A5 Wagyu — The Holy Grail for Meat Lovers
Some of you are probably familiar with USDA’s beef grading system and its levels: Select, Choice, and Prime. Yet, when it comes to Japanese beef or wagyu, the grading system is a bit more complex.
What Does A5 Exactly Mean?
A5 is a grade in the Japanese beef rating system used for determining the quality of wagyu. Each rating consists of a letter and a number. The letter stands for the amount of usable meat on an animal. There are three letters in the system:
● Superior means that the cattle provided an exceptional meat yield.
● Average stands for cattle that had a usual yield of usable meat.
● Inferior determines all cattle that failed to deliver a satisfying amount of meat.
This letter rating is probably more important to producers than consumers because the amount of meat doesn’t necessarily determine its quality. On the other hand, the consumers will probably find the meaning behind the numbers more interesting.
Digits in the rating system determine multiple characteristics, for example:
● Meat color
● Fat quality
● Fat distribution
● Marbling level
The most important levels on this scale are 3 and 5. Level 3 means that the beef fulfills the industry standards and that its quality is passable. In contrast, level 5 means that the beef is superior, outstanding and that it is of top quality. Therefore, if a wagyu holds an A5 rating, it means that there is no better beef in the world according to Japanese standards.
The Complexity of the Grading Process
What’s interesting is that the Japanese will rate any beef according to their grading system, regardless of the place it comes from. For them, these standards are universal.
Moreover, all those who wish to rate wagyu must spend three years studying all about wagyu before they become experts. Each wagyu cow is rated by three such experts, and their grades are combined in the end to give the final rating.
Can We Compare the Japanese Beef with the Western One?
Since the US and Japan grade their beef through different rating systems, it’s hard to do a side-by-side comparison. However, they use the same rating system to determine the amount of marbling.
The BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) scale has levels from 1 to 12. Beef that scores between 8 and 12 has extremely high marbling levels and is considered extraordinary and exceptional. Wagyu like Miyazaki or Kobe get these ratings with ease. In contrast, the Angus beef has an average score of 2, and it can’t get a rating above 5 no matter what.
So, if we consider that some Japanese beef can score 12, it goes without saying that such beef is far from every competition.
The Bottom Line
The Japanese rating system is rigorous and unforgiving. Only the absolute best beef can get a rating higher than A3. Moreover, knowing the meaning of Japanese grading is a must if we want to buy wagyu. Without such knowledge, we won’t be able to determine whether a certain cut is worth the price.
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