The true King of Beef has arrived.
This past weekend I was extremely fortunate enough to come across Japanese A-5 Grade Wagyu Ribeye Steak at my local Costco store, and what resulted in the most impulsive food-based purchase I have made in my entire life. The funny thing is, before spotting this legendary tier grade of beef, I was contemplating between indulging in a USDA Prime grade steak or to save a few bucks and go for the cheaper but always dependable USDA Choice grade ribeye for Christmas dinner. As I was mulling over my decision, my wandering eye spotted a fair amount of shoppers excitedly crowding around and taking pictures of something that I couldn’t quite see from the distance. I finally went to see what the fuss was all about, and upon seeing the beautiful iconic proliferation of marbling across the wagyu…all financial reasoning went out the window in order to try out this borderline mythical grade of steak.
So what is wagyu beef?
Simply put, wagyu means “Japanese cattle”. However, the title is reserved especially for certain breeds of cattle found mostly only in Japan (although there have been exported cattle to other countries such as Australia, who now yield their own wagyu grade beef). These breeds of cattle have a special genetic capability to store fat within the linings of the muscle tissue, causing the visible marbling that you see in a steak. Apart from genetic differences, these breeds of cattle are also meticulously raised, with special diets to increase their fat content and stress-free environments for them to live long. (Japan has a great philosophy that reducing stress in animals often lead to a higher quality animal product…even with fishing (look up ikejime)).
How is it graded?
In Japan, wagyu beef is categorized with a Meat Quality Grade system ranking from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest tier and 5 being the highest. This grading is determined by the Beef Marbling Standard. In short, the more marbling, the better the Meat Quality Grade is. You might also notice the letter “A” in the title before the number. This letter corresponds to the yield grade (the amount of meat available from the cow, with A being the best yield, and C being the worst yield).
So what’s important? The yield grade (A, B, C) is more important to farmers/distributors and sets the price, while the Meat Quality Grade is more important to consumers looking for the best quality to eat.
What’s it taste like?
It tastes like the best steak experience you will ever have in your entire life. The amount of marbling and fattiness makes for an extremely tender and savory bite. Each piece of steak quite literally melts in your mouth. It is so tender, that cutting through each piece feels like cutting through melted butter with a hot knife.
The crazy thing? Although wagyu cow is the most fattiest of cows, it’s mainly comprised of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs, the healthy kind!). In moderation, MUFAs are great at lowering risk of heart disease. They also have some of the lowest cholesterol levels compared to most other animals!
How to cook it?
If you know how to cook a steak, you’re going to pretty much know how to cook wagyu. The key difference is due to the higher fatty content, cooking these steaks are slightly quicker. You definitely want to aim at no more than medium doneness (preferably medium-rare). Also, you want to season this very minimally to put the flavor focus on the steak itself. The meat is filled with tons of flavor on its own, so salt and pepper are all you need.
-1 lb A-5 wagyu ribeye steak
-Neutral oil (for pan cooking)
1) Imported wagyu steaks are usually bought or shipped frozen. Leave to thaw overnight in the fridge
2) After thawing, pat the steak dry with paper towels and season each side generously with salt and pepper
3) Before cooking, let steak sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes
1) Set up your grill to two-zone (half direct, half indirect) heat.
2) Place the steak on direct heat and sear each side for about one minute
3) Transfer to indirect heat and close grill lid. Allow to cook 4-5 minutes each side, or until the internal temperature reads 130°F
4) When internal temperature hits 130°F, remove steak from grill and allow to rest for 10 minutes
1) Heat a cast-iron pan with a neutral oil
2) Sear each side for approximately four minutes for medium rare (or when internal temperature hits 130°F).
3) Remove steak from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes
-I’ve come to observe that grilling wagyu directly on the grate causes the flavorful fats to drip on the coals and cause flare-ups.
-Pan cooking may be the superior method, as the fat from the steak would be contained in the pan, which ultimately leads the the steak being cooked in its own delicious fat.
-While you can (and usually should) put butter on your steak, wagyu beef is so high in flavorful fat, that butter is not needed.