Wagyu vs Kobe: Settling the Beef Once and For All

November 25, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The main differences between Wagyu and Kobe beef are sourcing, quality, marbling, and pricing.

Trained as a professional chef, I was taught all about Wagyu and Kobe beef. Thus, I know exactly what these meats are all about and how to tell them apart.

In this post, I will go in-depth about Wagyu vs. Kobe and show you precisely how they differ. Let’s get started!

Wagyu vs Kobe

What is Wagyu Beef?

The term Wagyu literally means Japanese cow. Wa is Japanese and gyu translates to cow!

In reality, though, Wagyu is used to define a Japanese cattle breed. Wagyu is a horned breed and they have either black or red coats.

The Wagyu cattle that we have today is a cross between native Japanese cattle and British, European, and Asian strains. The crossbred Wagyu cattle were favored for more intramuscular fat cells. The cows were able to access more energy easily as a result.

Wagyu beef

There are now four strains of Wagyu – Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Shorthorn. Currently, the Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn aren’t bred or reared outside of Japan.

It should be noted that there is actually quite a bit of genetic diversity between these Japanese cattle breeds. In addition to crossbreeding, this also has to do with geographic isolation between the breeds.

What is Kobe Beef?

Now, you are probably aware that Kobe beef is Japanese beef. However, did you know that Kobe is a type of Wagyu beef? It comes from the Tajima gyu cattle strain of the Japanese Black breed.

The cattle for Kobe beef is born and raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture. Kobe is the capital city in this region which is why the beef is named after it. These cows must also be slaughtered in this prefecture.

Is Wagyu Same as Kobe?

Based on the above information, it is only natural to wonder if Kobe beef, Wagyu beef – aren’t they the one and same?

Well, here is an easy way to get things straight. All Kobe beef is Wagyu beef but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe.

Wagyu cattle are sorted into several Japanese breeds and strains. In turn, these breeds and strains are often raised in different geographical locations and under different standards.

As a result, the very nature of the meat will be different for each strain of Japanese cow.

Differences Between Wagyu and Kobe Beef

Here are the top differences between Wagyu and Kobe beef:

The Source

As mentioned, both Japanese Brown and Japanese Black cattle can be raised outside of Japan. Even American Wagyu can be referred to as Wagyu beef and can pass muster as high quality beef.

When it comes to genuine Kobe beef, however, this title can only be given to cattle that have been raised in Japan. What’s more, Kobe beef has to come from cows that were specifically raised in the Kobe region, in the Hyogo prefecture.

The Quality

Wagyu beef may be considered some of the highest quality beef in the world, but not all Wagyu is equal.

Wagyu beef has a grading system – the grade is represented by a number from A to C, with A being the best, and number 1 to 5, with 5 being the best.

Now, the number refers to the yield. This is the amount of meat that can be harvested from the cattle. You are able to get a higher yield from healthier, fatter cows. Due to this, a higher yield will get you closer to the desired A rating.

Then, there is the number. This is related to the ratio of lean meat to fat, the color of the meat, the color and appearance of the fat, and firmness of the meat.

Now, Wagyu beef can score any rating on this scale. When it comes to Kobe beef, though, only an A4 or A5 rating is acceptable. If any meat scores less than this, it can’t be sold as Kobe beef even if it comes from that part of Japan.

Due to this, you can say that certified Kobe beef is of a higher quality than most other genuine Wagyu.

The Marbling

In general, Wagyu beef is known for its impressive level of marbling. This is one of the reasons that the meat is so sought after. Marbling improves both the taste and texture of meat, giving it that melt in your mouth feel.

The marbling on Kobe beef, though, is off the charts. This is why the texture of this cut of meat is truly unbelievable.

slice of red meat

Well, most Japanese beef from the Wagyu strain is raised in a particular manner. The animals are chosen carefully, they are fed a very strict diet, and even their environment is controlled according to certain specifications.

When it comes to Kobe beef, there is even stricter protocol to maintain. For one thing, the lineage of the Japanese black cattle are adhered to more closely. It is also more likely that farmers will only choose cows that have the genes to produce a higher level of fat.

Due to this, you will almost always find a much higher level of marbling on Kobe beef.

