You’ve probably seen this logo around your grocery stores. “Certified Angus Beef” is different from the USDA quality grades.
Certified Angus Beef can also be quality graded, so you can have prime, choice, or select Certified Angus Beef. But Certified Angus Beef also has to meet a few other specifications. The USDA‘s Agricultural Marketing Service also does these inspections.
Other beef can be labeled “Angus,” but without going through the appropriate inspections and grading, or if the beef doesn’t meet the stringent requirements, it can not be labeled “Certified Angus Beef.”
In order to be labeled as Certified Angus Beef, the animal must meet either genotype (genetics, or family tree) or phenotype (physical appearance) requirements. To meet the genotype requirements, the animal must be able to be traced to one parent that is pure-bred Angus, or two grandparents that are pure-bred Angus.
If the genotype requirements are not met, the phenotype requirements can be met instead. Those requirements are actually pretty simple – the animal needs to be at least 51% black. That’s it. Beef cattle can come in black, white, red, gray, or a couple of other colors.
There are two main breeds of Angus – black Angus and red Angus. A red Angus steer that meets the genotype requirements (but not the phenotype requirement) can still be sold for Certified Angus Beef.
After the initial eligibility screening, there is still more inspection and grading to come. Certified Angus Beef is scored in ten quality areas. First, they look for marbling and maturity. Certified Angus Beef must have:
- Modest or higher marbling (small fat deposits in the meat)
- Medium or fine marbling texture (lots of small fat deposits, instead of a few large fat deposits)
- “A” maturity – these are cattle that are harvested between 9-30 months old. Beef from younger cattle tends to be much more tender.
Next, they look for things that will bring a consistent size to each cut of beef:
- 10- to 16-square-inch ribeye area
- Less than 1,000-pound carcass weight
- Less than 1-inch fat thickness on the outside of the steak
Finally, they look for things that ensure the quality and tenderness of this brand:
- Superior muscling (restricts dairy cattle genetic influence)
- Practically free of capillary ruptures (ensures visually appealing steak)
- No dark cutters (“dark cutters” are steaks that have a dark red color, instead of the normal cherry red color. This often results from stress during transport or handling, and some animals are more likely to have this than others. The lack of dark cutters ensures visually appealing steak)
- No neck hump on the animal (some breeds have a large neck hump, and these breeds tend to have less tender beef than Angus)
Less than 8% of beef in the United States makes the cut to be called Certified Angus Beef. And less than 1.5% of beef in the United States meets the quality specifications to be called Prime Certified Angus Beef.