The Ultimate Guide to Wagyu Beef: Origins, Costs, and Recipes

by: Hideo Takahashi



Time to read 6 min

What is Wagyu?

Wagyu beef, the term 'Wagyu' (pronounced “wa-gyoo") translating to 'Japanese cow,' has its roots deep in the history and culture of Japan. It is a type of beef that comes from four specific breeds of cattle native to Japan: the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn. Among these breeds, originally bred for labor purposes, the most celebrated is the "Japanese Black," also known as "Kuroge Wagyu." These cattle are raised with exceptional care and are known for their unique genetic predisposition to produce heavily marbled meat.

However, you may also happen to have Wagyu beef that doesn't derive from these cow species; in fact, the Australian Wagyu Association's registration criteria are different from the above-explained rules of the Japanese government's regulation since they allow to consider a cow as "Wagyu" if its genetic heritage coincides with one of the four species above at least at 50%. Therefore, not all Wagyu beef derives necessarily from Japan.

Wagyu has become a symbol of culinary excellence: chefs and celebrities from all over the world come to Japan to experience its unique marbling and exquisite taste, and today, having a dinner in Kobe to eat the “finest Japanese brand meat” is considered a must-try activity for tourists.

Why is Wagyu beef so expensive?

Wagyu is considered a high-class dish even for Japanese people.

Other species of Japanese beef have excellent quality and are delicious, but are way more affordable. So why is Wagyu beef that expensive? There are several factors in it.


The necessity of pedigree

Wagyu cows have well-documented pedigrees to preserve their genetics and allow the continued improvement of the breed. The pedigree information is very detailed: it contains details about the cow's birth date, fecundation date, nose print, and individual identification number. Information about the breeder can also be found. This is essential for maintaining and improving the breed, as it allows the

selection of the animals that will contribute positively to the beef quality of the next generation.


How Wagyu cows are raised

Wagyu Cow

To allow the maintenance of the excellent quality that characterizes Wagyu beef, Wagyu-producing cows are raised and sought-after under precise control. Wagyu cows from Kobe, for example, are fed by blending grain with soybeans, corn, and barley grass. They are also given potable water, the same that we humans drink. The mineral levels of the soil where the cows live are controlled, too.
Also, significant attention is given to the cows' stress levels: they are often taken for walks, brushed, and massaged, and each cow has its own area where it can rest. The duration of the fattening process is 1.5 times longer than average.

All these factors are fundamental to keeping the Wagyu beef's quality as high as expected, with its characteristic flavor and tenderness, even though they cost much more than the average production costs of non-Wagyu cows. This is why Wagyu beef is way less affordable than other types of meat.

Ranks and prices of Wagyu beef

As explained before, Wagyu beef is among the most expensive types of beef worldwide due to its production costs and unique quality.


Wagyu beef ranks

Wagyu beef in Japan is often graded based on a strict system that evaluates various characteristics of the meat on an alphanumeric scale; this grading system helps determine the quality and price of Wagyu beef. These are the factors considered and their ranking system:

  1. Beef Marbling Score (BMS): it assesses the level of marbling, which refers to the intramuscular fat. The marbling is scored on a scale from 1 to 12, with 1 being the lowest and 12 being the highest. A higher score indicates more marbling and a higher grade.
  2. Meat Color: it is evaluated using a scale that ranges from 1 (extremely pale) to 7 (dark red). Most Wagyu beef falls within the range of 3 to 5.
  3. Fat Color: it is rated on a scale from 1 (extremely white) to 7 (extremely yellow). High-quality Wagyu beef typically has white fat.
  4. Meat Texture: it assesses the firmness and consistency of the meat. The texture is scored from 1 (extremely soft) to 5 (extremely firm).
  5. Yield Grade: this grade reflects the amount of usable meat obtained from the carcass. It is scored from A (highest yield) to C (lowest yield).


