Do you take meat seriously? If you do then at some point you’re going to need to try — if you haven’t already — what is considered by many the best meat on the planet: Wagyu beef. While the title of “best” meat is a matter of individual taste, you will be hard-pressed to find many people who are going to argue against Wagyu being at the top of the pile.
To find out more about Wagyu and what makes it so damn special, we spoke to executive chef Beau Carr of RingSide Steakhouse in Portland, Oregon.
Wagyu, which is Japanese for “Japanese cattle,” technically describes all cattle from Japan. However, you more often hear the name in reference to a specific type of ultra-high-quality beef.
“Wagyu is beyond prime,” says Carr. “The level of marbling in this meat is way beyond the [United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)] grading system.”
“The more marbling, the better the meat is going to taste. Marbling is probably the single most important aspect of good meat if you have to pick one,” he continues.
According to the American Wagyu Association, there’s some evidence that genetic separation of Wagyu forebears began as early as 35,000 years ago. Through the eons, these cattle were bred to have an extraordinary amount of intra-muscular fat — the aforementioned marbling. Only four Wagyu cattle were exported to the United States in 1975, then more came in the ’90s. To this day, very few U.S. farms raise these amazing and rare cattle.
One of the places you can find true American Wagyu — and where RingSide gets theirs from — is Pacific Rogue Wagyu near Gold Beach, Oregon. This ranch received its first Wagyu embryos in 1993 and witnessed the birth of the fifth and 11th steers ever to be born on U.S. soil. Pacific Rogue Wagyu has been breeding pure-blood Wagyu ever since and sells roughly a dozen heads of 100% Wagyu every year.
It’s incredibly uncommon for American steakhouses to serve Wagyu, so if you see Wagyu on the menu of your local steakhouse, chances are that it isn’t true Wagyu beef (this doesn’t mean it won’t be good, but if you’re looking for the real thing, you’re most likely going to have to do some searching).
What happens when you do find true Wagyu beef? How can you tell truly how good it is? You go by the grade, of course. Just as the USDA regulates American beef, the Japanese Meat Grading Association (JMGA) closely monitors every piece of meat to ensure top quality every time. To come up with a final grade (which range from 1-5, with 5 being the best), a piece of Wagyu beef is graded in five categories:
- Beef Marbling Standards (BMS)
- Beef Fat Standards (BFS)
- Beef Color Standards (BCS)
- Firmness and Texture
For each of these categories, the piece of meat is scored 1-5 (except for yield, which is graded A, B, or C). When it comes to marbling, for example, the meat is graded 1-12. Grade 1 matches with 1 on the marbling scale, as does Grade 2 with 2. Grade 3 encompasses scores 3 and 4, while Grade 4 covers 5-7, and Grade 5 is 8-12.
For a piece of Wagyu to be the very best (A5), it would need to score 5 in each of the four categories as well as get an A score for yield (A translates to 72% or more yield).
If you do find yourself sitting in front of a piece of A5 Wagyu, rejoice — you have the best of the best in front of you. You’ll want to accompany it with a dram of one of these expensive whiskies, but other than that the only thing you need to do is savor the fact that you’re about to have the best melt-in-your-mouth meat in the world.
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