The Ultimate Guide to American Wagyu Beef
If you’ve ever sat down at a steakhouse and spotted American wagyu on the menu, you may have felt excited to try it but a little confused about this special meat. What’s the difference between American wagyu, Japanese wagyu and other meats like Kobe beef? Where can you try American wagyu or buy a steak as a luxurious gift for meat lovers in your life, and how should it be cooked?
It’s not uncommon to see American wagyu on the menu at an upscale restaurant, at gourmet cooking classes near you or even at a local farmers market or butcher’s shop.
You might find this delicious meat at cooking classes in Kansas City or cooking classes in Minneapolis, but it’s also possible to purchase in the U.S. and enjoy it at home. Here’s everything you need to know about American wagyu beef.
Jump to Section
- What Is American Wagyu Beef?
- How American Wagyu Is Graded
- What Does American Wagyu Taste Like?
- How Much Does American Wagyu Cost?
- American Wagyu vs. Japanese Wagyu
- Buying American Wagyu
What Is American Wagyu Beef?
American wagyu is an extremely tender and richly marbled brand of wagyu beef that comes from cattle raised and slaughtered in the United States. Wagyu is typically served as a steak and is considered a luxury dish much like caviar, black truffles or foie gras. The meat is very similar to Japanese wagyu and Kobe beef but often comes at a more affordable price point because it doesn’t have to be imported from Japan.
The word “wagyu” itself translates to “Japanese cow,” so it can seem a little confusing to refer to any steak as American wagyu. Japanese wagyu can only come from one of four breeds of Japanese cattle: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn.
U.S. wagyu beef, on the other hand, is a little more flexible. American wagyu is raised, slaughtered and sold within the U.S., but the cattle may be descended from authentic Japanese cattle.
More commonly, however, American wagyu is the result of crossbreeding, typically between Japanese Black cattle and American Angus or Holstein (pictured below). Angus and Holstein cattle are already valued for their very tender and marbled meat, but when crossbred with Japanese wagyu, the offspring have even more richly marbled meat, very similar to the wagyu imported from Japan.
How American Wagyu Is Graded
Like any other meat grown in the United States, American wagyu is graded by the USDA. The USDA uses a 0 to 5+ grading scale, determined by the quality and marbling level of the meat, known as BMS. Meat that is a BMS0 to 1 on the scale is called “select.” BMS2 to 3 is “choice,” and BMS4 to 5+ is “prime.” Because of its rich marbling, American wagyu is considered a prime cut of meat.
Japan uses a 0-12 grading system, and Japanese A5 wagyu is the highest grade of Japanese wagyu beef, earning a BMS9 to 12 or higher. Even the best American wagyu, BMS5 or higher, is only equivalent to A3 or A4 Japanese wagyu.
Purebred vs. Full-Blooded
American wagyu is also graded based on the genetics of the cattle involved. As previously mentioned, American wagyu cows can either come from descendents of Japanese cattle or from crossbred cattle. Because of this, the degree of breeding and generational distance matters when grading American wagyu. If they aren’t crossbred, American wagyu still fall into two categories: purebred and full-blooded.
When subjected to genetic testing, purebred wagyu have at least 93.75% pure Japanese wagyu DNA. Their lineage can’t be traced exactly, but the genetic testing proves that purebred American wagyu are genetically very similar to Japanese wagyu. Full-blooded wagyu, on the other hand, are 100% descended from authentic Japanese cattle. Full-blooded wagyu can only come from two full-blooded parents, and they can’t have any evidence of crossbreeding.
The terms F1, F2, F3 and F4 may also be used to describe American wagyu. This is where things get a little complicated, as each level refers to the genetic value of a mating pair and their offspring. In order from lowest to highest percentage of Japanese wagyu DNA, American wagyu breeding goes:
- F1: 50% Japanese wagyu and 50% domestic, such as the offspring of a Japanese Black bull and an American Black Angus heifer. F1 is also sometimes called “domestic wagyu.”
- F2: F1 cow crossed with full-blood Japanese wagyu bull. 75% Japanese wagyu.
