Wagyu cattle around the world are subjected to similar grading systems, though the labeling and levels may vary depending on the country. As Wagyu originates from Japan, the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) is the strictest and most thorough of them all. Just as the USDA grades beef in America to ensure its standards meet consumers’ expectations, the JMGA scores Wagyu beef based on fat color, meat color, IMF % (which has to do with marbling), ribeye size, and ribeye shape. The USDA has eight categories for grading beef, the top three being Select, Choice, and Prime.
These grading systems may look at similar factors but they do differ from each other, especially since the USDA’s scale does not even support the highest quality rating Wagyu has to offer. Most Wagyu surpass USDA grading and are widely identified as “beyond Prime,” while most common Angus barely register on the JMGA scale. This goes to show Wagyu’s general superiority and also how in-depth the grading process is in Japan.
The JMGA has a system combining the final quality grade (scoring between 1-5) and yield grade (scoring A-C) for the overall rating. The quality score ranges from 1-12, which includes factors like marbling and color. A quality score of 8-12 qualifies as the best of the beef, ranking it at a final quality score of 5.
The yield grade is decided by the edible cutability. A is the highest yield grade and only Fullblood Wagyu offer a Grade A yield score. Cuts with 72% or higher percentage yields are Grade A while Grade B and C have lower percentages. A5 beef is the highest possible rating Wagyu can achieve. It’s usually found in nice restaurants or hotels as it’s hard to transport the beef without risking the quality. It also doesn’t hurt that most cattle with A5 grading have had the greatest care and feed.
Aside from its scale range reaching 9 rather than 12, the Australian grading system is very close to the Japanese beef grading system. (However, it still ultimately falls on the 1-5 scale.) Because of that, A5 Wagyu in Japan is actually similar to A5 Wagyu in Australia.
A5, A4, and A3 Graded Wagyu are all abundant in marbling, which is the best part of this fine quality beef when it boils down to it—no pun intended.