There are many different cuts of beef, and they all vary in quality.
It can get quite confusing to tell the difference. This is because there aren’t only a whole variety of different cuts of beef. But each type also comes in different grades.
For example, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)’s beef grading system includes a total of eight different grades. These are:
- Prime Grade
- Select quality grade
- Choice Beef
But there are also other types of beef out there too. For example, there’s Kobe beef, Angus beef, and Wagyu beef. But Wagyu beef is also considered to be a sort of ‘umbrella term’ because there are different types of Wagyu beef on the market. These include:
- Japanese Black
- Japanese Shorthorn
- Japanese Polled
- Japanese Brown
We definitely won’t be able to cover all of the different types and grades of beef in this one article. So, we’ll be narrowing our topic to include only two types — wagyu beef and prime beef.
The Grading of Beef
So how is beef graded? The grading system is what helps determine and categorize the quality of beef that’s being graded. The area that is usually examined to find out more about the quality is the ribs.
Hence, the rib eye cut is very telling of what kind of beef you’ve got on your hands. (Rib eye is the cut that’s mainly used for a prime rib roast, or beef standing rib roast.)
The most common thing that helps determine the quality of beef is marbling. Marbling refers to the white lines of fat and connective tissue that are speckled throughout the cut of meat.
This is highly sought after, and it is said the higher the level of marbling a piece of meat has, the better the quality.
Hence, prime grade beef is better than a choice grade beef because the prime has more marbling. However, choice beef has more marbling than a select grade beef, so a choice grade is superior to the select beef.
Marbling is highly sought after because that extra fat content is what gives the cuts of beef extra flavor. And it also makes it juicier and more tender, as it prevents the meat from drying out during the cook.
What Is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu is a type of Japanese beef that is known to be very expensive and highly popular around the world. It’s so highly sought after that country outside of Japan have purchased and imported Japanese cattle breeds. All to be able to farm their Wagyu.
That’s why you can see American Wagyu beef and Australian Wagyu beef being sold at your local supermarket today.
A cut of Wagyu beef is very unique because it will feature the most intense marbling. The level of marbling found in Wagyu is almost incomparable to other types of beef. Most beef, especially USDA graded beef, mainly features moderate marbling patterns.
The abundant marbling found in Wagyu beef cuts is what makes it so delicious. However, not all Wagyu beef is the same. For example, those that are produced and sold outside of Japan aren’t as expensive or as impressive.
Especially when compared to the cuts that come from truly authentic wagyu breeds of cattle.
This is because the Wagyu in countries like Australia and America do not come from 100% Japanese cattle. Instead, a lot of the Japanese Wagyu cattle found outside of Japan have been crossbred with other native cattle breeds.
The reason for this is to ensure that they adapt to survive in different countries.
The Feed Used For Wagyu
Another thing that separates true authentic Wagyu from the type offered in other countries is the feed given to the cattle. Traditionally, Japanese Wagyu cattle are grain-fed.
However, lots of Wagyu cattle bred in Australia are strictly grass-fed. (The Hughes family of farmers in Australia is a good example of this. As they strictly believe in delivering 100% grass-fed, grass-finished meat.)
That is why fully authentic Japanese Wagyu meat is the most expensive beef in the entire world. And black beef wagyu is the most expensive and highest grade of beef sold by Snake River Farms in America.
What Is Prime Beef?
Prime beef is the highest quality of beef that’s graded by the USDA. This is because it has the highest marbling score when compared to all of the other beef grades determined by the USDA.
Another unique thing about prime beef is that the meat that receives this grade usually comes from younger beef cattle. A lot of these cattle are younger than two years of age.
Comparing Wagyu Beef and Prime Beef — Which Is Better?
In terms of marbled meat, these two different cuts of steak cannot be compared. This is because those who are looking for maximum marbling in their meats will pick Wagyu every time.
Both of these different types of beef are extremely different. From the difference in buttery marbling to their price tag, Wagyu beef will always seem to be better than Prime grade beef.
The Overall Quality of Beef Isn’t Just Determined by the Level of Marbling
While organizations like the USDA are regarded as the officials when it comes to grading meat, meat with ample amounts of marbling isn’t always the best.
Sure, the rule of thumb is the more fat equals more flavor, but some dishes don’t call for super fatty meat. While Wagyu beef may produce the best steaks, there are so many other different cuts of beef. And even more ways of preparing these cuts.
At the end of the day, both of these types of beef are not necessarily cheap. But if you’re looking to enjoy beef with the best marbling, then it’s worth it to splurge a little and purchase a nice cut of Wagyu beef.
At the end of the day, everyone has their individual preferences when it comes to how they like their meat. So there’s no definitive answer as to which type of beef is better.
However, we hope that you found our article to help determine the differences between prime beef and wagyu beef.
Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)
You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!
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