- F3: F2 cow crossed with full-blood Japanese wagyu bull. 87.5% Japanese wagyu.
- F4: F3 cow crossed with full-blood Japanese wagyu bull. Considered purebred. Over 93.75% Japanese wagyu.
What Does American Wagyu Taste Like?
American wagyu is very similar to Japanese wagyu, but it has a slightly leaner, meatier texture and taste than imported Japanese wagyu, which is extremely buttery and offers an umami flavor. In addition to being more affordable and convenient, U.S. wagyu beef is produced because it tends to appeal more to Americans' taste buds. Black Angus cattle make up most of Americans’ beef consumption, so crossbreeding angus with Japanese wagyu creates a more familiar and meaty experience.
With that being said, American wagyu is still considered a luxurious meat. When cooked to perfection, American wagyu has a robust, buttery and slightly sweet flavor. Some people may find American wagyu more enjoyable because you can eat it in larger portions, while Japanese wagyu could feel overwhelming after a few rich bites.
American wagyu has more versatile uses than Japanese wagyu. It would almost be a sin to use Japanese wagyu in anything but steak, but American-raised wagyu ground beef is perfect for a juicy gourmet burger. Of course, the best way to appreciate the meat on its own is through a grilled, pan-seared or roasted steak.
How Much Does American Wagyu Cost?
Wagyu of any kind is expensive, but some people may find the price range of American wagyu to be more comfortable than the famously expensive Japanese wagyu beef. Depending on a number of factors, including what cuts of steak you’re looking to purchase, American wagyu can cost upwards of $15 to $40 per pound, depending on the quality of the meat and the breeding of the cattle. Wagyu from purebred and full-blooded cows is bound to cost more than domestic crossbred wagyu.
American Wagyu vs. Japanese Wagyu
Cows’ Diet: American wagyu cows are fed a standard fattening diet of corn and wheat. Japanese wagyu have much more strict and secretive diets, which may consist of grass, barley, rice bran, wheat bran and even olives.
Price: American wagyu costs upwards of $15 to $40 per pound, while Japanese wagyu costs $120 to $300 per pound.
Marbling: Purebred and full-blooded American wagyu has marbling similar to A3 or A4 Japanese Wagyu.
Flavor: American wagyu shares many of the same juicy, sweet and buttery notes as Japanese wagyu, but it is described as slightly meatier, denser and more familiar.
Best Cooking Methods: Grill, pan sear or roast with minimal seasonings. Cook rare to medium. Pair with a dry red wine and roasted vegetables to balance the indulgent flavor notes of the meat.
Buying American Wagyu
If you just want to taste some of this delicious meat, consider visiting a nearby restaurant with American wagyu on the menu. American-raised wagyu ground beef is frequently used in burgers, while sirloin and other cuts are served as a steak. Of course, not all wagyu is created equal, so you may want to call ahead to learn more about the source and grading of their meat.
If you’re preparing for a special occasion, family feast or online cooking classes, the easiest way to buy fresh American wagyu is to purchase the meat online. Holy Grail Steak offers a premiere selection of American wagyu featuring Tajima and Akaushi premium steaks. Tajima steaks are descended from the Tajima Black wagyu line. Akaushi beef is raised in Texas and descended from the Japanese Red, a rare wagyu breed from the island of Kyushu.
You may also be able to find American wagyu in butcher shops and higher-end grocery stores.
No matter where you decide to purchase your wagyu, always buy from a trusted meat supplier. Do your research — like reading this article! — to understand what the grading terminology means. Some suppliers will use their own grading system or throw fancy labels on American wagyu because they know that consumers will buy what sounds good. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know your meat.
American wagyu is a domestic delicacy that is relatively easy to purchase, cook and enjoy. Any meat-lover is bound to fall in love with this tender, buttery and robust steak, and it can be a great way to dip your taste buds into the idea of Japanese wagyu at a more approachable price point. Whether you try American wagyu at a steakhouse, grill it at a barbecue or learn about it in cooking classes, this is one juicy bite you won’t want to miss.
For even more ways to explore your favorite foods, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.