Wagyu Beef - Is it Worth the Price?
by Ross Bowen, Tastemaker in Residence
Have you seen Wagyu beef at your local butcher lately? I am seeing it more and more often. The cuts are visibly more marbled, which is a sign of a good steak. It is a lot more expensive – is it worth the price?
I saw a Wagyu NY Strip at the grocery store this week, right next to “reserve aged choice” and thought I would do a taste test.
What is Wagyu?
Wagyu is related to Japanese Kobe beef. Real Kobe beef comes from a breed of cows originally used to plow rice patties in Japan. The cattle can be any of four breeds of Wagyu cattle. Bonus fact – Kobe Bryant is named for Kobe beef!
Wagyu is known for its intense marbling with fat. When cooked, the fat within the steak melts, and makes the steak moister and easier to chew. Most of the flavor in steak also comes from the fat.
In the US, our parallel to Kobe beef is Wagyu crossbred with Angus cattle. The price difference between Wagyu and choice is startling. For instance, when cooking competition brisket, I use Wagyu from Snake River Farms, which costs $179 and up for a single brisket. You can buy choice brisket for $50 or so.
For our test, we cooked two strips, using the following recipe. The Wagyu steak was about a pound, and the choice steak was about 3/4 of a pound. For purposes of science I would have had them the same size, but I took what the butcher had.
Grilled Wagyu Steak
- Shake kosher salt on both sides of the steak. Return to refrigerator for two hours.
- Start a charcoal fire. It needs to be a very hot fire.
- Remove the steaks from refrigerator and let come to room temperature.
- Rub the steaks with canola oil. Forget oiling the grill grate; the oil will burn off in a few seconds. Oiling the grate does seem to help in cleaning it, though.
- Shake salt, pepper, and garlic powder on the steaks, or use your favorite steak rub.
- Place on grill and hover overhead while the steak cooks. Move the steak often to prevent burning, from hot spots to cooler areas as need. After about 5 minutes, flip steak. You are looking for an internal temperature of 135 degrees. Please, please buy an instant read thermometer for this!
The Wagyu was juicy and moist, very tender, and very flavorful. The choice steak was also tender but not as moist. Both were very good. The meat is so good that I was glad I didn’t over-apply the spices. It certainly doesn’t need a steak sauce.
My daughter Angela thought that both steaks tasted strongly of ketchup. Because she had it swimming in it! I do not recommend adding ketchup to a $30 steak.
The Wagyu was definitely better, but the choice was quite good as well. I recommend getting Wagyu for special occasions, like weekends.