A Practical Wagyu Beef Guide for Gourmet Home Cooks
Wagyu literally means “Japanese cow.” It’s one of the most luxurious and sought-after types of beef on the earth. Wagyu beef’s fatty, tender, and flavorsome qualities set it apart from every other kind of meat. Pronounced “wah-gyoo,” this beef is legendary for meat connoisseurs and gourmet chefs worldwide.
While you may feel silly saying it aloud the first time or two, rest assured you’ll get over it. Soon you’ll be tossing the term around the dinner table, trying to convince everyone and his brother to try the most delectable steak in the world.
Trust us when we say your first taste of this ultra-tender steak will be enough to make you drool. You’ll never get that melting-in-your-mouth sensation out of your mind. Like countless others who’ve discovered the magic of Wagyu, you’ll instantly be hooked.
So what makes this meat so spectacular? Where did it come from, and how is it different from other types of beef? And why is it so darn pricey? We’ll cover all this and more in our comprehensive Wagyu beef guide for the amateur gourmet chefs, foodies, and epicureans in the house.
What is Wagyu Beef?
Wagyu beef is known for its unique marbling, buttery tenderness, and delicate texture. We weren’t kidding when we said it melts in your mouth. With its high-fat content, it has a melting point lower than your body temperature. So it really does if you cook it right (more on that later).
The distinct name was given to Japanese cattle breeds that were – and are still – bred in highly regulated environments. And when we say “highly regulated,” we mean these cows practically live like kings.
Japan has four native breeds of cattle, but only one is genetically unique. Unlike any other animal, Wagyu metabolizes fat internally, which creates a fat marbling effect in the muscle tissue. Other types of steak will have a fat cap on the outside.
To acquire the real thing – the rare, luxury version of Wagyu – you need to know where to look and who to trust.
How is Wagyu Beef Raised?
Wagyu cattle farmers are very particular about how they raise their cows. It’s the only way to produce such exceptional meat. Over the decades, Japanese farmers have perfected the art of raising cows with evenly marbled fat deposits.
Specialty breeders raise the cows until they’re seven to ten months old then sell them for a high price to cattle farmers. Some cows go for as high as $30,000 at auction. No kidding. Compare that to the best black Angus cows in the U.S. and Australia that go for $3,000 tops.
The cows are then taken to feeding farms where, as we mentioned, the farmers treat them like royalty. They have room to roam and are fed three square meals a day. Their owners watch them closely to ensure they grow in a healthy, stress-free atmosphere.
To create the highest quality meat, farmers minimize stress for their cattle by keeping them on closely monitored open-air farms where they carefully control noise levels. They always keep their cows hydrated with fresh, clean water. Some farmers even claim to give their cows regular massages and turn on classical music to calm their nerves. We’re not sure about those ones.
Wagyu cows live the high life for the next two or three years – until the day of reckoning when they’ve reached their ideal weight or gained enough fat content. The entire process is natural, which is why it can take much longer to get them ready to slaughter than methods that involve steroids, drugs, or hormones.
Where Does Wagyu Beef Come From?
Originally, Wagyu were bred as working animals in Japan due to their hardy nature. Over time, they naturally began developing the ability to store energy internally. Intramuscular fat began to form, creating the fine, marbling effect we now know and love.
When Japanese farmers realized the quality of the cattle they raised and how valuable the meat was, they started to develop the meticulously regulated breeding programs that exist today.
What are the Different Types of Wagyu Beef?
Your meat must come from one of these four native breeds to be authentic Wagyu beef. Keep in mind that the cow can be raised anywhere, but Japan is where Wagyu cattle thrive. The four types of native Japanese cattle BREEDS include:
- Japanese Black: The most popular breed, accounts for more than 80% of Japanese cattle, intensive marbling, buttery flavor
- Japanese Brown: The second most popular breed, leaner, light and mild taste
- Japanese Shorthorn: Accounts for only 1-2% of cows in Japan, lean, savory taste
- Japanese Polled: Less than 1% of Japanese cattle, lean, gamy, rich flavor
When the Japanese began developing the process of breeding high-quality cattle back in the late 1800s, they crossbred European cattle with native breeds. Today, all four strains of Wagyu cattle are genetically related to European cattle varieties.
There are four main types of wagyu BEEF:
- Kobe beef: Kobe beef originally comes from a type of Japanese Black cattle called Tajima and is raised in the Hyogo Prefecture. The capital city of Hyogo is Kobe.
- Miyazaki beef: Hailing from the Miyazaki Prefecture, this beef also comes from the Japanese Black cattle.
- Matsusaka beef: This famous source of Wagyu comes from the Mie Prefecture near the city of Matsusaka in Japan.
- American Wagyu beef: American Wagyu beef is usually from Wagyu cattle that have crossbred with another type of cattle. In the United States, farmers can label their meat as authentic Wagyu if it has at least 50% Wagyu genetics. American Wagyu tends to be less pure than Wagyu in Japan, where regulations are much stricter.
