Wagyu vs. Kobe: The Ultimate Showdown!

Wagyu vs. Kobe:

The Ultimate Showdown

            I am very tempted to say it… so I am just going to go ahead and say it… since we are doing a head-to-head matchup of two different types of beef…

            Welcome to the Thunderdome!

            OK… now that that is out of the way, let’s go ahead and get right into it.

            There is always a lot of talk and a lot of speculation about the differences between Kobe beef and Wagyu beef.  Some people swear by one type of beef over the other, and there have been endless debates about whether Wagyu is better, or if Kobe is better, or if these are just fancy ways to hype up beef…

            If that latter is true, then the $150 - $200 a pound people will pay for Wagyu or Kobe is truly terrifying, as it would mean that those two names hold little to no meaning in any capacity. 

            (Some argue that paying that much for beef is a little terrifying regardless of the type, but we are not going to quibble over the smallest little details).

            So… so far, we have done a bit of talking and not gotten into it… so let’s jump in!

What are Wagyu and Kobe Beef?

            Wagyu and Kobe beef have similar roots – both are Japanese in origin, and as such both are primarily found in Japan.  This is the simplest statement one can make about these two different types of beef; they are Japanese.  In fact “Wagyu” translates to two different words in Japanese:

·       Wa- translates to “Japanese”

·       - gyu translates to “beef

            Basically, what this means, is that one of these simply ends any argument; Wagyu is definitively Japanese beef.

            Those of you paying attention are now prepared to ask “Why are you saying that Wagyu means “Japanese beef” and not saying what “Kobe” means?”

Beautiful cut of cooked Wagyu

Beautiful cut of cooked Wagyu

            Good question, good job paying attention… and I will be happy to cover that in short order. :)

            Back to our original train of thought…

            Now, things get a little bit more complicated when you realize that there is some European DNA in these Japanese cows…

            Yes, its true!

The Origins of Wagyu and Kobe

            During the late 1800s, European cattle was cross-bred with Japanese cattle, and the end result was four different breeds of Japanese cattle.  They are the Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled (notice how they were sure to point out these were Japanese?)  While all of these are considered Wagyu, there are differences between these animals (information taken from mychicagosteak.com):

·       Japanese Black – bred to be working breeds of cattle.  However, many discovered that the meat was fantastically marbled, and as such people crave the taste of Japanese Black beef

·       Japanese Brown – this meat is less fatty than Japanese Black, and this can be seen visibly as the cows and steers are leaner in appearance.  The result is a lighter and much more mild taste than most types of beef

·       Japanese Shorthorn – if you consider the idea of Japanese Brown and Japanese Black beef to be “unseasoned”, you would find that the taste of Japanese Shorthorn to be naturally seasoned.  That is to say, it has a naturally savory taste that is unlike anything else, and it tends to be leaner (as with Japanese Brown)

·       Japanese Polled – this would be the selection for those who like venison and similar meats; the taste has been described as very gamey while still being quite lean

            What does this tell us?

            Quite simply, that just like with many different American cow types, there are a number of options for Wagyu beef.  Not all Wagyu is the same, as you can easily see from the four types of Japanese cow listed above.

            However, just because there are four types of Wagyu does not mean equal distribution… in fact, most (90%) of this beef comes from Japanese Black steers.

            In fact, there are so many of Japanese Black steers that there are actually different strains of evolution among them… we won’t name all the types here, but this is important for the next point we have.

Raw Kobe… look at that perfect marbling!

Raw Kobe… look at that perfect marbling!

So, what about Kobe?

            This is where we get down to it… and it is important to now plainly state that Kobe beef is Wagyu beef.

            This is where we can say that “all Kobe beef is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe”.

            It is true… do you remember what we were talking about before, where there are multiple strains of Japanese Black?

            One of these strains is known as Tajima-Gyu, and this is an important distinction.

            There are seven distinctions that must be present for a Wagyu cow to be named as a Kobe cow.  They are as follows (and again, thanks to mychicagosteak.com from having this information available):

1.     It is imperative that the steer is bullock, or if a cow is to be slaughtered it is to be a virgin animal

2.     The animal must be Tajima-Gyu strain (meaning that all Kobe are Japanese Black)

a.      This Tajima-Gyu steer or cow must also have been born in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan

3.     The animal must be exclusively fed within the same prefecture

4.     The animal must be slaughtered within the same Hyogo Prefecture

5.     The Marbling Rating must be at least 6 points on the 12-point BMS scale

6.     The quality rating of the meat must be at least 4 on the 5-point quality scale

7.     Finally, the total weight of the animal to be slaughtered must be lower than 471 kg (1,038 pounds)

            The result of these stringent requirements?

            You guessed it…


            Less than 3,000 cattle get certified as Kobe each year, which drives up the price and makes this meat difficult to get.

Now that we know… why Kobe or Wagyu?

            If you have never had Japanese beef, you cannot possibly understand why someone would care so much about the strict conditions that Japanese cows are raised in. 

            That being said… if you have not experienced Wagyu or Kobe, you should sample this at least once in your lifetime… the excellent marbling that comes from each of these types of beef creates a naturally buttery and unique flavor unlike anything else that you could experience.

Wait… if this is a Japanese steak…

            Yes, I know that there are going to be people that want to know how to get these steaks if they are Japanese, and basically exclusive to Japan.

            Well… you are both in luck and out of luck…

            Wagyu.  Wagyu beef is just a breed, and Wagyu beef can thus be found anywhere as long as the cows and steers are pure bred.

            In the United States, there is the American Wagyu Association, which has identified that there are Wagyu cows being properly raised in the United States (Japanese Brown and Japanese Black only).  Further, there are different “levels” of Wagyu that can be found.  These can be full blooded (100% Wagyu), then can be Hybrid (lowest accepted bloodline), and a couple of other points in between. 

            Essentially, as long as you are not looking for Japanese Polled or Japanese Shorthorn in the US, you can find Wagyu (but you will pay for it!).

            Kobe.  We have all seen it… you got into the supermarket, and right there is American Kobe…

            NO… this is not factual… this is a real problem, since Kobe is ONLY raised in Japan.  Ergo, American Kobe cannot exist.

            Now, there are restaurants that do serve Kobe beef, this is true… but less than 10 in the entire nation are certified to do so.  So, be wary of any restaurant that claims to be serving Kobe!

Which is better?

            The burning question… that is up to you!

            The fact is that different people have different tastes, and many Americans do not prefer the taste of Wagyu or Kobe and prefer a prime cut of black angus.  And when you think about this, it does make some sense…

            Think about what happens when you eat Kobe or Wagyu in Japan… you typically get a small amount served with something else, thinly slices and seared.  The way we eat steak here… it could simply be too much. 


            You might decide that you absolutely love the flavor, and it is your new favorite thing.

            We cannot determine what is best for you, but we hope that giving you this information helps you to figure out what is best for yourself!