A Guide to Gourmet Japan: Kobe Beef

A few months ago, a friend told me they had tried Kobe beef. I immediately debated this because: 1. My friend hadn’t been out of Indiana in a few years, and 2. I’m here to ruin fun.

I’ve repetitively dreamt of dining on Kobe during a trip to Japan… So what is Kobe beef and why was I sure he didn’t have it? First, the particulars.

1. All Kobe beef is Wagyu beef, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef. 1

  • Wagyu literally means Japanese cattle and Wagyu beef comes from one of the 4 main breed of cattle in Japan. 1
    1. Japanese Poll
    2. Japanese Brown
    3. Japanese Black
    4. Japanese Shorthorn

2. Kobe beef comes from a strain of the Japanese Black cattle, the Tajima-gyu, and meet these specifications. 1

Image courtesy of Tajima-beef.jp
  • Born, raised, and slaughtered in the Hyōgo Prefecture.
  • Only eat grain and drink water from the Hyōgo Prefecture its entire life.
  • The meat must come from a castrated bull or virgin cow.
  • It must be from a cattle 28-60 months old.
  • Must be of PURE Tajima-gyu lineage.
    1. Only 12 Bulls are used to impregnate all of Hyōgo’s cattle. 2

3. Kobe beef must meet rigorous standards on three separate scales: The Yield Score, Beef Marbling Score, and Meat Quality Score.3 These standards mean only 3,000-4,000 cattle qualify each year.2

Image Courtesy of gaijinjapan.org
  • The Yield Score (Ranging from A-C) describes the quantity of edible meat from each head of cattle. 3 
    1. To be Kobe beef, it must get a grade of A or B.
  • The Beef Marbling Standard Scale (Ranging from 1-12) measures the marbling ratio. 3 
    1. Kobe Beef must have a score of 6 or higher.
    2. This marbling is around 20-25%. American prime beef is only 6-8%. 4 
  • The Meat Quality Score (Ranging from 1-5) is graded on these elements. Each must have a grade of 3 or higher: 3
    1. Degree of marbling
    2. Texture and firmness of beef
    3. Meat color and brightness
    4. The color, luster, and quality of fat

4. Each of those 3,000-4,000 cattle is assigned a 10-digit ID number. When the beef is sold, it must be labeled with that number so it can be traced back to that individual cow.

But these are the real kickers. Of those 3,000-4,000 cattle, only 10% find their way out of Hyōgo. Not all of them come to America, either. In fact, only 400 pounds of Kobe beef is entrusted to the US every month5 and only nine restaurants in the US serve real Kobe beef.

Where my friend’s story completely fell apart was the price. He claimed his 7oz Kobe steak was $42. Kobe beef is CRAZY expensive, even in Kobe. In Houston, you’ll pay $220 for 4 ounces, and $55 for each additional 2 ounces. (Interesting fact: if you paid $220 using a stack of 220 one dollar bills, that stack would weigh 7.7 ounces.) Between his location, the weight of the steak, and the price, there was no way he had Kobe beef. In the end, we discovered it was “Kobe-style”.

If you had the chance to buy Kobe beef, would you? After you finish drooling, sound off about the God of Meat below.

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