What is beef grading and why is it important?
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.
Using a combination of subjective characteristics and electronic instrument data, graders place all American beef into five 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
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.
A Beef Marbling Score (BMS) helps compare beef across international grading scales that may differ from USDA guidelines and cause confusion. This system assigns a number between 1 and 12 to reflect a cut of meat’s overall marbling. USDA Prime grade maxes out at a BMS of 5, whereas luxurious Japanese Wagyu beef can score as high as 12.
- 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 Grade – American Wagyu beef with a BMS of 6 to 8, superior to USDA Prime
- SRF Gold Grade – American Wagyu beef with a BMS of 9+ that delivers a rich flavor and buttery texture