What Is Wagyu Beef and what is so special about it

What is Wagyu beef?

At couchpotatodelivery.com, I give honest and critical reviews of meat delivery companies along with a few tips and tricks to get the most out of each service. From seafood to snacks, I probably cover everything. Today’s piece is a little different.

I have wanted to cover the topic what is Wagyu for weeks now, but I didn’t have enough convincing information. So, as usual, I got my boots, did all the legwork, and am glad to say we can finally talk about what is Wagyu beef and what is so special about it! It is probably the most expensive cut you’ll ever get served on a single dinner, so let’s dive right into it!

What Is Wagyu Beef?

Simply put, Wagyu beef is Japanese beef (1). The word wagyu itself is Japanese, and it means Japanese Cow (Wa-Japanese, Gyu- Cow). But then, not all Japanese cows are wagyu, right? I’d probably say wagyu beef is an incredibly top-quality beef. You will immediately notice this beef for its fatty, umami-rich steak, with lots of marbling patterns. The beef is exceptionally tender and has a rich buttery taste. 

Wagyu cattle in Japan dates back thousands of years ago when native Japanese cattle crossbred with imported breeds. Some imported breeds include Brown Swiss, Shorthorn, Devon, Simmental, Korean Cattle, and Ayrshire. Today, there are four breeds of cattle that are considered wagyu: 

  • Japanese Black 
  • Japanese Brown 
  • Japanese Shorthorn
  • Japanese Polled 

It is crucial to note that there are no Japanese Shorthorns or Polled being bred outside the borders of Japan. The Japanese Government highly regulates the breeding of Wagyu cattle to the extent that they declared them a national living treasure.

Even with the bans, wagyu beef still found its way to other countries, and it’s also bred in America, Australia, and a few select countries. It is crucial to note that this wagyu still doesn’t meet the same quality of wagyu beef produced in Japan. 

wagyu beef with nice marbeling

Japanese Wagyu Vs. American Wagyu

The wagyu cattle first entered the U.S in 1975 after two red and two black bulls were imported. But it was not until 1989 when the US started producing high-quality beef for Japan.

During this time, Japan reduced importation tariffs, and most US productions were mainly headed towards Japan. In 2003, the Japanese government halted the importation of beef from the U.S after discovering BSE.

However, the growing popularity of wagyu beef encouraged the US to produce high-quality beef and utilize its growing market. 

The US decided to regulate wagyu beef production and formed the American Wagyu Association (2) in Texas on March 14, 1990. The organization registers all Wagyu breeders from the US, Canada, and other countries. 

So, what is the difference between wagyu beef and American Wagyu beef? Sometimes a video can explain it better than I can. Here is a very nice video from Nick DiGiovanni that explains the difference between Japanese and American Wagyu.

Grading standards

The big difference between American and Japanese wagyu, as you can see in the video above, is that the two countries have besides different marbeling, and distinct grading systems. The Japanese Meat Grading Associations uses strict standards to define the quality of wagyu beef.

In most instances, grading is determined based on marbling, firmness, texture, color, and fat. Japan grading uses the letter A-C and numbers 1-5, with the top-quality grades being the A5 and A4 wagyu beef. 

In America, the American Wagyu Association matches the standards set by the Japanese Meat Association a long time ago. While American wagyu has decent quality, it is hard to match Japanese standards, which took a long time to perfect over the centuries.

You can also read my Crowd Cow Wagyu review and see what I think about that.

Raising Techniques

The quality of wagyu beef lies in the techniques used to raise the exquisite herd. In Japan, there are specialized raising techniques applied and are followed strictly by all farmers. Some of the notable techniques used include: 

  • Maintaining low-stress levels 
  • Eating rice plants, high-grade wheat, and hay
  • Living in open space and clean areas

Texture, Flavor, and Quality

All in all, the most important indicator of high-quality wagyu beef is the texture and flavor. Wagyu is quite pricey, and no one would want to waste a couple of bucks for a substandard cut. I have had the chance to check out several outlets selling wagyu beef, and although they at times look the same (American and Japanese), the quality of Japanese wagyu is unmatched.

