A Guide to Wagyu
What is Wagyu?
Wagyu is a type of cow traditionally bred in Japan. The term literally means Japanese (Wa) cow (gyu). Throughout history, the cows were used as work animals, pulling and carrying heavy loads, allowing them to develop great strength and endurance. This heavy workload also directly resulted in Wagyu developing large amounts of intramuscular fat for easily accessible energy. It is this intramuscular fat that give Wagyu beef its beautiful marbling.
Today, the breeding of Wagyu beef is a highly regulated industry in Japan. A DNA system is used to track the cows from their birth to slaughter, insuring the highest quality beef is produced. Due to the strict breeding regulations, Wagyu cattle are not typically allowed to be imported into the United States.
According to WagyuInternational.com, the first exports to the U.S. came in 1976, followed by fewer than 200 Wagyu cattle that were brought to the United States between 1993 and 1997. It is mainly from these cattle that the American Wagyu industry was born and continues to grow today. While very few ranches throughout the United State breed full-blooded Wagyu, there has been extensive cross breeding between Wagyu and American Hereford and Angus, creating what is sold and known as American Wagyu today.
What makes Wagyu Stand Out?
The deliciously rich and tender meat from highly marbled Wagyu cattle makes for a dining experience that is unrivalled in its flavors. It turns up at Gourmet restaurants across the US, not only because it's delicious but also healthy - experts have discovered that Wagyu contains more mono-unsaturated fats than saturated ones. According to the American Wagyu Association, unlike other beef, the saturated fat found in Wagyu also contains high levels of stearic acid, which reduces the impact the beef has on cholesterol levels. Wagyu is also known to contain about 30% more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid ), a type of fatty acid that is known to "have fewer negative health effects." (American Wagyu Association)
Founded in Texas in 1990, the American Wagyu Association tracks and registers Wagyu cattle throughout the U.S. and Canada. Headquartered in Post Falls, ID, the AWA and its membership base work to "promote and develop a sustainable industry here in the US." (American Wagyu Association) Wagyu cattle offer endless opportunity here in the U.S. to develop quality, healthier meat.
Wagyu Meat Grades - Beef Marbling Standard
Most Wagyu you find will be classified into 2 different grades; either 6-8 BMS or 9-12 BMS. The higher the number on the BMS scale, the higher the level of marbling in the meat. According to the American Wagyu Association, some Wagyu cattle have such an "abnormally high level" of marbling that they exceed the top U.S.D.A. grade of Prime. Deciding which grade to use, whether you are competing or are just wanting to try something top shelf at home, really depends on the preference of each individual. It really comes down to how much fat content/marbling you prefer.
To learn more about how to grade and understand the marbling in Wagyu, click here.
Making Wagyu Brisket:
Do to the higher levels of fat content (marbling), cooking a Wagyu brisket is a little different than a regular prime or CAB brisket. It is also much more expensive. A 13 lb. American Wagyu brisket from The Wagyu Shop will cost you over $140. However, if you have the money, or just want to splurge, the taste and flavor will be worth every penny.
The higher level of marbling may also mean you may need to cook your brisket for a longer period of time, allowing it to reach temperatures up to as high as 215 F. I highly recommend having a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature throughout the cooking process. Injecting the brisket and adding the proper spice rubs throughout is essential to the cooking process of any brisket, and Wagyu is no exception. If you are new to bbq'ing or making brisket, I would not recommend starting off with Wagyu. The cost alone will most like be a deterrent. However, if you are someone who competes or are a serious backyard chef, Wagyu brisket is sure to impress. And as with anything, the more you make it, the better you will get and the better your brisket will taste.
Overall, Wagyu is a healthier, higher quality beef than traditional American Hereford or Angus. Due to its high quality, as well as the limited number of full-blooded Wagyu in America, it can be extremely expensive (Japanese Wagyu costs more than American Wagyu), with some steaks costing upwards of $200 per pound. Even ground beef will run you more than $10 per lb., although the benefits over other beef makes it well worth the money. If you are looking for meat that is guaranteed to impress at your next competition or family gathering, Wagyu is definitely the way to go.
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