WHY DOES IT MATTER?
What is Marbling?
Marbling is the soft white intramuscular fat cells that are distributed throughout lean red meat. Its called "marbling" because it closely resembles a marbling pattern. The more marbled a cut is, the more juicy and flavorful a cut will be. For many different reasons, marbling is a main criteria for judging quality of meats. The more marbling a piece of meat has, the higher quality it tends to be.
Science Behind it
There are many different factors that go into creating a highly marbled cut. For this reason it is difficult to attain and deemed exquisite. The delicate balance between diet, breeding, and animal happiness determine the concentration of those fat cells that we want.
- Diet: Grain-fed cattle tends to be more marbled than grass-fed. You can related this to your own life. You'd be much larger eating only bread and pasta compared to only eating spinach.
- Breeding: Not all species are created equal, at least when it comes to cattle. Genetics play an important role in determining how easily fat can be dispersed throughout their bodies. Selective breeding insures better marbling.
- Animal Welfare: Stress is a factor to how soft and tender your meat will be. Stress sends a hormone called cortisol throughout the body, quickening the heart rate and hardening the muscles. This can also play a role in the cow's eating habits. Happy cows mean better meat.
Finally, the type of cut you have also determines how marbled your steak will be. You can think of this as how certain parts of your body puts on weight differently. Its the same with cattle! For example a ribeye will be much more marbled than a top sirloin filet.
B.M.S Marbling Scale
The scale to the right is a typical scale that is used to determine the marbling and, consequentially, quality of a cut. A typical USDA prime ribeye usually falls between Numbers 4-5. American ribeye's fall between numbers 7-9. A5 beef receive the highest marbling score - this rare type of beef is only found in Japan and is sought after by beef connoisseurs all over the globe.