What is Wagyu Beef? Arguably the Best Meat on Earth

If you consider yourself a meat connoisseur — a meatoisseur, if you will — then at some point in your life you need to try what is considered by many the best meat on the planet: that from a pure-blood, Wagyu steer. While the “best” meat is a matter of individual taste, your money would be pretty safe if you were to bet on Wagyu beef.

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.

What is Wagyu Beef?

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.”

wagyu beef raw steak marbling
Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg/Getty Images

“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-percent Wagyu every year.

wagyu beef cattle cow
Fertnig/Getty Images

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).

Wagyu Beef Grades

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
  • Yield

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 wonderful (and 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.

Article originally published by TJ Carter on August 22, 2016. Last updated by Sam Slaughter on April 12, 2019.

Food & Drink

How to Cook Ribs in the Oven (Yes, They’ll Come Out Great)

Purists may cringe and haters may hate, but the answer to the age-old question, "Can you cook ribs in the oven?" Yes, you can. Now, the follow-up: Do ribs taste good when cooked in the oven? Yes, yes they do.
Food & Drink

This Foil Packet French Dip Recipe is Great For Camping

A diner staple, now available over an open fire near you.
Food & Drink

How to Make Lasagna Bolognese, According to a Chef

For a delicious lasagna bolognese recipe, we turn to chef Kristine Mana-ay of Il Principe in New York City.
Travel

The Best Things to Do in Tokyo if You’re Traveling Solo

From top-notch sushi to some of the best shopping in the world, these are all the best ways to treat yourself during a weekend in Tokyo