Wagyu vs Kobe Beef

Us carnivore types don’t all speak fluent Japanese, but when it comes to steak, the terms Wagyu and Kobe are understood universally. Terms like Wagyu and Kobe regularly appear on the menu of top-quality steakhouses dotted across the United States.

So what is all the fuss about? In simple terms, Wagyu means Japanese cow and cattle. Whereas Kobe is a rare strain of Wagyu that comes from the Tajima-gyu strain.

There are many steakhouses across the United States selling “Kobe” beef on their menu, but in all honesty, only a handful of these are legitimately cooking with Kobe. Let’s discover why Kobe is considered as such a rare delicacy.

Wagyu vs. Kobe Differences

Did you know?
Approximately 7,000 Tajima-gyu cattle heads are slaughtered annually, and of that, roughly 5,500 are certified as Kobe beef.

Kobe is a rare commodity, and only a small portion of this is exported, with only approximately 30 steakhouses based in the United States authorized to sell Kobe.  

Wagyu means Japanese cow or cattle. Often there is a misconception that Wagyu is a breed of beef or a term used to define a higher quality of meat.

Wagyu – aka Japanese – cattle comes from four different cattle breed strains. These breeds evolved from the late 1800s when several European cattle breeds were brought to Japan and crossbred with native breeds. These include:

  • Japanese Black – Originally raised as work cattle. This breed is renowned for its intense marbling.
  • Japanese Brown – A leaner and healthier breed of cattle with a light and mild taste.
  • Japanese Shorthorn – A lean breed rich in inosinic and glutamic acid, prized for its savory flavor.
  • Japanese Polled – Lean and known for its game texture and rich, meaty taste.

Tajima-gyu cows (from Kobe beef) belong to the Japanese Black breed. This breed is raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture.

Did you know? Over 90% of Wagyu are Japanese Black strains. So when someone says “Wagyu,” they are usually referring to Japanese Black cattle. Much like USDA Prime steak, the incredible marbling of Japanese Black strain cattle beef is what makes this Wagyu so sought after.

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Grading Wagyu & Kobe beef

All Wagyu beef – including Kobe – is assessed using Japan’s strict beef grading system. Japan is notorious for taking its grading system seriously. At a minimum three assessors are required to evaluate Wagyu independently and then combine their scores to reach an overall outcome. A combination of letters and numbers are used to rate the yield, quality and marbling of Japanese beef.

What is the Yield Grade? Yield assesses the ‘cutability’ of the meat.

This doesn’t refer to how easy it is to cut the meat to bite into. Instead, ‘cutability’ refers to the proportion of meat that can be taken from a specific part of a cow’s carcass.

What is the Quality Grade? Like the USDA grading system, Wagyu beef is also assessed on its degree of marbling.

However, in addition to this, the Japanese evaluate the overall quality of the cut. Other things taken into consideration include the:

  • Color and brightness of the beef
  • Firmness and texture
  • Color, shine, and quality of the fat (BMS grading).
Grading Marbling
Within the quality grading system, there is an additional Beef Marbling Score (BMS) grading. The BMS is graded to a finer degree of accuracy, receiving a grade of 1-12.

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Japanese Beef Grading Categories

  • Yield Grading
    • A: Above standard
    • B: Standard
    • C: Below standard
  • Quality Grading
    • 5: Excellent
    • 4: Good
    • 3: Average
    • 2: Below average
    • 1: Poor
  • BMS Grading
    • 8-12: Excellent
    • 5-7: Good
    • 3-4: Average
    • 2: Below Average
    • 1: Poor

So once graded, Wagyu beef will score for example A4 with a BMS of 6. This demonstrates how beef is graded in Japan.

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Requirements for Real Kobe beef

Producing Kobe is a serious business, especially when it comes to meeting Kobe certification categories. Refer to this checklist of minimum requirements:

  • Must come from a Tajima-gyu cow (part of the Japanese Black breed).
  • The steer must be a castrated bull or virgin bull.
  • Must have been born and raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.
  • Must only feed on grains and grass from the Prefecture.
  • The death must be processed in approved slaughterhouses in Hyogo.
  • Gross carcass weight of 470kg or less.

Yield & Quality

Certified Kobe must achieve yield and quality scores must of A4 and A5 with a BMS of six or higher. If beef is graded as A4 with a BMS of 4, it does not make the Kobe cut.

What is American-Kobe? Since the mid-nineties, farmers brought breeds of Kryoshi and Akaushi Wagyu cattle into the United States. Since then, they have been producing beef that features some of the characteristics of Japanese Kobe. This beef is not the “real deal.” You might see this on your steakhouse menu referred to as “American-Kobe” or “Kobe-style” steak. 

Buying Kobe Beef in the United States

Aside from buying Kobe beef online, here are roughly thirty steakhouses that stock certified Kobe beef. Be warned, if you see “Kobe-style” or “American Kobe” beef on the menu, it is NOT the real deal.

Due to the scarcity of this beef, it is also extremely expensive and is not always available. According to sources, one pound of Kobe Beef at the Wynn Las Vegas will set you back roughly $880.

Here are a handful of steakhouses in the United States that stock authentic Kobe beef:

  1. 212 Steakhouse Restaurant, New York City
  2. Alexander’s Steakhouse, Cupertino and San Francisco, California
  3. Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, SLS Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
  4. Jean Gorges Steakhouse, Aria Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
  5. Nick & Sam’s, Dallas, Texas
  6. SW Steakhouse, Wynn Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada
  7. B&B Butchers & Restaurant, Houston, Texas.

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Final thoughts

If you are on the hunt for a mouth-watering Kobe steak and visit a steakhouse who claims to stock this rare find, be on the lookout for some clues to determine whether they are legitimate.  

First, steakhouses will proudly display the bronze statue and certificate that are appointed by the Kobe Meat Logistics Promotion Consociation. These two proof points will be displayed hand-in-hand. In addition to this when presented with the Kobe Beef, it will display the Nojigiku stamp on the outer fat strip of the steak.

If you want to experience the decadent buttery texture of Kobe beef at least once in your lifetime, make sure you are getting the real deal – you are paying enough for it!

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Kelly Pettitt

By Kelly Pettitt

When she's not working on the train tracks, Kelly is a proud carnivore who travels the globe on the hunt for the ultimate steak experience. When she’s not devouring a New York Strip or chomping down on a rack of ribs, she is mixing up a dirty martini or sipping on a full bodied shiraz.