What is Marbling in Beef and Why It Matters

Marbling is one of the most important factors that determines the eating quality and flavor of beef. But what exactly is marbling, and why does it make such a big difference?

This article will cover everything you need to know, from what marbling looks like to how it impacts the taste and texture of different cuts of beef.

What is Beef Marbling?

Marbling refers to the white fat flecks and streaks distributed within the lean red meat of beef. This intramuscular fat creates a marbled pattern when viewed on steak and roast cuts.

The marbling in beef occurs when fat deposits accumulate between the muscle fibers as the animal grows and matures. Certain cattle breeds are genetically predisposed to producing highly marbled beef, such as wagyu cattle.

Grading Beef Marbling

The amount of marbling present in beef is graded using a few different scales:

USDA Beef Marbling Score

  • Prime – Abundant marbling
  • Choice – Moderate marbling
  • Select – Slight marbling
  • Standard – Trace marbling

Prime graded beef has the highest level of marbling according to USDA standards.

Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)

The BMS scale assigns marbling scores from 1 to 12, with higher numbers indicating more abundant marbling:

  • BMS 1-3 – Traces of marbling
  • BMS 4-7 – Modest to moderate marbling
  • BMS 8-12 – Abundant marbling

Wagyu beef can achieve marbling scores of 9-12 on the BMS scale.

Marbling Distribution

Marbling distribution refers to how evenly dispersed the fat is within the lean. Well-distributed marbling is most desirable.

Why Marbling Matters

Marbling significantly impacts the flavor, juiciness, and overall eating satisfaction of beef. Here’s why it’s so important:

  • Flavor – The marbling liquifies during cooking, basting the beef in its own juices and imparting robust, beefy flavor.

  • Tenderness – Marbling makes beef more tender and supple by disrupting the dense protein structure.

  • Juiciness – Melting marbling bastes the meat, resulting in incredibly succulent and moist beef.

  • Mouthfeel – Marbled beef has a rich, indulgent texture and mouth coating quality.

Clearly, abundant marbling is highly desirable when it comes to delivering premium beef eating quality. Let’s look closer at the differences across cuts.

Marbling in Different Cuts of Beef

Certain cuts of beef benefit more from heavy marbling than others. Here is how marbling impacts common cuts:


  • Ribeye – This well-marbled steak relies on fat for its signature rich, beefy flavor. Go for Prime grade or higher.

  • Strip – Still improves with marbling but doesn’t require as much as ribeye. Choice grade is fine.

  • Tenderloin – Very lean with little marbling. Doesn’t need as much due to tenderness.

  • Flank – Needs marbling to compensate for leanness. Go for Choice grade or higher.


  • Rib – Marbling provides essential moisture and beefiness. Prime grade is best.

  • Chuck – Needs marbling to remain moist through long cooking. Choice or higher.

  • Sirloin Tip – Low marbling steak, so needs a boost. Choice grade minimum.

Brisket & Short Ribs

  • Heavy marbling required to remain juicy and flavorful through low-and-slow cooking. Prime grade or higher.

Bottom Line: Go for Prime grade or higher when marbling has a big impact. Choice grade works for moderately marbled cuts.

Wagyu Beef and Marbling

Wagyu beef, especially Japanese Kobe-style, is prized for its abundant marbling that results in amazingly rich, buttery flavor and velvety texture.

So what makes Wagyu so marbled? Two key factors:

  • Genetics – Wagyu cattle naturally produce more marbling than other breeds.

  • Diet – Wagyu cattle are fed a specialized high-energy diet that promotes marbling.

There are four types of Wagyu beef marbling to know:

  • A5 – Highest grade, BMS 12. Extensive marbling with firm, fine texture.

  • A4 – BMS 10-11. Abundant, Olive shaped marbling.

  • A3 – BMS 8-9. Modest marbling, thick Texture.

  • A2 – BMS 5-7. Average marbling.

American Wagyu offers premium marbling while being more affordable than Japanese Kobe. It’s a cross between Wagyu and American cattle combining superior marbling with familiar portion sizes.

Other Factors Affecting Marbling

Marbling is influenced by the following factors:

  • Maturity – Older cattle accumulate more marbling as they age.

  • Breed – Genetics dictate the amount and distribution of marbling.

  • Diet – Higher calorie feeding regimes promote marbling.

  • Stress – Stress reduces marbling development. Calm environments are ideal.

  • Hormones – Natural or synthetic hormones can increase marbling.

  • Gender – Steers produce more marbling than heifers.

Spotting Quality Marbling

When selecting beef, look for these signs of abundant, high quality marbling:

  • White marbling flecks evenly distributed throughout the red beef.

  • Marbling makes up 10-30% of the total area in Prime cuts.

  • Marbling has a firm, “snowflake” look rather than soft streaks.

  • Beef has a slightly moist sheen rather than looking dry.

  • Color is bright cherry red as opposed to dull or brown.

Cooking Methods for Marbled Beef

Highly marbled beef deserves to be prepared by dry-heat cooking methods that keep all the flavorful juices and fat intact:

  • Grilling – Excellent for steaks. Cook over high direct heat.

  • Pan-searing – Also ideal for cooking steaks to develop a nice crust.

  • Broiling – Cooks from above, great for finishing thicker steaks.

  • Roasting – Cook roasts low and slow to render fat evenly.

  • Sous vide – Cooks in sealed bags immersed in water for tender, juicy results.

Serving Suggestions

Here are some tips for serving beef that showcases beautiful marbling:

  • Cut across the grain to showcase marbling in steak slices.

  • Try new cuts like Denver steak, chuck roll, and tri-tip to discover new marbling patterns.

  • Serve sliced on a platter rather than pre-cut so guests can appreciate marbling.

  • Include a sauce like chimichurri, béarnaise, or au poivre to complement, not cover up flavor.

  • For ultimate indulgence, try wagyu ribeye cooked expertly medium-rare.

Marbling makes all the difference when it comes to delivering tender, juicy, and flavorful beef. Understanding what marbling is and learning to identify high quality marbling will help you choose and serve spectacular steaks and roasts.

What is Marbling?


What causes beef marbling?

What Causes Marbling? Marbling is fat, so it is largely determined by the diet of the animal (and to a certain degree the breed of cattle). Cattle that are raised on grain will have more marbling than grass-fed beef. This is fairly intuitive since you can imagine how difficult it would be to get fat by eating grass.

Is marbling in beef good?

The marbling keeps the meat moist, so natural juices don’t evaporate in the pan. Fat is far more tender than muscle fiber in steak. As a result, marbling adds tenderness, which is a preferable mouthfeel. Some fats are undeniably bad for you, but the intramuscular fat that creates marbling can be good for you.

What does marble mean in meat?

Well, marbling refers to the white flecks of intramuscular fat in each cut of meat. Marbling adds a lot of flavor and can be one indicator of how good the beef is.

How does marbling affect beef taste?

According to previous work, the role of intramuscular fat (IMF) can be clearly observed as the increase of marbling degree clearly improves the sensory scores of tenderness, juiciness and beefy flavour, and steak palatability [3,4,9–12].

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