If you identify as a lover of all things steak, then you must have engaged in a debate or a conversation about Wagyu and Kobe beef. In case you haven’t, then this article is a great place to get in the loop! Wagyu versus Kobe beef is a popular topic of conversation among meat lovers, so let’s dive in to understand how they are similar, how are they different, and how to choose between the two.

A5 Kobe Beef
“A5 Kobe Beef” by allanroy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wagyu vs. Kobe Beef: How Are They Similar?

Shared Origins

“Wagyu” translates to “Japanese cattle”: Wa = Japanese, Gyu = Cow. Kobe beef happens to be one of the many types of Wagyu beef. In some areas of Japan, different kinds of Wagyu beef tend to carry their area names. With that being said, Kobe beef is just Japanese beef from the region of Kobe. This means that all Kobe beef is essentially Wagyu beef, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef. If that feels too confusing, just look at it this way: Wagyu is the breed and Kobe is the location.

High Value

So here’s what we know: both Wagyu and Kobe will probably cost you an arm and a leg, just to get a taste. One pound of either Japanese goods will have you spend up to $200! As steep as it may be, it seems like an appropriate sum of money to pay for meat that tastes like heaven. No, we’re not exaggerating.

Kobe beef is sourced from Tajima-Gyu cattle, which is one of the finest and most strictly regulated beef cattle of all the Japanese beef breeds. Tajima Gyu cattle come from the Midwest of Japan, specifically from the famously mountainous regions in the Hyogo Prefecture. Only purebred Tajima Gyu cattle produce Kobe beef, which is a testament to the beef’s unparalleled superior quality and value

Embracing Fat

Both Wagyu and Kobe beefs have crazy amounts of gorgeous marbling. Both are genetically predisposed to having insane fat marbling and to producing high levels of monounsaturated fat. The abundance of fat is visible when you cut into them. This glorious marbling makes for a juicy and satisfying steak. It’s an absolute game-changer!

Wagyu steaks
Wagyu steaks presented at the table” by James is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wagyu vs. Kobe Beef: How Are They Different?

Kobe beef Quality Control Is No Joke!

When it comes to Kobe beef, compromising on quality is simply impossible. In order to qualify as quality beef, the Kobe Beef Marketing, and Distribution Promotion Association enforces stringent rules and regulations. If the set criteria are not met, then the beef will not be certified. The cattle must be purebred and must have certification to prove that they’re from a specific pedigree.

Tajima-Gyu cattle must be born, raised, fed, and slaughtered according to a suggestive list of guidelines. They must be born, raised, and fed food from their native region. Their slaughter must take place in approved slaughterhouses. Their age must range between 28 and 60 months, and they are rated on their meat quality and marbling. There are rumors that they listen to classical music, and get regular massages!

Due to the meticulous regulations and rules, only 3,000 to 5,000 carcasses of Tajima Gyu cattle manage to be certified. Most Kobe beef ends up in local markets, where demand is high. As for exported Kobe, the quantities are negligible, which elevates its value and causes its price to skyrocket.

Fun fact: Each Tajima Gyu cow has its own 10-digit serial number that allows the cow’s lineage and life cycle to be traced back and validated, so you’ll know it’s the real deal. How cool is that?

Wagyu Beef Is the Less Demanding Sibling

While true Kobe beef (because fake Kobe beef labels do exist) can only be bred in the prefecture of Hyogo, Wagyu beef can thrive anywhere in the world! The superior quality of Kobe beef heavily depends on where the cattle are bred, but Wagyu beef puts the emphasis on the cattle itself. The location doesn’t really matter, but the cattle do. This is one of the chief reasons why Kobe beef can be way more expensive than Wagyu.  

The 4 prominent breeds found in Japan are Japanese Black (Kuroge), Japanese Brown (Akage), Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu), and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku). All 4 have unique qualities, and they differ from each other. Kuroge cattle are known for their superior marbling, they tend to carry more intramuscular fat than their counterparts do. That is precisely why they represent the go-to breed when it comes to Wagyu beef. Their marbling makes them invaluable when it comes to sourcing wagyu.

This is probably a good time to say “what a time to be alive” because now there is such a thing as “American Wagyu Beef”. It’s basically a cross between purebred Wagyu cattle and traditional beef cattle breeds. The result of this glorious crossover is the American Wagyu Beef.

“It has the richness of Japanese beef with lots of marbling, but the flavor is more akin to what we’re used to in America. You can give me a pound of the best Wagyu from Japan, or a pound of this, and I’ll choose the one from Snake River Farms every time.”

Chef Wolfgang Puck
Credit : Chicago Steak Company

So … What’s The Bottom Line?

Honestly? There’s no right or wrong answer here. You can do no wrong if you choose either beeves. If you’ve never tried Wagyu before, then maybe it’s best if you start slow and try wagyu before you move on to Kobe. You’ll be getting quite the bang for your buck: Wagyu is tender, it’s juicy, and it’s an entire flavor fest waiting to happen.

But if you’re a wagyu veteran, and would like to experiment with something equally satisfying, then Kobe beef is the answer. It can also be the perfect choice for someone with a knack for the finer details. If you find all the stringent guidelines surrounding Kobe beef exciting, then go for it! It could be fun to compare wagyu and Kobe and decide on a winner.

This is a scenario where you’ll be a winner either way!