There are countless places in Charleston to get a steak. Smaller in number are the places who make a great steak. Rarer still are the places you can go to get the best steak money can buy. In the world of beef, there are two heavyweights. Kobe and Wagyu. This is it. The top of the mountain. The end all, be all. One steak to rule them all.
What is wagyu?
Wagyu (pronounced "Wa-goo") means Japanese style (wa) cattle (gyu). Wagyu beef is intensely marbled with softer fat, has higher percentages of monounsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is lower in cholesterol than commodity beef. The combinations of these fats deliver a distinctive rich and tender flavor compared to other beef.
How about Kobe?
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe
The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan. People use the terms Kobe and Wagyu beef interchangeably in the U.S. thinking it refers to the same premium imported Japanese beef, when it does not. Many restaurant menus feature “Kobe Burgers” or “Kobe Steaks”. The internet is flooded with on-line companies offering Kobe Beef, Kobe Burgers, Kobe- Style Beef, and Wagyu beef. The truth is authentic Kobe beef is very rarely seen on restaurant menus in the USA.
Under Japanese law, Kobe beef can only came from Hyōgo prefecture (of which Kobe is the capital city) of Japan. Kobe cows are fed a special diet of dried pasture forage and grasses such as rice straw with nutrition-rich feed supplements made by blending soybean, corn, barley, wheat bran, and various other ingredients. They are not fed pasture grass.
Kobe Beef, Kobe Meat and Kobe Cattle, are also all trademarks in Japan. The United States does not recognize these trademarks thus promoting free use of the term “Kobe” in the US without regard to Japan’s strict standards. Consequently restaurants and retailers market various types of American or Australian Wagyu beef as “Kobe beef”.
Japanese beef was actually banned from being imported into the United States from 2009 until August of 2012. What we see most of domestically, is American Wagyu or Australian Wagyu (Kobe Style) beef. Legitimate Kobe beef is priced around $200 per portion for a steak, and $50 for a burger. If you see something on a menu referred to as Kobe priced less than that, it is most likely domestic or imported Wagyu.
To summarize, if it didn’t come from Tajima cattle in Japan and was certified, it wasn’t Kobe beef. Similarly, you can find plenty of great-tasting sparkling wines, but if they didn’t come from Champagne, France, they’re not Champagne.
American Wagyu (Kobe Style)
Four Wagyu bulls were brought to the USA in 1976 from Japan’s Tottori Prefecture for cross breeding with Angus cattle creating the American Wagyu Kobe Style Beef. The crossbred Wagyu cattle were fed a mixture of corn, alfalfa, barley and wheat straw mimicking the Japanese cattle diet. In the mid 1990’s, about 40 more full blooded Wagyu male and females were imported to the US for breeding.
There a few domestic ranches raising pure blood American Wagyu beef today, however, most of what we see domestically are a Wagyu/Angus mixed breed. The Wagyu influence contributes to the intense marbling and the Angus influence contributes to the animal’s size.
USDA Marble Scoring
The USDA scale for upper grade meat quality has 3 levels: Select, Choice, and Prime. Prime is the highest USDA grade. Roughly, 3% of traditional US cattle harvested are graded as Prime – equivalent to a Wagyu BMS score of 5.
Over 90% of domestic Wagyu cattle grade out as at least Prime, with most reaching a BMS score of 7-8. Wagyu’s intense marbling occurs from genetics and from the cattle spending more time on special feed, about 30 months as compared to commodity beef cattle which are fed about 24 months. The Strube Ranch in Pittsburg, Texas is a notable American producer of quality domestic Wagyu beef.