What the Beef? Canadian vs American Beef Grading

What the Beef? Canadian vs American Beef Grading
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I like a good AAA steak in Canada, but what does that mean? What is beef grading? How does AAA translate in the USA? What about Wagyu? Surprisingly, these are loaded questions and worth every bite (of information).

Canadian beef is graded or evaluated against many variables to provide consistency and help hungry beef eaters make informed choices. Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) is a private non-profit corporation that is overseen by the Government of Canada and is accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to deliver grading services for beef. More simply, the Canadian Beef Grading Agency establishes the standards to categorize beef. And so you can be sure, beef will be stamped, so you know what grade it is.

Canadian Beef Grade Stamps

Beef is graded by

  • Quality Characteristics – beef maturity (age affects tenderness), sex (affects palatability and color), conformation (muscling), fat (color, texture, cover aka content or marbling), meat (color, texture and marbling)
  • Yield – how much of the beef carcass is saleable
GradeMaturityMusclingRib Eye MuscleMarblingFat Color & TextureFat MeasureConsumptionUS Grading
PrimeYouthfulExcellent to goodFirm, bright redSlightly abundantFirm, white or amber>2mmConsumerUSDA Prime
AAAYouthfulExcellent to goodFirm, bright redSmallFirm, white or amber>2mmConsumerUSDA Choice
AAYouthfulExcellent to goodFirm, bright redTraceFirm, white or amber>2mmConsumerUSDA Select
AYouthfulExcellent to goodFirm, bright redSlightFirm, white or amber>2mmConsumerUSDA Standard
B1 – B4YouthfulExcellent to deficientBright redno requirementFirm, white, amber, yellow<2mmOften for fast foodUSDA Standard
D1-D4MatureExcellent to deficientno requirementno requirementFirm, white, amber, yellow<1.5mmProcessed foodUSDA Standard
EYouthful /MaturePronounced masculinityno requirementno requirementno requirementno requirementProcessed foodUSDA Standard

Table above is summarized from Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) and US Department of Agriculture. USDA grading is voluntary, combining an additive score of marbling as a probability of tenderness and juiciness and beef maturity. Canadian beef grading is compulsory for the retail market.

Marbling is measured in the same location for both Canadian and American beef grading. Fat dispersion is assessed in the rib eye muscle between the 12th and 13th rib bones. In Canada, CFIA has approved computer visioning technology (e+v Technology GmbH Beef Instrument Technology) to assess and grade the beef with higher accuracy as the beef moves through the machine.

What is CAB? Angus? How does this fit the grading standards?

Angus is a breed of cow that is low maintenance and a breed that is easy to work and highly fertile for farmers and ranchers. At the same time, Angus cows seem to mature early, grow vigorously and produce beef with high marbling content. Hence, Angus has become a desirable breed for consumers and ranchers especially in North America.

CAB (Certified Angus Beef) is a brand representing selective standards of Angus beef to segment the beef market. In the 1970s American ranchers wanted to identify a higher quality of beef (juicy, tender and full of flavor) and developed 10 specifications to market the brand by: at least modest marbling, medium to fine marbling texture, cattle harvested at <30 months, consistent sizing in the rib eye (10-16 square inch) area, <1050 lb hot carcass weight, <1 inch fat thickness, light muscled cattle (for tenderness), meat free of capillary rupture (for visually appealing steak), no dark cutting meat and no neck hump >2 inches (for consistent tenderness) per Certified Angus Beef brand.

Thus, Angus beef will be graded respective to the country specific grading requirements. CAB is a separate and additional grading system used amongst US and Canadian Angus farmers, ranchers and meat processors.

What is Wagyu beef?

Wagyu beef is a generic name for beef in Japan (Wa = Japanese, gyu = Beef) with 4 main breeds: Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu), Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu), Japanese Brown (also known as Japanese Red) (Akage Washu) and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Takaku). Japanese Black is likely the most well known breed, making up 90% of the cattle in Japan.

Wagyu is well known globally because of higher marbling content and fine meat texture, making for a memorable eating experience. The Wagyu fat supposedly melts at a lower temperature than other steaks, resulting in a rich buttery flavor. Since Wagyu production and progeny testing is highly regulated and managed by Japan, quality is guaranteed and price is attached.

In 1976 – 1997, Wagyu animals were imported into the United States before the Japanese government banned additional export. Most Wagyu beef has been crossbred with Aberdeen Angus in the US.

Australia received Japanese cows in the early 1990s and has also employed genetics (aka frozen semen or embryos) to develop the Wagyu market. Australia is home to the second largest Wagyu population (behind Japan of course) and many of the cattle have been crossed with Holsteins genetics.

Canada and the UK also have received Wagyu cows and genetics that have developed the Wagyu market and style of farming. Cross breeding of Wagyu genentics has continued to develop into South America, Russia and China over the past years, per Wagyu International.

What is Kobe beef?

Kobe beef is Wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle raised in the Kobe area (Hyogo Prefecture). Kobe beef is known due to the Kobe port being the first port to open to foreign trading on January 1, 1869. Put an open trading market next to delicious beef and word of mouth (haha) takes care of itself. Of course, the Kobe beef designation is overseen by conditions such as: pure breed stock, raised in the Hyogo Prefecture, breeding 28 to 60 months and also slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture and then consequently graded for fat marbling.

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