The Price

Now, you are probably wondering:

Which is more expensive Kobe or Wagyu?

It should be noted that the prices of both Wagyu and Kobe beef can fluctuate. This is because the cost can often depend on both demand as well as availability.

Despite this, Kobe beef is undoubtedly more expensive. It is not unusual for you to pay over $400 per pound of meat.

In the case of Wagyu, though, the cost would depend on where the meat comes from. If it is Japanese cattle, then you can easily spend over $100 per pound based on the rating.

In case it is American wagyu, then you may only end up paying as much as $15 per pound.

What You Should Know About Buying Wagyu Beef?

Now that you are aware of what the differences between Wagyu and Kobe beef are, let’s take a look at how to buy good quality Wagyu beef:

Is American Wagyu Worth It?

If you have looked at the prices of Japanese Wagyu, then you may be considering buying the beef that comes from domestic Wagyu instead.

The problem with the American Wagyu beef is that the standards aren’t quite the same as in Japan. Not only are the cattle more likely to be crossbred, but the cows may not be fed or treated in a manner that will produce the best meat.

If you are meat lovers, then I would suggest getting Wagyu beef that has come from Japan. On the other hand, if you prefer the taste of American beef but would like to enjoy the buttery feel of Wagyu, then the American version may be right for you.

Choose Your Sources Carefully

The truth is that there are a lot of butchers who will simply slap on the label of Wagyu beef if they feel like there is enough marbling.

This is why it is important to choose only the highest quality stores. These days, you might be better off looking at renowned online stores that will deliver this beef to you.

It is always a good idea to ask for accreditation or some kind of proof that what you are eating is, in fact, Wagyu beef.

You may want to do some research of your own and discover if that store has been approved to sell this kind of beef.

Yes, this may seem like a lot of effort for beef. However, when you think about the prices that you are paying for your steak, you better be sure that you are getting the real deal.

Compare Prices

Once you have narrowed down the top sources for the beef, it is time to compare prices. It is not like you are going to find cheap Wagyu but the prices can be overinflated at certain stores.

So, if you don’t want to spend a fortune, it is best to consider the price at each place before making your final decision.

Don’t Be Surprised If You Can’t Find Wagyu Beef

Wagyu beef isn’t always available – this is because there just isn’t enough of this type of beef to go around.

kobe steak

The farmers have to adhere to such strict standards and rules that it isn’t always possible to source as much beef to meet demand. In instances such as these, you will not be able to find Wagyu in the market.

To ensure that you don’t miss out the next time around, you may want to place a future order with your chosen store.

What You Should Know About Buying Kobe Beef?

Buying Kobe beef is the trickiest thing. Here is what you should be aware of the process:

Try to Go to Japan

Yes, this can seem like a rather unhelpful piece of advice, but there you have it!

The reality is that most of the Kobe beef outside of Japan is fake! Due to the rarity of this meat, it is estimated that only enough Kobe beef to satisfy 77 Americans is brought into the country.

What’s more, none of this beef is available in retail outlets. Therefore, if you see Kobe beef at a butcher store, they are lying to you. It is probably a high quality Wagyu cut, but not the real deal.

If you do want to eat certified Kobe beef, you will need to visit one of these eight restaurants:

  • 212 Steakhouse Restaurant, New York, NY
  • Alexander’s Steakhouse-Cupertino, Cupertino
  • Alexander’s Steakhouse-San Francisco Restaurant, San Francisco, CA
  • SLS Las Vegas – Bazaar Meat by José Andrés Restaurant, Las Vegas, NV
  • Jean Georges Steakhouse, Aria Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, NV
  • Nick & Sam’s Restaurant, Dallas, TX
  • Wynn Las Vegas – SW Steakhouse Restaurant, Las Vegas, NV
  • Teppanyaki Ginza Onodera, Honolulu, HI

Kobe Beef is Often Not Available

If Wagyu beef is rare, just imagine how difficult it is to get your hands on Kobe beef!

Due to this, it is always a good idea to check ahead of time if this kind of beef is available or not. Otherwise, you may end up disappointed.

Wrapping It Up

So, now you know how Wagyu and Kobe beef are different from one another. This means that next time you are looking for expensive, high grade meat, you will not get fooled or cheated out of your money!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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