Preparing a cut of wagyu takes a little finesse. The literal translation of wagyu (pronounced wah-gyoo) from Japanese to English is “Japanese Cow,” but it is not a blanket term for all cattle in Japan. This is a near-legendary type of beef that comes from one specific breed. The difference is in how these cattle metabolize food. You will get a layer of fat around the meat with some minor marbling within the tissue with other breeds. On the other hand, wagyu integrates the fat into the meat creating an extraordinary amount of marbleizing.
The meat has become synonymous with luxury food, and if you are in the US, you might more commonly hear about kobe beef, which is a type of wagyu. Kobe are cattle of this particular breed which are raised in Kobe, Japan. It’s that simple. If you see American Kobe, that is usually either meat from cattle raised similarly but lack the DNA to create the marbleizing or wagyu cattle that have been cross bred, typically with Angus, which results in a different flavor, which can still taste absolutely amazing, but also different from 100% wagyu.
Most of what makes the meat as melt-in-your-mouth tender as true wagyu is is how the cattle are raised. They try to create as stress-free an environment as possible, where they can graze and roam in an open-air environment. Noise level is controlled, and if two aren’t getting along, they will be separated to different pastures.
If you are looking to buy some wagyu beef cuts, you will want to know about the rating system. The best of the best would be A5 12. The A is pretty irrelevant to a home chef; a B5 12 would be just as good. It just means it came from a smaller cow. The important parts are the 5 and the 12. The 12 means it was at the highest end of the BSM (Beef Marbling Standard). To get a 5 ranking, the BSM must be between 8 and 12. For a 4 rating, the BSM would be 6 to 8, which is still exceptionally high.
Now, this rating system is taken very seriously in Japan, and if you have managed to source cuts from Japan, you can rely on that rating to be true as raters spend three years learning how to do it properly. In the US, it tends to be a little more hit or miss. The US has 4 ratings of Select Choice to Prime, and you might see a BSM rating on US beef, but they don’t usually spend three years learning the nuances of it.
Also, the odds of finding A5 12 wagyu beef in the US are pretty slim. It is almost entirely sold within Japan pretty much immediately. Don’t be fooled when buying cuts of meat that say they are in the kobe-style or wagyu-style. They may have tried to raise the cattle similarly, but without them actually being genetically that breed, it isn’t going to be nearly the same, and they are most likely just trying to stick a higher price on it.
Wagyu has become so well-known for its richness of flavor, combined with its limited supply, that a pound of it can easily reach three figures. So if you’re going to try and cook some yourself, you are going to want to make sure you are well-prepared.
Using a proper knife to cut the meat is important as you don’t want to waste any of it to a poor cut. A dull edge can create tears in the meat, and if you cut a lot, you are definitely going to want one that fits well in your hand and doesn’t fatigue your wrist.
The KUMA Professional Damascus Chef Knife, on Amazon, is an 8” blade made from hardened Japanese carbon steel and has an ergonomic handle with a sheath. This blade is actually made from 67 layers of Japanese Damascus steel for extra strength. Popular for sushi chefs, it is always important to use the correct type of knife depending on the meat being cut.
Another, more budget-friendly knife is the Traditional Japanese Professional Gyuto Kitchen Chefs Knife. Also, an 8” blade is made from stainless steel and heat-treated to retain the sharpened edge. This knife has a single bevel edge at a 15-degree angle, which allows for a sharper edge.
To cook wagyu and retain its extraordinary juices and texture, you’ll need to follow a few steps. It will most likely come frozen. It is very important to let it thaw in your refrigerator, not at room temperature or in the microwave. Trust me. You will be very unhappy with how much that affects the flavor.
Apply large grain salt to both sides, some apply the salt within an hour of cooking, but it can be done up to two or three days in advance. The longer, the better as it tenderizes the meat even more. Once salted, wrap it up in butcher paper and either refrigerate or if it’s within a couple of hours of cooking, you can leave it out at room temperature.
Another trick to cooking any kind of meat, really, is to bring it to room temperature before applying heat. To sear it, try using a cast-iron skillet if you have one, and trim a little of the fat off to use to prime the pan. Sear the edges for about one minute, flip, and repeat. Now is when you insert a meat thermometer and put the whole thing, pan and all, into the oven.
This type of thermometer is wireless and Bluetooth capable with apps that you can install on your phone. They are designed to be left in the meat to continuously monitor it while cooking. The Yummly by KitchenAid YTE000W5KW Premium Wireless Smart Meat Thermometer has a longer range of about 150 feet. It offers alerts to let you know when the desired temperature has been reached as well as a timer option. The DESPFUL Wireless Meat Thermometer has a shorter range of about 33 feet but is cheaper.
The Meat Thermometer with Rechargeable Battery is the more traditional type of thermometer that isn’t left within the meat but used as a spot check. It is very accurate and gives a fast reading, within 2-3 seconds, and is more economical on Amazon.
Once the temperature you want has been reached, 125-degrees for rare, up to 145-degrees for medium, take it out, put some tinfoil over the pan and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.