Beef Grading

by FarmClub Editorial

Beef Grading | The Marbling Standard and A, AA, AAA - What Are They and What Do They Mean?

Who does not like a juicy beef patty? A medium rare steak cooked to perfection. Or a hot dish of beef casseroles straight out of the oven?

A hearty, delicious beef meal for dinner can be the perfect note to end your day on.

Along with being a tempting choice for dinner, beef is packed with lots of nutritional properties too. According to research, red meat contains sufficient proteins and essential amino acids needed by a healthy adult. [1]

However, there must have been instances too, where the meat did not taste as good as it usually does, and your taste buds were disappointed right after the first bite. Or the color and texture of the meat seemed off.

So, what are the factors that decide the flavor and color of beef? A beef's grading level and marbling will determine the taste, texture, and tenderness of beef.

What is the Grading of Meat?

Grading beef is the process of evaluating a cut of beef based on its quality and characteristics. The beef is graded based on factors such as the amount of marbling it has, its age, and the firmness and texture of the meat. The age of the beef also plays a role in its grade, with younger beef generally being more tender and having a milder flavor.

How is Meat Graded?

To be eligible for grading, a cut of beef must be taken from a mature animal that has been slaughtered and dressed in a federally inspected facility. The beef must also be chilled to a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius or lower within 24 hours of slaughter.

Once the beef has been graded, it is given a grade mark, which is a stamp or label that indicates the grade of the beef. The grade mark must be applied to the beef by a licensed grader or inspector, and it must be applied in a way that is easily visible to consumers.

The top three grades of beef, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), are:

Prime - the highest quality grade with the most fat content present

Choice - also a high-quality grade, but with lesser fat than prime

Select - a leaner, more tender type than the above two, but with the least fat among the three.

What is Marbling?

Marbling refers to the amount of fat interspersed within the muscle of a cut of meat. It is a measure of the meat's tenderness, flavor, and juiciness.

The marbling standard for different cuts of meat can vary depending on the type of animal, the specific cut, and the preferences of the person buying or consuming the meat. In general, high-quality cuts of meat tend to have more marbling than lower-quality cuts.

How is Marbling Content in Beef Measured?

The amount of marbling in a cut of beef is determined by a trained licensed grader, who visually assesses the meat and assigns it a grade based on the Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA) specifications. The guidelines of CBGA are very similar to the standards of the USDA. 

The licensed grader takes into account the amount and distribution of the marbling, as well as other factors such as the size and quality of the fat particles. This standardized system helps ensure consistent and fair grading of beef across the whole cattle industry.

The Marbling Standard

After the meat is graded and its marbling contents measured, it is classified into three different standards- A, AA, and AAA.

1.    AAA

AAA is the top-quality marble grade containing the highest amount of marbling.

2.    AA

AA is intermediate level and has a lesser amount of marble than the former.

3.    A

A grade meat contains only slight traces of marble.

AAA-grade beef is typically more expensive than other grades of beef because it is the highest quality grade of beef available in Canada. It is characterized by a high degree of marbling, making it tender, juicy, and tastier to eat.

This high level of marbling also makes AAA-grade beef more expensive to produce, as it requires the animal to be kept under special conditions and fed a specific diet for an extended period to achieve the desired amount of fat. Additionally, the grading and inspection process for AAA-grade beef is more rigorous and time-consuming, contributing to its higher price. All these factors combined make AAA-grade beef more expensive than other grades of beef.

The Canadian Beef Grading Agency also has strict rules governing and regulating the marbling standards of beef.

For example, a cut of beef cannot be labeled as AAA grade unless it has been graded by a licensed grader and found to meet the AAA grade standards. Additionally, a cut of beef cannot be labeled as AAA grade if it has been blended or mixed with beef of a lower grade.

The Final Takeaway

All in all, the marbling standard and grading system for beef in Canada is designed to ensure that consumers are able to identify and purchase high-quality cuts of beef easily.

The grading system provides a consistent and reliable way for consumers to differentiate between different grades of beef, and it helps to ensure that beef is labeled accurately and consistently.

Now you know to check the label of the meat prior to purchasing it to prevent any disappointments. Checking the label before buying will also help to ensure your eating experience is filled with ultimate goodness, scrumptiousness, and juiciness.


[1] Wyness, L. (2016). The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 75(3), 227-232.