Most of you probably know about the American USDA meat grading system where you have Prime, Choice, Select, and then a bunch of grades you never want to touch. But are you aware of the Japanese grading system for their Kobe beef?
First off, let’s clear up a couple things… Getting real Kobe beef from Japan is a very, very difficult task and you will pretty much only find it in some of the top restaurants and it will cost. A LOT. Authentic Japanese Kobe beef comes from a specific strain of the Wagyu cattle and is raised only in a specific area of Japan. There are only about 3000 head of cattle that qualify as “Kobe” so as you can guess it isn’t cheap. You will probably spend over $200 for a small (maybe 5 oz) steak if you can even find it at a restaurant in the US.
But what is somewhat available in the US is “American Kobe” or “American Wagyu” beef. This beef usually comes from a cross of a Japanese Wagyu breed and an Angus. You get some of the super marbling and flavor of the Wagyu breed and the fast growing high yield of the Angus. There are some 100% Wagyu ranches in the US but they are hard to come by.
One of the benefit of crossing the Wagyu with the Angus is it makes a very, very high quality of beef somewhat affordble to the masses. Of course an American Wagyu steak won’t be as good as a Japanese Kobe steak but it will get you pretty close for a fraction of the price.
That is the whole Kobe/Wagyu thing in a nutshell anyway. There are more nuances and terminology that goes along with the story but that is for another day.
Back to the grading… Like I said, you know of the Prime, Choice, and Select designations from the USDA but what do you do when there is such a wide variation in those grades? Are there good Prime steaks and great Prime steaks? Of course and that is where the Japanese grading scale comes in. Nearly all American Wagyu steaks would grade out as Prime due to the fat content and marbling so by using the Japanese grading scale you can start go figure out just how good a cut of American Wagyu beef really is. Prime sets a bottom standard of what a steak needs to be but that leaves a lot of room at the top end of the scale for American Wagyu and Kobe beef.
The Japanese beef grading system uses the BMS scale (Beef Marble Score) to determine the quality of the meat. They check the carcass between the 6th and 7th rib to determine the fat content of the meat and they also use some different calculations to determine the yield of the carcass. The BMS goes basically from 3-12 with 3-4 being average (a score of “3”), 5-7 being good (a score of “4”), and 8-12 being excellent (a score of “5”). The yield score is a letter grade A, B, or C depending on how much beef the carcass will yield. So the best score you can get on a Kobe steak is an A5. This is the best of the best. A3 and A4 are still very, very good but A5 or a high yield with a BMS score of over 8 is about the best you can get.
When you look at an American Wagyu steak or roast the first thing you will notice is how much more fat is marbled in the meat than a regular steak and this is where the exceptional flavor and texture come from. You really, really need to be careful to not overcook a Wagyu steak because if you do all the fat will render out of it and take away some of its charm.
One of the best ways to get your hands on some American Wagyu beef is to order online and Snake River Farms is one of the best places to get it. They offer a number of different cuts and the prices are good as well. They even offer free shipping if you use the code FREEAFF when you order.
Snake River Farms has two different “grades” of their American Wagyu beef: Their Black and their Gold Grade. The regular American Wagyu beef has a BMS score of between 6 and 8 while the Gold Grade has a BMS score of 9+. The Gold Grade is the best of the best and while the prices might shock you at first you will notice the difference if you splurge and give it a shot. Below are some of the different cuts offered in the two different categories:
American Wagyu Beef – Black Grade
American Wagyu Beef - Gold Grade
No matter which American Wagyu beef you go with I think you will be very impressed with the quality and you will see how it is a step above "regular" Prime beef. A splurge like American Wagyu beef probably won't be an every day thing but is perfect for a special anniversary dinner, birthday dinner, or something along those lines. You can even get one of the roasts, cut it into steaks, and save some money that way.
Hopefully you learned something about American Wagyu and Kobe beef and hopefully you will give it a try one of these days.