Similar to the US, Canada has their own grading system for beef products, to help consumers understand the quality of the beef products they are buying.
Canadian beef quality grades from highest to lowest are Prime, A, B, D, E. Beef is graded according to age, muscle, masculinity, and color, similar to the US system.
Canada also has a grading system for carcass yield, which ranges from 1-5, but this is only relevant to business customers within the meat industry.
In this article, we’ll explore the Canadian beef quality and yield grades in detail, and learn what each grade means in practical terms.
Canadian Beef Quality Grades
Canadian beef is graded into one of five categories, depending on its quality.
1: Canada Prime Grade
Canadian “prime” beef is the highest grade of beef possible in Canada. It’s roughly equivalent to the US “prime” grade, and is reserved for only the highest quality cuts of beef.
Prime grade is bright red in color and firm. There must be a layer of fat at least 2mm thick on the outside and the intramuscular fat must be white in color.
Prime grade must have “abundant” marbling, which is the sole differentiator between prime and A/AA/AAA grade beef in Canada.
Read More: USA Beef Grades Explained
2: Canada A Grade
There are three ‘A’ grades in Canada: A, AA, and AAA.
A grade meat must pass the same rigorous standards as prime meat, but may show slightly less marbling. (Intramuscular fat density)
All A grade meat must have the same bright red color as prime grade, with the same external fat requirements (at least 2 mm of external fat).
The only difference between A grade and Prime grade is that A grade can show less marbling.
A grade marbling standards:
- A: “Traces to slight marbling”
- AA: “Slight to small marbling”
- AAA: “Small to slightly abundant marbling”
3: Canada B Grade Beef
The Canada B grade represents the same youthful, high-quality meat as prime and A grade, but shows almost no marbling and has very little external fat.
B grade beef is similar to the “select” beef grade in the US, meaning the beef still must show minimal signs of age and be firm and healthy, however it is exceptionally lean compared to the higher grades of beef, and may be missing one of the requirements of the higher grades.
According to the Canadian Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), B-grade beef is often used in fast food restaurants where the quality of the marbling isn’t a major concern.
B grade beef is further differentiated into categories B1 to B4, according to which of the A grade criteria the meat is missing.
- B1: Same quality as A grade, but with minimal / no marbling or external fat
- B2: Exterior fat has an off-white yellow color
- B3: B3 beef has insufficient muscle definition
- B4: B4 beef carcasses contain “dark meat”, which is meat with a high level of lactic acid in the muscle, caused by stress or illness in the cow before slaughter.
Canada D Grade Beef
In Canada, the D grades of beef are used to grade older animals that don’t meet the “youthful” requirement for A or B grade.
D grade beef is further subdivided into grades D1 to D4, with the same definitions as B1-B4.
D grade meat is usually used for further processing and is rarely served as is. Examples of D grade uses include processed beef products like hotdogs, burgers, pies, or dog food.
Read More: How Many Burgers can One Cow Make?
Canada E Grade Beef
E Grade is reserved for older animals, similar to D grade.
The difference between E grade and D grade is that E grade is reserved for carcasses with visible masculine traits.
Maculine meat is highly undesirable in the food industry because it’s often affected by taint, a bitter taste found in beef cut from animals with high levels of testosterone.
Examples of masculine traits that would cause beef to be put in E grade:
- Enlarged Hump
- Enlarged Neck
- Enlarged Crest
- Enlarged Penis
Canadian Beef Yield Grades
In addition to the above-mentioned quality grades, beef in Canada is also graded according to the estimated yield (in percentage of carcass weight) from each carcass. This grade is only used within the food industry and is not relevant to end-user consumers.
Canadian Beef Yield Grades:
|Grade||Estimated Yield (%)|
|Canada I||Greater than 52.3%|
|Canada II||50% to 52.3%|
|Canada III||47.7% to 50%|
|Canada IV||45.4% to 47.7%|
|Canada V||Less than 45.5%|
Source: Beef Cattle Research Council
Why Is There No ‘C’ Grade?
In Canada, C grade is reserved for Veal or Bison meat. It’s not used for regular beef grades.
Is All Canadian Beef Graded?
Not all Canadian beef is graded. Grading is not mandatory, and some beef is sold as ‘ungraded’.
Is Canadian Beef Higher Quality than Other Beef?
Although Canadian and American beef are graded by different authorities and use different grading systems, Canadian and US ‘Prime’ beef are of similar quality.
To sum up, Canadian beef is graded from Prime grade down to E grade, according to the age, color, texture, and intramuscular fat (marbling) of the carcass.
Grades Prime, A, and B are all from young meat and must meet strict quality regulations. B grade beef may fall short on one test at most.
Grades D and E are reserved for older meat, with D grade being used for steers and cows, and E grade typically being used for bulls where the carcass has visible masculine traits that lower the quality of the meat.
In addition to the quality grade, beef carcasses are also given a yield grade, which ranges from 1-5 and estimates the amount of usable meat on each carcass. Canada 1 is the highest grade, with an estimated 52.3% or more of the carcass being usable meat, while Canada 5 is the lowest, with an estimated 45.5% or less of the carcass being usable.