Wagyu beef prices

The prices of Wagyu beef depend on different factors, including the beef quality, the cut, and the supplier. Here is an overview of the average cost of different Wagyu beef types in Japan:

  1. Japanese A4 Wagyu: $80 to $200+ per pound, depending on the cut and other factors.
  2. Lower-Grade Wagyu: $40 to $100+ per pound for cuts like sirloin or ribeye.
  3. Wagyu Steaks: $60 to $200+ per pound.
  4. Kobe Beef: $150 to $500+ per pound, depending on the specific grade and cut.


Where to buy Wagyu beef?

Where to buy Wagyu beef in your country

Today, it has become relatively easy to export Japanese Wagyu beef to many overseas countries. Wagyu export needs to be approved by the government of the importing country under the import conditions required by the Japanese government, and processing at the slaughterhouse is also necessary. Both export knowledge and beef knowledge are required, so there are also companies that support export procedures.


Where to buy Wagyu beef in Japan

You can easily buy Wagyu at supermarkets, and there are also Wagyu specialty stores. Also, it is possible to order Wagyu beef from all over the country on the Internet, and it can also be purchased wholesale directly from farmers.

Nowadays, even relatively inexpensive restaurants may hold occasional Wagyu-related events. Therefore, the consumption of this meal has become more familiar even for young children.

How to cook Wagyu beef

Use of Wagyu beef in Japanese cuisine


“Sukiyaki" is a typical dish using Wagyu beef. What is it?

It is a Japanese dish that cooks meat and other ingredients by grilling or boiling them in a shallow iron pot. Seasonings such as soy sauce, sugar, sake, mirin, etc., are also used. The tenderness of Wagyu beef goes well with the Sukiyaki grill, and it is often consumed during family gatherings such as celebrations and New Year's.

In addition, the absence of smells and the miscellaneous taste of Wagyu beef is beneficial for delicate Japanese food, so it is also used in meals that are not mainly meat dishes, such as meat and potatoes, meat tofu, tempura, curry, etc.


Use of Wagyu beef in overseas cuisine

Even in Japan itself, Wagyu is often used while cooking non-proper Japanese food, and yet it is still appreciated by people of all ages. For example, Wagyu Thai restaurants and multinational izakaya that use Wagyu beef are popular among Japanese.

Izakaya is a Japanese-style bar that serves alcoholic beverages and accompanying dishes. Bars and pubs mainly offer Western liquor at Western-style stores, while many izakayas offer beer, chuhai, sake, etc., in Japanese style, and there are many types and quantities of dishes compared to bars and pubs.

In foreign Wagyu restaurants, it is common to eat it as steak.

However, recently, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and suburban New York in the US, famous chefs use Wagyu beef to cook carpaccio, grilles, and even French dishes. Also, it is said that marbled Wagyu beef tastes like foie gras! Nowadays, you can buy "Wagyu burgers" and other Western dishes that contain Wagyu beef, too!

Overseas, due to the global Japanese food boom, Wagyu beef is becoming more popular. However, it is also a reality that Australian Wagyu is monopolizing the overseas market. Nowadays, Wagyu beef is not considered Japanese beef, but it has instead become synonymous with high-class meat. However, true Japanese Wagyu is made by Japanese people's unique diligence and delicacy, and thanks to the perseverance of Wagyu farmers, who work hard every day to provide more delicious and high-quality Wagyu beef. We hope that the correct knowledge and splendor of Japanese Wagyu can be transmitted around the world and that more people will get to experience the uniqueness of Wagyu beef in Japan!

Author Bio

Hideo Takahashi

Hideo Takahashi

Born in Tokyo in 1990. Founder of JAPANBITE and CEO of its operating company, GRID Start, Ltd.
Established the company in 2023 after being a consultant of IT infrastructure.
Inspired by his travels to 15 countries and a deep love for Japanese food, he launched a service to contribute to small local Japanese manufacturers' businesses and allow many foreigners to enjoy Japanese culture.

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