Since Japanese wagyu farmers do not cut corners and observe traditional standards, their Wagyu beef is rich in flavor, buttery, and has an intense marbling texture. Japanese wagyu is the real deal, but the American wagyu still has a decent quality. 

Wagyu Beef Vs. Kobe Beef

At this point, you may have heard the word “kobe” used interchangeably with wagyu beef. The truth is there is a slight difference between the two. Kobe is a place in Japan, and Kobe beef is wagyu bred in Kobe, Japan, and licensed by the Kobe Beef Association.

The licensing part is essential as non-licensed wagyu from Kobe is still not the real Kobe. Apart from the origin, Kobe beef must have a quality rating of A4 or A5, so if the beef is bred in Kobe but doesn’t have this rating, it is still not considered Kobe beef. Be wary of fancy Kobe beef names as there is no such thing as Mexican Kobe or American Kobe. All Kobe beef comes from Kobe, Japan, and nowhere else in the world. 

Wagyu Kobe steak being cut

Wagyu Beef Vs. Regular Beef

Well, the first difference is wagyu beef is a lot more expensive than regular beef. In fact, I’d not be surprised if wagyu is the most expensive cut in the world. I saw some Japanese restaurants selling 6-pound Wagyu burgers at around $950. Yes, that’s on the higher side. Typically, wagyu beef costs a little over $200 per pound, with Wagyu cattle going as high as $30,000 in auctions. 

Wagyu meat is unique, and it is reportedly distinct from regular beef due to its “umami” flavored taste. Those who have had a taste of wagyu often describe the experience as tantalizing. Some critics describe it with an almost overpowering tenderness and an intense meaty flavor that you wouldn’t find in regular beef. 

Also, wagyu beef is different from regular beef due to its reported health benefits. Wagyu has almost 300% more monosaturated fat than beef. What does this mean? Wagyu beef has better health benefits and more access to omega 3 and 6. Also, despite having high amounts of fats, wagyu beef has a lower cholesterol level than regular beef or any other meat for that matter. 

Why Is Wagyu Beef So Popular?

By now, it is clear what makes wagyu the most popular cut in the world- unparalleled taste! The genetics in Wagyu cattle brings about marbling in the cuts, churning out a tender and juicy steak. The fats in wagyu meat have a lower melting point than your body temperature, so it naturally melts in your mouth as you take the heavenly bite. 

Wagyu cattle are reared delicately on Japanese farms and can take two years to breed a “Japanese-standard” wagyu beef. The cattle get rationed food to maximize marbling, and since it has a higher life expectancy than normal cows, it has more time to improve their flavor. There have been rumors that ranchers massage the Wagyu cattle during winter to prevent them from cramping, making their meat tender. 

Why Does Wagyu Beef Have A Lot Of Fat?

A distinctive appearance of wagyu beef is the marbling effect, which is basically fatty patterns in the meat. This also answers the question of what does Wagyu beef look like.

Wagyu beef has a higher proportion of fat, and while some beef types like Angus have fat, the marbling effect is unique to wagyu.

It is said that fats from wagyu beef come from nature and rearing techniques as well. Indigenous wagyu beef has the genetics for marbling, and ranchers usually feed them top-quality food to add to this effect. 

Since marbling is mainly genetic, the higher the intermuscular fats, the stronger the DNA. in Japan, DNA is an important factor used to grade wagyu beef, and only cuts with the highest DNA match the original wagyu cattle make it to the market.

While rearing of other cattle focuses on the buildup of lean meat, wagyu farmers look to retain fat and promote little activity to the cow. 

