Skip to main content

An Expert Guide to Unique Japanese Wagyu Cuts

Learn Why Wagyu is Some of the Most Famous Beef in the World

A5 Ribeye from Holy Grail Steaks
A5 Ribeye from Holy Grail Steaks Image used with permission by copyright holder

Japanese Wagyu is some of the most famous beef in the world. Its marbling and flavor are legendary, resulting in meat that’s impossibly buttery and soft in texture. While Kobe beef is the most well-known type, there are many other types of Japanese Wagyu.

Wagyu is Japanese for “Japanese cattle” and can include breeds like Kobe, Hitachi-Gyu, or Wagyu from the Ibaraki prefecture in Japan. Besides its excellent marbling, Hitachi-Gyu’s fat also contains a high percentage of oleic acid, a health benefit, and a flavor enhancer that gives a sweet and umami finish to the meat.

But to properly appreciate Wagyu, it’s also crucial to understand its differences from American beef. Not only is top-grade A5 Wagyu marbled beyond American USDA Prime, but Wagyu is also used differently in Japanese cuisine, generally preferring thinner and smaller cuts than in America. Our guide to this Wagyu tour is Michael Coggins, the cofounder of Holy Grail Steak Company. As Wagyu experts, Holy Grail has curated a unique selection of Japanese beef like Hitachi-Gyu, championing a nose-to-tail meat-eating philosophy that highlights some of the most unique beef cuts. 

Nose-to-Tail Philosophy

Japanese beef on teppanyaki
note thanun / Unsplash

Although nose-to-tail butchering isn’t unique to Japan, many Wagyu cuts are butchered and cooked differently than in standard American butchery. There are several reasons for this, according to Coggins.

“But due to both their (Japan) culinary traditions and the stark contrasts in cattle, there are many incredible cuts from Wagyu cattle that simply aren’t thought of in the U.S.,” Coggins said. “Shabu-Shabu is a great example. Since A5 Wagyu has such incredible marbling, many processors will make Shabu-Shabu from muscles we would only grind.”

This difference in cuisine results in some interesting Japanese beef cuts uncommon in America, such as knuckle (a sphere-shaped section of meat below the top round) and upper plate (under the rib primal). Sometimes, Wagyu cuts are not grilled or seared; they are slow-cooked or lightly boiled, such as the previously mentioned Shabu-Shabu. Shabu-Shabu, a style of Japanese hot pot, involves quickly cooking thin slices of meat in hot broth. While boiling meat might be counterintuitive to American-style meat cooking, especially with searing cuts like ribeye, the natural marbling of Wagyu makes it sublime when treated in a quick broth bath.

Breakdown of Unique Japanese Wagyu Cuts

Because top-grade Wagyu contains more marbled fat than standard beef, cuts commonly used for slow-cooking in America are often used for quick-cooking methods in Japan.

“Since American beef doesn’t have the marbling of Japanese graded cattle, we need low and slow cooking techniques, and even then, cutting with the grain instead of against isn’t an acceptable meal,” Coggins said. “But the delicacies they create in Japan with higher marbled cattle can come from nearly any muscle in the animal.”

Chuck Eye Roll

A5 Chuckeye roll cut
Holy Grail Hitachi-Gyu Chuck Eye Roll Image used with permission by copyright holder

At a glance, this marbled cut closely resembles the popular ribeye. Full of rich, beefy flavor, the chuck eye roll is butchered from the area between the cow’s shoulder and the upper section of the foreleg. Often used for roasts in slow-cooking in America, this cut can also be enjoyed as steaks. Wagyu chuck eye roll is on a different level when seared. Coggins recommends serving this cut thin and searing it rare for the best results.

This fatty chuck eye roll in Japan is lightly seasoned to avoid masking the natural umami flavor. Some recommendations? Coggins recommends high-quality salt or soy sauce with a dab of wasabi.

Upper Plate

A5 Upper Plate cut
Holy Grail Hitachi-Gyu Upper Plate Image used with permission by copyright holder

Located under the rib primal, this high-fat cut is best grilled for that combination of beefy punch and caramelized fat. Because the natural flavor of this cut is intense, it’s excellent with a sweet, thick sauce, such as Japanese yakiniku sauce. In Japan, some specialty meat restaurants will break down this cut into several sections: karubi (short rib), jo karubi (special short rib), and tokujo karubi (premium short rib). The detailed breakdown of this cut showcases the different flavors of this cut and shows off the restaurant’s skill.


A5 Zabuton Wagyu cut
Holy Grail Hitachi-Gyu Zabuton Image used with permission by copyright holder

A highly marbled cut, zabuton is commonly known in America as Denver steak. In Japan, the origins of the name zabuton are due to its resemblance to the traditional square cushion used for floor sitting.

The best way to enjoy zabuton is to cook it rare on a high-heat grill. Once the fat melts and the flesh lightly browns, turn the steak over. Like the upper plate, zabuton goes well with a sweet, soy-based yakiniku sauce.

However, Coggins is keen to mention that Wagyu enjoyment is more about the preparation than the specific differences in butchering.

