When examining various cuts of beef, shoppers may discover that some products available at their grocery or butcher are known as “CAB steaks” and have questions about what that means. “CAB” is an acronym, or abbreviation, for Certified Angus Beef ®, the first branded beef program in the United States.
Angus cows have earned a reputation among ranchers and farmers as a highly fertile, low-maintenance, and easy-to-tend breed.
The traits, coupled with their ability to grow vigorously, mature at a young age, and have beef with excellent marbling qualities have made Angus a preferred breed across North America.
The CAB designation came about as a branded beef program in 1978 to highlight the selective qualities of this part of the beef market.
By the early 1970s, ranchers and farmers had sought to market certain high-quality beef products that had excellent flavor, tenderness, juiciness, and marbling. In order to receive Certified Angus Beef branding, products must meet high industry specifications.
Continents without Cattle
Before the late 1400s, no cattle grazed anywhere in North or South America. The Brazilian churrascarias and Texas-style steakhouses diners enjoy today could not exist with the cattle that early conquistadors and later colonizers brought to the Americas.
The first cattle to arrive in the present-day United States reached the shoreline of Spanish Florida in the early 1500s.
Angus Arrive in America
George Grant brought four Scottish Angus bulls to America in 1873. Although Grant’s dream of establishing a community of British cattle farmers in Kansas ended after his death a few years later, these bulls transformed America’s cattle industry.
Grant had paired these naturally hornless Angus with Texas longhorns, breeding a sturdy stock of calves that began to populate the frontier.
The resilience of these Angus cattle attracted attention. By the early 1880s, more than 1200 Angus cattle were shipped from Scotland to America.
Before the early 1900s, the number of Angus herds increased as ranchers continued to breed, show, and sell their ever-increasing stock.
Sixty members established the American Aberdeen-Angus Breeders’ Association in November 1883 in Chicago. Known as the American Angus Association since the 1950s, this organization has become the largest registry among beef breeds in the world.
Developing the First Certified Beef Program
As questions about the general quality of beef hit the market in the mid-20th century, some of these ranchers sought to set their Angus beef cuts apart from other products available on store shelves.
Similar to other industries that have wanted to establish professional quality standards that differentiated their products from other competitors on the market, these meat producers developed the first branded beef program.
Creation of Certified Angus Beef Program
The Certified Angus Beef designation first appeared in 1978 to address consumer concerns about the decline of beef consistency, flavor, juiciness, and tenderness.
To respond to growing criticism that beef on store shelves and warehouses had poor value, CAB protocols called for a second evaluation beyond the general quality review performed by inspectors at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
A 1999 Oklahoma State University study reviewed the characterization of CAB steaks from the loin and round to the chuck to assess the effectiveness of this branded beef program during its first decade.
The results spoke highly of CAB steaks, noting that 98% were classified as tender, compared with only 25% of Select and 10% of Choice commodity cuts.
Since that 1999 study, CAB products have maintained their high-quality standards and demand remains strong due to the consistency that consumers have come to expect from the Certified Angus Beef designation.
Indeed, since its inception, the CAB specification-based system has become the most successful certified beef program in the world.
Today, specific standards exist for developing a registered Angus herd. A beef chart illustrates the quality cuts available on Angus cattle.
The Angus Association’s “Angus University” outlines the steps cattle farmers and ranchers must take to move their herds to this well-regarded standard. Various governmental bodies publish helpful information that explains the various meat labels out there, including Certified Angus Beef.
CAB Starts a Trend Focusing on Quality
Other certified beef programs have emerged since the CAB designation hit the market in 1978. Nearly a dozen came into existence by 2000, with the number peaking at close to 130 during the early years of the new millennium.
By 2020, the number had declined to 61 active branded beef programs because several have not proven to be financially viable in a very competitive market.
The expansion of these programs illustrates the value of differentiating beef products through a high-quality brand name.
The CAB and similar designations emphasize a level of quality that surpasses beef that only has the conventional grading system.
Re-evaluating Angus Certified Programs
In May 2017, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) responded to requests from leading beef industry businesses to revise its specifications for live animals applied in all Angus-certified programs.
This revision focuses on the phenotype–the cattle’s physical characteristics–to assure that cattle receiving the Angus designation are 51% black and meet other criteria that differentiate them from other breeds.
These changes also place the designation of Angus certification under the purview of the American Angus Association. The Quality Assessment Division of the AMS maintains rigid specifications for carcasses receiving CAB designations.
Cattle raised outside of the United States meet the grading requirements specific to their country. CAB exists as an additional system of evaluating Angus cattle raised by US and Canadian cattle farmers and ranchers.
The next time you hear somebody ask, “Is CAB steak good?” or “What is a CAB ribye?,” you can rest assured that the Certified Angus Beef products you place on your table are the answer to a great cooking and eating experience.
Frequently Asked Questions about CAB
How does the USDA grade beef?
After inspecting cattle, independent USDA graders label them according to an established scale that includes Prime, Choice, Select, and lower grades.
How do these graders designate certain products as Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB)?
When inspectors review Angus breeds at the top of the scale, they receive a second evaluation of size, uniformity, and marbling to determine if they meet the 10 rigorous industry specifications for CAB. High-quality standards assure that only 3% of beef receives the CAB Prime designation.
Is there a difference between USDA Choice and CAB products?
Certified Angus Beef commands a higher retail price than USDA Choice due to its well-marbled and tender texture. All CAB cuts must meet the grading of USDA Choice or higher.