Wagyu farmers tend to rear the cattle in “zen zones” where there is little noise, stress factors, a constant supply of fresh water, and a vitamin-rich diet. Wagyu beef’s fat may make you think the meat is chewy, but it is quite tender and juicy when well cooked.

Wagyu Beef Preparation And How It Is Served

Let’s get into the juicy part, shall we? 

As delicate as wagyu beef is, so is its preparation. This luxury cut needs a finesse chef and, most of the time, an experienced one. Wagyu is available in select restaurants across the country, and it comes in different dishes- burgers, sandwiches, brisket, and other delicacies.

If you get a hold of this beauty, it is more than mandatory to do justice. I saw another writer describe the process of cooking wagyu, and it was just exhilarating. He started his five-day affair with the wagyu beef was so intense that it almost cost him his family! 

Anyways, let’s see some ideal indicators to ensure your wagyu beef gets its optimal umami taste and buttery flavor. When preparing wagyu, the first thing to consider is the fat content and how to maneuver without melting all fat. You can cut off some fat and spread it in the pan or use olive oil and a small bit of butter.

The beef needs to be served medium-rare for the ideal wagyu taste, so make sure it takes little time on the heat. Here is a simple wagyu steak recipe to get you started: 

Step 1

Allow the meat to come to room temperature if it was in a fridge. Remove excess fat if need be and let it rest for half an hour or less. This makes the meat more relaxed. 

Step 2

Preheat a non-stick pan and add small amounts of olive oil. You can skip the oil as the meat already has enough fat content to fire up.

Step 3

Add salt, pepper, and mixed herbs to both sides of the steak. This allows the flavor to run through the meat and caramelize when seared.

Step 4 

Sear each side of the steak for 2-3 minutes and let the meat cook until it is done to your preferred texture

Step 5

When the steak is done, remove it from the heat and rest for 3-5 minutes. This allows the meat to relax and accumulate juices efficiently. 

Step 6

Serve on a warm plate with desired accompaniments. You can also read my article about cooking Wagyu like a pro for more tips.

Which Is The Best Wagyu Cut?

Like any other beef, the most popular cut is the sirloin meat, which can produce tender and succulent steaks. Apart from the sirloin, other prime cuts make delicious dishes, such as the chuck flap, bottom flap, and marbled loin. The Filet Mignon also makes a pretty impressive cut at a yield of just ten pounds per cow. 

You can find more information on Wagyu cuts in my Pursuit Farms review that also sells this Japanese Wagyu.

Is Wagyu Beef Worth It?

Finally, after interesting research, the big question remains- is wagyu beef worth it? 

I’d say yes. Wagyu beef has gone through an intense breeding process that when you look at the meat, definitely attracts the eye.

But what’s not attractive might be the price tag that comes with it.

At roughly $200 per pound, wagyu beef is not your average dinner steak and is certainly not affordable for everyone. However, what you get in taste, experience, ethical practice, and rarity, makes this beef made from a Japanese breed cow worth the try. 

Trying out wagyu beef shouldn’t be a problem if you can take up the big leap and spend a few extra dollars. You can have a look at The Meatery Wagyu they have some nice offers.

Did you know that there is more they do with this meat? They also make Wagyu Beef tallow that you can use in your cooking.

Of course, it will serve best on special occasions and one-time events where you aim to bring up a “heavenly experience,” as some critics put it. We can also see wagyu’s popularity spread from Japan to other countries in Europe and Asia. It is also an Australian favorite!

There are more Companies in America that sell this type of beef and you can read n example my opinion about the snake river farms Wagyu hot dogs and brisket.

However, that does not mean that the other meats I reviewed on this page are not good, It is just a personal choice if you like to invest money in this high-quality Wagyu beef.

Photo of author

Peter Jameson

Peter Jameson is passionate about eating healthy food. While he is doing his search for this, he will share that with the Couch Potato Delivery's readers. As an experienced home cook, he knows what to look for in the food delivery services he reviews. You can find more about him here.