stores and are reserved to canned food and other processed products.

how does marbling affect beef grading

International Grades: Beef Marbling Score

All Snake River Farms beef cuts are graded higher than USDA Prime. How do we manage to surpass these national guidelines? We use an internationally recognized system called the Beef Marbling Score.

Marbling refers to the amount of intramuscular fat interspersed among the muscle in any cut of meat, resulting in an appearance like the striations on a piece of marble. This kind of fat enhances the flavor, tenderness and juiciness of meat. It’s different from intermuscular fat, which occurs between the muscles. Those white hunks of fat are generally trimmed away, as they do not add to the eating experience.

Internationally and in countries such as Japan, a Beef Marbling Score (BMS) is assigned to a cut of beef depending on its amount of intramuscular fat, a sign of quality. BMS ranges on a scale of 1-12, with USDA Prime grade maxing out at 5, and Japanese Wagyu steak having the potential to go to the maximum score of 12.

Snake River Farms Grading: A Cut Above

All the beef at Snake River Farms falls into four categories that we’ve developed by synthesizing the USDA and BMS systems.

  • USDA Choice – BMS of 2 to 3, great flavor and tenderness, above average steaks
  • USDA Prime – BMS of 4 to 5, includes only about 5% of all domestic beef
  • SRF Black Label™ – American Wagyu beef with a BMS of 6 to 8, superior to USDA Prime
  • SRF Gold Label™ – American Wagyu beef with a BMS of 9+ that delivers a rich flavor and buttery texture
USDA Wagyu Beef