Wagyu Vs Kobe: The Difference Between Wagyu and Kobe Beef Explained
When it comes to expensive beef, American meat vendors toss around a lot of labels the average consumer may not understand. For example, what makes a wagyu steak “wagyu?” Is Kobe meat superior? What differentiates wagyu and Kobe from the common meat available at the grocery store? Where are all of these different types produced?
Organizations such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and American Wagyu Association (AWA) should provide answers to these questions, but their guidance is confusing at best and downright misleading at times. Likewise, your search engine of choice may give you contradictory or outdated information. Therefore, the meat experts at Hall Farmstead are stepping in to deepen the public’s understanding of all of these labels.
We are a beef ranch in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, dedicated to introducing wagyu to our friends and neighbors. We want our valued customers to understand exactly what they’re getting when they place an order with us, and that means clearing up all of the misinformation out there about Kobe and wagyu beef. Keep reading for reliable answers to every question you want to ask!
What is wagyu?
Wagyu beef refers to meat sourced from four specific Japanese cattle breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown (a.k.a. “Akaushi”), Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn. All four are known for their intramuscular fat content, producing a distinctive flavor and velvety texture that you won’t find in an average steak. Sellers must be able to trace the lineage of authentic wagyu to one of these four breeds.
Wagyu beef is protected by the Japanese government, and the cattle are rarely exported to other countries. That said, small herds have been shipped to countries such as the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, allowing these countries to cross-breed wagyu cattle with local breeds to produce a distinct brand of wagyu.
Naturally, breeding wagyu cattle with other cattle produces a different flavor profile than the wagyu available in Japan. It also means that these steaks won’t have pure wagyu genetics. How much wagyu do you need to call an American steak wagyu? Per the American Wagyu Association, only 23.5%. Most American vendors offer 50% wagyu steaks at most, and there is talk of the AWA banning the use of “wagyu” to describe Japanese meat to cover up the quality difference.
Hall Farmstead believes this is dishonest. All of our Artisan Wagyu cattle are DNA tested and tracked for authenticity, repeatability, and consistency, so we can guarantee our premium Japanese-American wagyu is at least 15/16 Akaushi(Japanese Brown above) and as high as 31/32. We’re not taking shortcuts even if the AWA allows us to. The result is a meal with the richness of authentic Japanese wagyu and the hearty, beefy flavor Americans prefer.
What is Kobe?
Kobe beef comes from one specific breed of Japanese cow: the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle. It’s also produced in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, a region that includes the city of Kobe. However, there’s more that goes into Kobe beef than where it’s produced.
Are you familiar with Champagne? The term refers to sparkling wine produced in the Champagne wine region of France using strict guidelines set by law covering vineyard practices, where the grapes are sourced, grape-pressing methods, and how secondary fermentation is performed. You can find sparkling wine that wasn’t created in Champagne, and it cannot be called Champagne as a result. Likewise, vineyards that don’t follow all of the rules cannot call their product Champagne even if it was produced in the Champagne region.
Kobe meat is similar. The Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association requires authentic Kobe producers to follow the following guidelines:
- The cattle must be Tajima and born in Hyogo Prefecture
- Farm feeding must be performed in Hyogo Prefecture
- The cattle must be either a heifer (female that has never given birth) or bullock (steer or castrated bull)
- All cattle must be processed in a slaughterhouse located in Kobe, Nishinomiya, Kakogawa, Himeji, or Sanda (all of which are in Hyogo Prefecture)
- A marbling ratio (or BMS) of at least level 6
- Meat quality score of 4 or 5
- Yield grade of A or B
- Total carcass weight no greater than 499.9 kg.
These are strict requirements, and fewer than 3,000 authentic Kobe cattle are certified annually. That makes Kobe a delicacy, with vendors allowed to serve it prominently displaying plaques from the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.
Unfortunately, the American government doesn’t recognize the Japanese Kobe trademark, allowing restaurants to market any steak as Kobe without fear of legal repercussions. “Kobe-style beef” is also a popular workaround since they aren’t technically claiming it’s Kobe.
Once again, we don’t believe in these practices at Hall Farmstead. Our Kentucky-based farm isn’t located in Hyogo Prefecture, and our cattle are proudly Akaushi, so we never use the Kobe name to describe our products.
What’s the biggest difference between wagyu beef and Kobe meat?
Since Japanese Black is a wagyu breed, authentic Kobe is always wagyu. However, wagyu generally isn’t Kobe. In fact, meat produced in Kobe that fails one or more of the guidelines above is often sold as wagyu beef. That might make you think that Kobe is better than wagyu, but we would disagree with that assessment.
Roughly 90% of all wagyu beef is sourced from Japanese Black cattle. Kobe is the pinnacle, but you can get a similar flavor profile elsewhere. When we sampled luxury beef around the globe to determine what to base our herd on, we chose Akaushi over Japanese Black because we felt its flavor, tenderness, and marbling were unparalleled compared to other breeds. Furthermore, the unique fat content of Akaushi cattle provides health benefits other breeds do not.
Notably, we’re not saying that real Kobe is bad. We’re just saying that other forms of luxury beef (including our premium Japanese-American wagyu beef) are at least comparable at a more affordable price point. We strongly encourage you to sample both if the opportunity presents itself.
Where do Hall Farmstead cattle fall between American Wagyu and Kobe beef?
Cattle always do best in the environment they were bred for, and we take advantage of that. Monroe County, Kentucky, shares a latitude with Kumamoto, Japan: the birthplace of Akaushi. Just as Kobe cattle would be expected to thrive in an environment similar to Hyogo Prefecture, our herd enjoys conditions reminiscent of Kumamoto on our ranch.
You may have heard rumors about borderline-ridiculous ranching practices to give wagyu cattle a life of luxury, and most of them are untrue. However, our herd is allowed to roam around our ranch as they wish instead of being locked up in an enclosure, reducing each animal’s stress levels so they produce more tender meat. Natural foliage and spring water ensure that every animal gets the nutrients they need, and we finish with a proprietary grain blend sourced from our farm to ensure maximum consistency in our taste, marbling, and tenderness. Indeed, you can trust Hall Farmstead to raise our herd in the right way.
The result is a decadent, luxurious dining experience that must be tasted to be believed. If you don’t believe that food can be a life-changing event, you’ve obviously never tried our premium Japanese-American wagyu meat.
Try our premium wagyu today
Now that you understand what terms like “wagyu” and “Kobe” mean in the luxury beef world, you might be thinking of trying it. Alternatively, you might be intimidated by the prospect of ruining such a prime cut or concerned about the difference between wagyu beef and an average steak being “wasted” on you.
Never fear: Hall Farmstead is here to help. Our website offers numerous articles to help novices make the most of their first wagyu meal, including a guide on what to do with wagyu ground beef and how to prepare it on a gas grill. We also offer a variety of convenient purchasing options. including one-time orders and special party packs, designed to transform wagyu beef into the life of a party.
If you can’t tell, we’re extremely proud of our wagyu beef and want to share it with the whole country! That includes you and your family, so why not place an order right now and discover just how scrumptious a steak can be? You won’t regret it.