Before ordering “Wagyu” beef at a restaurant or ordering online, find out how authentic it is. Some suppliers and restaurants will charge premium prices for crossbred Wagyu. If you’re going to pay a high price for it, make sure it’s genuine.
- Fullblood Wagyu: Genetically 100% Wagyu beef, an authentic product of Japan, maximum marbling
- Purebred Wagyu:75-99.8% Wagyu
- Crossbred Wagyu: Also called American Wagyu, at least 50% Wagyu
What is the Difference Between Wagyu and Kobe Beef?
Kobe is a variety of Wagyu beef that comes from a particular strain called Tajima-Gyu. Tajima is known as the master bloodline in Japan. Two out of three of the dominant beef brands in Japan come from this line.
To be labeled as “Kobe beef,” meat must pass stringent testing and inspection. The cattle must be raised and slaughtered in the Hyogo Prefecture. The beef must have a marbling score (explained in a later section) of six or higher, meet specific weight requirements, pass a defect inspection, and stem from the Tajima lineage. It must also meet other quality and yield scores to be officially certified as Kobe beef.
It’s not real Kobe, despite how it’s labeled, if it doesn't meet these standards. Merely 3,000 cattle qualify as authentic Kobe each year.
Why is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?
Wagyu beef fetches a high price tag due to its rarity, quality, and exclusivity. It can cost up to $200 per pound, and cows can sell for up to $30,000. The way these prized cattle are raised and slaughtered also plays into the high cost.
Wagyu Beef Grades
There are two ways the Japanese grade their beef: by its beef marbling score and its yield and flesh ratings.
Beef Marbling Score (BMS)
The BMS is a Japanese system used to rate the degree of marbling in meat. It ranges from zero to 12, with 12 being the highest grade of Wagyu beef. Levels 11 and 12 are rarely achieved. You might find 11s in the finest steakhouses in Japan, but premium beef is generally rated in the four to seven range. As we mentioned above, Kobe beef must achieve at least a six on this scale.
In the U.S., the best beef (USDA Prime) ranges from four to five on the BMS scale. If it’s an Angus cow, it usually hangs around a two.
Yield Rating and Flesh Rating
Yield rating measures the beef’s weight as a percentage. Flesh rating measures texture, color, marbling, and gloss. The best rating beef can achieve with this system, which combines these two grades, is called “A5.” Meat falling into this category is considered the best and highest quality available.
The letter corresponds to its yield quality. “A” means the meat is superior, “B” is average, and “C” is inferior. A variety of factors play into the number portion of the grade. The inspector considers the beef’s marbling level, the meat's color, and how evenly the fat is distributed. Five is rare and the most difficult to attain.
Which Part of Wagyu Beef is the Best?
The filet comes from the cow's tenderloin and is one of the most desired cuts of Wagyu beef. Sirloin meat, divided into top and bottom sirloin, is also highly sought after. Loin cuts are popular due to their fine marbling. Other popular cuts include the rib roast, chuck flap, and bottom flap.
Is Wagyu Beef Healthy?
It sure is. The extra fat in Wagyu is high in oleic acid, a compound that gives the meat a high proportion of monounsaturated fats (the good fat that won’t increase your cholesterol). Diets high in this type of fat can help you lose weight and reduce your risk for heart disease. Wagyu beef is also rich in an amino acid called glutamic acid and fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6).
How to Cook Wagyu Steak
Once you get your hands on a prime cut of Wagyu beef, we’re sure you’ll want to cook it as perfectly as possible. Here are some pointers:
- Set out your steaks so they thaw and reach room temperature before cooking.
- Cook the steaks as soon as they reach room temperature so they’re fresh and flavorsome.
- If you’re cooking on the stove, use a cast-iron pan to ensure even cooking.
- Don’t add sauces or marinades to overwhelm the inherent flavors of the steak.
- Sear one side at a time, only flipping the meat once.
- Don’t overcook. We recommend cooking your Wagyu steak medium-rare, not well done, so you don’t lose flavor. We also want you to have that melt-in-your-mouth experience everyone talks about.
- Add a sprinkle of sea salt to bring out natural flavors and a little pepper if desired.
- Let the steaks rest for five minutes before indulging.
- Optional: Pair with a medium or full-bodied red wine. Complementary appetizers include charcuterie boards with cheese, fruit, olives, baguettes, and prosciutto. Try adding side dishes like lightly seasoned roasted vegetables, sauteed mushrooms, and baked potatoes to complete the meal.
- Not optional: Enjoy every bite.
Order Authentic A5-Grade Wagyu Beef Online
Hungry yet? We can do something about that. Holy Grail Steak offers authentic, A5-grade Japanese Wagyu and full-blood Australian and American Wagyu. We’re the only online supplier of genuine Kobe beef and offer the most comprehensive assortment of Wagyu in the world.
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