Wagyu 101

Wagyu Marbling Scores: How Do They Work?

By Nicholas Fiorentino

If you’ve been curious about Wagyu, you may have come across a variety of Wagyu products that have been given a certain marbling score. Whether a cut of Wagyu is Japanese, Australian, or American, the marbling score of Wagyu plays directly into the flavor, tenderness, and cost.


Here, we go over Wagyu marbling scores from the largest Wagyu producing nations and how marbling scoring systems work and differ from region to region.


Understanding Wagyu Marbling Scores


Wagyu beef is treasured for its visibly rich intramuscular fat found between muscle fiber bundles, commonly referred to as “marbling”. The tenderness and rich flavor of Wagyu is directly derived from the fat that is commonly found in highly marbled examples. Wagyu marbling score ranges and numerical scores will differ from region to region and the association that grades the beef.


Japanese Wagyu Marbling Scores


The grading of Japanese Wagyu is conducted by the Japanese Meat Grading Association, or JMGA. The JMGA rates the marbling of beef using the Beef Marble Score, commonly abbreviated as BMS. 


Japanese Beef Marble Scores range from 3 to 12, with 3 being the lowest level of marbling and 12 being the highest obtainable BMS. While a BMS 3 rated cut may contain very few signs of intramuscular fat, BMS 12 cuts will be nearly fully saturated with rich marbling. In 2008, the JMGA raised their standards and removed both BMS 1 and BMS 2 scores entirely, making BMS 3 the lowest marbling score obtainable for Wagyu beef.


Typically, the Beef Marble Score in the Japanese system is categorized as the following:


  • 8-12: Excellent marbling
  • 5-7: Above average marbling
  • 3-4: Average marbling

Australian Wagyu Marbling Scores


The amount of fat within the muscle is graded in Australia using the AUS-MEAT beef quality grading system. Although the Australian grading system is similar to the Japanese system, the numbers used to measure the marbling of beef is different. 


Unlike the Japanese system that utilizes the Beef Marble Score, or BMS, the Australian marbling grading scale is simply referred to as the Marble Score, or MS. In the Australian system, the scale goes from MS 0 to MS 9+, with MS 0 having minimal to no marbling and MS 9+ cuts showcasing extraordinary marbling. Although Australian Wagyu Marble Scores of MS 10, MS 11, and MS 12 do exist, they may typically be labeled as 9+. 


American Wagyu Marbling Scores


In America, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) determines the grading of certain cuts of beef. The USDA grades meats into 3 main categories: Select, Choice and Prime (from lowest marbling to highest). Both Choice and Select USDA grade cuts have very little or no marbling, and would not be given a BMS score if graded in Japan. 


Choice and Prime USDA grades have their own subgrades. USDA Choice can come as Choice-, Choice, and Choice+. USDA Prime also has subgrades of Prime-, Prime, Prime+, and Prime++ (“Beyond Prime”). All American Wagyu will be measured as Prime++ (“Beyond Prime”), which can be graded as BMS 3 all the way to BMS 12 using the Japanese Beef Marble Score, depending on the marbling present. 


Final Note


Wagyu marbling scores will have a direct and noticeable impact on the taste, tenderness, and the pricing of beef. In order to find Wagyu beef with the highest marbling scores, you’ll need to find reputable vendors that work directly with both international and domestic producers. The Meatery works exclusively with worldwide producers of high-quality Japanese, Australian, and American Wagyu to ensure a memorable dining experience.  To view our hand-selected cuts, or to learn more about our diverse offerings, visit us online or in-person at our San Diego butchery.

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