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Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already heard of the delicacy that is Wagyu beef. The popularity of Wagyu beef seems to be at an all-time high right now. If you’ve heard of Wagyu, then chances are you’ve probably also looked at how expensive it can be and been left wondering why on …

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By Jeremy Pike

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Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already heard of the delicacy that is Wagyu beef. The popularity of Wagyu beef seems to be at an all-time high right now. If you’ve heard of Wagyu, then chances are you’ve probably also looked at how expensive it can be and been left wondering why on earth cuts of beef cost so much. After all, you can go to the grocery store and get some pretty good steaks, right? Well, you’re not going to find Wagyu steaks in the grocery store, and for good reason.

In this article, we’re going to dive into what makes Wagyu beef special, why its popularity is only matched by its high price tag, and whether we think it’s worth it or not. We’ll also give you some thoughts on how to cook Wagyu beef if you decide to purchase some. Let’s dive in!

What Is Wagyu Beef?

Japanese Shorthorn Cow (Wagyu)

Getting an understanding of just what is Wagyu beef will help us understand why the price tag is so much higher than normal beef. The term Wagyu simply means “Japanese cow,” but it’s not that simple. There are plenty of cows in Japan that do not have the title of Wagyu bestowed upon them. 

There are four main breeds of Japanese cows that are known as Wagyu. They are Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. All Wagyu cattle can be traced back to one of these four breeds. 

Now all Japanese Wagyu beef comes from one of these breeds and is full-blooded. Not all Wagyu beef is, though. The majority of American Wagyu beef is cross-bred with Angus beef (though there are still some full-blooded Wagyu cattle in the States,) while Australian Wagyu can be cross-bred or full-blooded. 

The reason that the majority of non-Japanese Wagyu are not full-blooded is that it is illegal to export live cattle or their DNA currently, and has been for most years. However, there was a period of time for about 20 years starting in the mid-1970s where cattle could be exported which is how we ended up with American and Australian Wagyu. 

If you’re looking for a deep dive into Wagyu beef and the different variations,  check out our explanation of all things Wagyu

Aren’t All Cows Cows? What’s The Difference Between Angus And Wagyu?

We know there’s some level of difference between breeds of cow. Black Angus is typically considered to be superior to most other breeds of cow grown in the United States. However, Wagyu is on another level. Why?

Wagyu Beef Grading Explained
Left: Australian Wagyu Ribeye. Right: Black Angus Sirloin

Wagyu beef is renowned for its incredible intramuscular fat, also known as marbling. All it takes is a quick glance at a Wagyu ribeye (regardless of whether it’s from Japan, the US, or Australia) next to even a Black Angus ribeye and you can tell just how superior the marbling is. That leads to a more tender steak that gives it a melt-in-your-mouth texture as well as Wagyu’s distinctive, almost buttery taste. 

Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

So Wagyu is originally from Japan and it’s got a lot more marbling than every other type of cow out there, and that’s why it’s more expensive? Well, yes. 

Part of the pricing of Wagyu is that real Wagyu, regardless of whether it is cross-bred in America or full-blooded from Japan, is rare. Simple economics, really. Good things that are rare are always going to cost more.

So why is it so rare? Japan cares deeply about Wagyu cattle and beef. That extends to how Wagyu cattle are raised as well as the grading process that the beef goes through afterwards. Japanese farmers take very good care of their cows and do their best to ensure that Wagyu cattle live stress-free lives because, just like with humans, stress can negatively affect cows. The myth that Japanese farmers actually give Wagyu cattle massages is just that, a myth, though. It likely stems from a tradition of brushing the cattle.

One of the rumors you may have heard is that Wagyu cattle are fed with a specialized diet. While you will not find beer itself in a Wagyu cow’s diet, you could very well find brewer’s yeast due to its nutritional content. Wagyu cows can have a number of different diets. Some farms are strictly grass-fed while others include wheat and even hay. Some even use rice!

However, due to the relative scarcity of open farmland in Japan, you will not find a Wagyu calf nor a full-size Wagyu cattle in an open pasture. You won’t find regular cattle out in the open either. Japanese cows are raised in pens that are designed to keep the cattle comfortable throughout their entire life.

When Wagyu cattle are slaughtered, samples of each carcass are carefully examined by the Japanese Meat Grading Association to assign that cow a grade. They look at the color of the meat, the color of the fat, and how much fat there is, and they also examine how firm the meat is as well as the overall texture.

Grade A5 Wagyu Beef
Grade A5 Wagyu (Highest Grade)

Then the carcass is assigned a letter grade, for the expected yield of high-quality meat, and a number grade, for how well-marbled the meat is. You may have heard of A5 Japanese Wagyu which is considered to be the very best. It comes from a cow that is expected to yield at least 72% of its weight in high-quality meat with a Beef Marbling Score between 8 and 12, the highest possible score. 

For a deeper look into the Japanese grading system as well as how the US and Australia  grade their Wagyu beef, check out our explanation of the different beef grading systems.

Suffice it to say, Wagyu beef is so expensive due to the combination of rarity and quality.

Is Wagyu Beef Worth It?

As someone who has eaten both an American Wagyu ribeye and an Australian Wagyu ribeye, I wholeheartedly can tell you that yes, Wagyu beef is worth the cost. That being said, I would not replace all of your beef purchases with Wagyu beef. Unless you are extremely wealthy, Wagyu beef is a special occasion food. 

Everything you’ve heard about the texture and taste of Wagyu is true. The Australian Wagyu that I got to try was full-blooded Wagyu (Australia even does genetic testing to make sure their Wagyu is properly labeled,) and the texture and taste were unlike any steak I’ve had in my life. It was incredibly tender and almost sweet. 

The American Wagyu had a bit more beefy flavor than the Australian Wagyu, but it was still incredible. It was a combination of beefy and buttery with still that incredible tenderness you expect from Wagyu beef.

Try Meatery American Wagyu

While you might need to save up in order to enjoy some Wagyu steaks or any type of Wagyu beef for a special dinner, it’s well worth it. You can check out our full review of the Wagyu ribeyes from The Meatery for our full feelings. If you want to check out The Meatery’s full list of offerings and want to know how much is Wagyu steak at the moment, check them out here. 

How To Cook Wagyu

Reverse Searing Wagyu Ribeye Steaks on Charcoal

If you’ve decided that you want to pick up a Wagyu steak, you might feel a little intimidated when you go to cook it at home. That’s completely understandable. I felt it myself, quite honestly. However, it’s not complex. It’s a lot like cooking a regular steak, except that with the higher fat content, you don’t want to eat it rare. You want that fat to render properly to give you that amazing taste. You won’t sacrifice any of that tenderness by going medium-rare or medium, though.

As for seasoning it, you want to stick with coarse salt, either sea salt or Kosher salt, and some coarse black pepper. You don’t want to go too heavy with the pepper so you don’t overpower the buttery flavor of the meat, though. 

You can get thinner-cut Wagyu steaks that you’ll simply sear on both sides to enjoy. You also can get a thicker steak that you’ll want to reverse sear. For a more in-depth look, check out our guide to cooking Wagyu.

Final Thoughts

There’s no question that Wagyu beef is among the most expensive meat in the world. It can potentially scare people off. However, due to its rarity and incredible eating experience, it’s expensive for good reasons. 

We here at Angry BBQ loved our experiences with Wagyu beef and can wholeheartedly recommend buying and cooking Wagyu. It lived up to all the great descriptions we’ve heard. While the price of Wagyu beef is incredibly high, Wagyu cannot be beaten if you’re a fan of steaks on a special occasion. 

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