Understanding Canadian Beef Grades

Canadian beef is unrivaled in culinary circles. The care and attention taken by Canadian cattle farmers have raised their status to world leaders in this field. 

More than 85% of beef raised in Canada falls under the high-quality classifications ranging from A to Prime. The beef in these grades is youthful and has a firm, bright red rib-eye with 2 mm or more fat.

Marbling is the only category that differentiates the four thigh-quality grades and is defined as the quality of fat distribution throughout the cut of beef.

However, with such high quality, it can be confusing to try and sort out the different qualities of beef.

The following is a handy guide to explaining the Canadian beef grades and what they mean to you.

Why is Beef/Meat Graded?

To deliver consistent and high-quality beef to consumers, beef carcasses are graded into groups of similar quality.

In Canada, the grading system is voluntary, but almost all beef is graded to help with pricing and marketing.

The Government of Canada oversees this beef grading system based on industry recommendations but is administered by the Canadian Beef Grading Agency (CBGA). This non-profit company is accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As you can see, there are a lot of entities involved when it comes to grading beef!

The beef's actual grade measures several characteristics that reflect the overall quality of the meat. A beef carcass is graded only after a trained grader's inspection and bears a meat inspection stamp.

Grade Criteria

When it comes to grading beef, the criteria for each grade include carcass muscling, maturity, external fat cover, marbling, and meat quality:

  • Maturity: Carcasses are evaluated as either “mature” or “youthful” based on bone ossification.
  • Marbling: The fat within the muscle that contributes to the flavour and juiciness of the beef.
  • Muscling: Refers to the thickness and shape of the carcass apart from the fat and determines how much meat the carcass will yield.
  • External Fat Cover: The soft part of the meat that covers the muscle and influences yield.

All of these characteristics determine the overall quality of the meat.

Quality Grades

There are thirteen beef grades in the Canadian system, with A, AA, AAA, and Prime indicating the highest quality meat and 88% of all graded beef in Canada (2009).

However, the grading system includes B1, B2, B3, B4, D1, D2, D3, D4, and E.

The four B grades refer to youthful carcasses less than 30 months old and do not meet the minimum requirements for A-Prime grades. These grades represent 10% of graded meat in Canada.

The E grade refers to mature or youthful bulls that typically go into further processed products.

For this article, we will look at the A-Prime grades to help you better understand the characteristics of high-quality meat!

Canadian Beef Grades

By understanding Canadian beef grades and their criteria, you can make a more informed decision about purchasing beef!

Grading ensures an optimum eating experience by offering consistency when it comes to determining the quality of the meat you are buying.

Prime-Grade Beef

Prime grade beef features abundant marbling, its red meat laced with even fat distribution. The presence of this fat means a more tender and juicy cut of beef that should work well in all conditions.

Only 2% of graded beef is given a Prime grade.

AAA-Grade Beef

Unlike Prime beef, AAA-grade beef has only a small amount of visible marbling.

Yet, like Prime, the AAA grade is a high-quality category that will provide a juicy and tender cut of beef that is resilient to various cooking methods.

Up to 50% of graded beef reaches AAA quality and status.

AA-Grade Beef

With only a slight amount of marbling, AA-grade beef is a slight step down from AAA-graded beef.

Still, 45% of graded beef falls under the AA heading, and it can still provide an excellent cooking and dining experience!

A-Grade Beef

The lowest of the four high-quality grades, A-grade beef only constitutes 3% of graded beef in Canada. However, it is still considered adequate enough to be listed as high quality!

A-grade beef should be cooked a little more carefully for best results due to the less evenly distributed fat.

Which Should I Choose?

Canadian beef grades help you know the quality of meat you are buying - but it doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive steak to make a delicious meal!

Prime-grade and AAA-grade beef are more forgiving when it comes to cooking and are more flavourful, making them a perfect choice for the barbecue.

But AA-grade beef can still retain its tenderness and flavour when cooked on a grill at a lower cost than Prime-grade.

In fact, AA-grade beef such as brisket is perfect when smoked, braised, or cooked in a slower cooker.

A-grade beef is very tender and can be sliced into thin cuts such as thin steaks and flank steaks for quick searing. Marinating them before cooking will bring even more flavour to the table!

You don’t always have to reach for the most expensive cuts to make an amazing meal! Base your purchases on how you plan to cook the beef and the results you wish to achieve.

Are the Differences In Quality That Big of a Deal?

While beef grade labels make it clear to the naked eye, the actual differences in quality are usually only discernible by a practiced grade or professional butcher.

You can rely on D’Arcy’s Meat Market for the best advice on what grade of beef is best for you, your family, and your budget.

Contact us with any questions you may have about beef quality or the grading of any other meat we sell.

And don’t forget to check out our high-quality beef products in our online shop!

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