“I would think less about cut than I would about preparation. Even the word ‘teppanyaki’ is a preparation and cooking technique — not a cut,” Coggins said. “They use smaller portions, expert butchering, cooking techniques, and incredible Wagyu in unison to ensure any A5 meal will be incredible.”

Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
I threw my cutting board away after reading this study, and so should you – here’s why
Should you ditch your plastic cutting board?
Hands chopping vegetables

A cutting board is one of those kitchen tools that isn't really up for debate when it comes to necessity. Unless you care not a bit for your knives or countertops, cutting boards are an absolute must when it comes to food preparation. We use them for everything from butterflying filets to mincing shallots, and every chop and dice in between. In the interest of avoiding cross-contamination, many people even have color-coded cutting boards in their kitchen, earning themselves a gold star in the world of food safety. Until now, at least.
While there are certainly plenty of cutting board options available on the market in both size and material, most of us probably have a few plastic versions lying around in our kitchens. And while these are great for giving that celery a quick chop, a recent study published by Environmental Science and Technology indicates that a good deal of that cutting-board plastic is actually ending up in our food.

The study
The study was conducted by chopping carrots on two different kinds of plastic cutting boards; one made from polypropylene and the other from polyethylene. Taking into account factors such as an individual's chopping style and force, the number of times an ingredient needed to be cut, and how often each board was used, the results indicated that all of that chopping could result in shedding 14 - 71 million polyethylene microplastics, and 79 million polypropylene microplastics from their respective boards each year. To put that into perspective, that's about the same amount of plastic as ten credit cards going straight into our food annually.
Unfortunately, that's not the worst of it. Since plastics have taken over the world, microplastics have been found almost everywhere in our bodies, including our blood, lungs, and even placentas. Another study conducted by the National Library of Medicine shows that microplastics can have drastically ill effects on the body. First, to the digestive system, starting when microplastics are first ingested, and then physical irritation to the gastrointestinal tract that may cause inflammation, resulting in various gastrointestinal symptoms. Microplastics can cause chemical toxicity, caused by these substances entering the body through the gastrointestinal tract when microplastics are ingested orally, leading to various gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Read more
The Walla Walla wine guide: It’s not just fun to say (there are great vineyards here, too)
Walla Walla is one of the most impressive wine country towns in America. Here's what to do there
The Force Majeure tasting room in the Milton-Freewater.

For fans of wine, the Walla Walla region offers one of the most stimulating scenes in the country. The Eastern Washington city is best known as the birthplace of Adam West, the original Batman. But if the next 10 years function anything like the previous 10, Walla Walla and wine will be forever intertwined.
One of the town’s many charms is its full embrace of the industry and Washington state wine. Downtown is historic, walkable, and teeming with tasting rooms and production facilities. It’s a perfect home base for a long weekend devoted to getting out into some of the surrounding foothills to taste by day and returning to the city for a memorable dinner or bar drop-in at night.
The Walla Walla Valley spans Washington and Oregon and is comprised of a large and eponymous wine appellation, as well as the subregion of  The Rocks District, which sits on the Oregon side of the border in Milton-Freewater. A few hours' ride away is Oregon's most famous wine region, the Willamette Valley. Farming has long existed there, but before grapes, it was the land of wheat, onions, and orchard fruit. Now, it's an established spot turning out incredible Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, among others. 
In town, there are some great stops, like Passatempo Taverna for pasta and a strong local wine list or Walla Walla Steak Company for a nice cut (and great beer at the adjacent Crossbuck Brewing). Seven Hills Winery is one of the area’s oldest and occupies a beautifully restored building in the heart of the city. The Browne Family Tasting Room is also a suggested stop, featuring its own lineup and often the work of a lot of talented small-production producers in the area. For lodging, there are few spots better than the architectural gem that is The Marcus Whitman hotel.
There are some impressive winery names in the region, some so in-form that they’re waiting-list-only enterprises. But it’s worth combing bottle shops for releases from Cayuse or the syrah masters at Delmas. The sommelier-owned-and-operated Gramercy Cellars is doing great work and there are new spots worth exploring, like Echolands. 
Getting into the thick of surrounding wine country requires little more than a short drive. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Palouse with the distant peaks of the scenic Umatilla National Forest for company, it’s as pretty as it is palate-satisfying. Here are some places to check out if you find yourself in Walla Walla, Washington.

Force Majeure
With an incredibly sleek facility in The Rocks and some bang-up wines to match, Force Majeure is a great appointment-only visit. The winery launched in 2004 and has since gained a big following in the region. These days, you'll find a bit of sparkling wine in the tasting room, shadowed by some incredible French-inspired blends and standalone varietals that showcase a number of great appellations. These wines encapsulate the beauty of big, bursting flavors anchored by balance.

Read more
A guide to the many gems of Santa Barbara wine country
Want to check out one of the most exciting American wine scenes? Go to Santa Barbara
Brewer-Clifton vineyard view.

California has it good. From pristine coastlines and great weather to remarkable wine regions, it's hard not to love the place. Santa Barbara in particular touts all of the above and is, among other things, one of the most buzzed-about American wine areas at the moment.

It's home to great winemakers and bottles that won't break the bank. The scenery is stunning and it's all headquartered around a couple of big cities. That means you can taste by day and explore town by night.

Read more