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Wagyu refers to any of the four Japanese breeds of beef cattle—wa means Japanese and gyu means cow. Cows were introduced to Japan in the second century, around when rice started being cultivated, and Wagyu beef was introduced to the US in the 1970s. Wagyu beef can technically come from anywhere, as long as it’s one of those breeds. Look for options marked A4 or A5 for the top-graded offerings.
All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. Kobe beef is a very high grade of beef that must be raised in the area of Kobe, Japan. Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 cattle may qualify as Kobe beef per year, and each has a unique 10-digit number to track it through its life cycle. Kobe beef is famously silky and flavor-packed, with intricate, buttery marbling that melts in your mouth.
Here are the best places to order Kobe or Wagyu beef.
The Best Places to Buy Kobe or Wagyu Beef Online in 2021
Wagyu is wonderful, but if only the best-known beef in the world will do, order some Kobe beef from Holy Grail Steak Co. The company offers some excellent Wagyu options, but also is the only online source for certified Kobe beef, which must be top-grade meat from the Tajima breed, raised in the Hyogo Prefecture.
To sell Kobe beef, you must be licensed by Kobe-Niku; there are six licensed butchers, thirty licensed restaurants, and one licensed online retailer. Only a limited number of heads of Kobe cattle are exported outside of Japan, and you’ll pay $199 for a seven-ounce steak from Holy Grail Steak Co. It will likely be the most special steak you’ve ever consumed.
Since the founding of the Union Stockyards meat processing complex in 1865, Chicago has been known for its meat prowess. Chicago Steak Company carries on that tradition, specializing in Midwest-sourced, USDA prime beef. The Wagyu beef options cover the bases—there’s boneless strip, filet mignon, ribeye, flat iron, burgers, and a few combination boxes.
Chicago Steak Company also shares a wealth of steak resources on its site, from tips on cooking steak to common mistakes to navigating what all the terms mean. The company calls it “Steak University,” which sounds like the best possible university one could enroll in. Chicago Steak Company also has a rewards program, offers free shipping over $129 ($99 if you’re a new subscriber to the mailing list), and sometimes has deals where you'll get extra meat.
D’Artagnan has long been a favorite of chefs and committed carnivores, thanks to its range of high-quality meat and wild game sourced from small, responsible farms and ranches. Its Wagyu comes with the same ethos—you can buy both USA-raised Wagyu and top-grade Japanese Wagyu from the prized Black Kuroge breed of cattle (which some say is higher quality than the Tajima cattle used for Kobe beef), raised using traditional methods. Both options are hormone-free and antibiotic-free. You can find a range of steaks, ground beef, and even an Italian-style Wagyu beef bresaola. D’Artagnan is, frankly, hard to beat.
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Founded in 1968, the Idaho-based Snake River Farms is a favorite of chefs for Wagyu, including big names like Wolfgang Puck. In fact, Puck claims that he’d take Snake River's Wagyu over any Wagyu from Japan.
Known for its “American Wagyu,” Snake River’s beef is a cross between Japanese and American breeds, which the brand says brings together the beautiful marbling of Wagyu with the quintessentially beefy flavor Americans love. There are various cuts of steak, short ribs, prime rib, and ground beef to choose from, as well as snackier options like beef jerky and hot dogs. Snake River is owned by Agri Beef, also based in Idaho. Time to start grilling!
Crowd Cow was created to bring the freshness and quality of shopping directly from a local farmer to the good people of the internet. You can browse by the ranch or farm or by the cut—the purveyor offers both American-raised Wagyu (including full blood and crossbreed options) and Japanese Wagyu. The sourcing is completely transparent and traceable, and Crowd Cow offers a range of options, including Wagyu offal. If you anticipate needing a steadier supply of Wagyu, subscribers get free shipping and 5 percent off every order. If you wish you could shop for Wagyu at your local farmer’s market, Crowd Cow is the perfect alternative.
Though Wagyu beef must come from certain breeds of cows, it can technically hail from anywhere and still be called Wagyu beef. Japan will always be the best source of Wagyu, but there are excellent options available from the United States and Australia as well. DeBragga's motto is “Eat Less But Eat Better!” Choose from top options from each origin, including the award-winning Miyazaki Wagyu from Japan (which DeBragga exclusively distributes) and several sampler boxes if you’re interested in tasting the range. The site also sells perfectly paired condiments, including fresh frozen wasabi (the real stuff), artisan soy sauce, and yuzu pepper paste.
Much of the “Wagyu” sold in the United States is actually Wagyu crossed with American breeds of cattle, usually Angus. Wasatch Wagyu out of Coalville, Utah prides itself on offering DNA-certified Japanese-bloodline Wagyu beef cattle that are registered with the American Wagyu Association. They’re pampered on a diet of fresh pasture and mountain stream water for 30 months under the supervision of professional ranchers.
Wasatch Wagyu offers brats, ground beef, marrow bones, roasts, jerkies, and a range of steak. And, for as little as $25, you can experience an actual Wagyu steak raised in the ethos of the original stuff from Japan. It’s a steal.
We all know and love Costco—there’s nowhere better to stock up on the essentials, from deodorant to snack mix to t-shirts. If Wagyu beef is essential for you, Costco sells it in bulk, including a 41-pound sampler of steaks, ground beef, and beyond for $1,999.99.
This “locker pack” features full-blood Wagyu beef raised in Washington and comes with eight rib-eyes, eight New York strips, two filet mignons, and more. If you’re not on the market for 41 pounds of top-grade beef, there are plenty of other top-grade Wagyu options in bulk. Perfect for your next cookout or for stocking your extra freezer with the good stuff.
The Wagyu Shop offers a wide range of cuts of both Japanese and American Wagyu, plus helpful details on every single thing you might need to know. The page for each option includes breed information (if available), texture and flavor notes, whether it comes frozen or simply chilled, the size of the cut, best methods for cooking, when it will be dispatched and delivered, and approximately how many people it will serve. Each order of Japanese Wagyu comes with a certificate of authenticity, and there’s plenty of information online on how the cows were raised, what makes Wagyu special, and the difference between the respective types. For the detail-oriented shopper, The Wagyu Shop has you covered.
Holy Grail is the best—and only—online source for certified Kobe beef. DeBragga samplers earn a nod for variety, while Chicago Steak Company takes the crown for unbeatable shipping deals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What to look for in Kobe and Wagyu Beef
Kobe and Wagyu beef represent true luxury, and there’s a lot of tradition around these products. There also can be a lot of confusion on the consumer level about what constitutes Wagyu, Kobe, American Kobe, and so on. The website should make it easy for you to understand what you’re buying and why it’s worth the money. Ideally, it will include information on grading and offer information on how to cook your meat. Many options from Japan will feature a certificate of authenticity, and true Kobe has a unique 10-digit number.
It’s not that shipping needs to be expensive, but there should be lots of information on how they’re shipping your meat, including the method and how they’re ensuring that your meat will be protected along the way. If you’re spending the money on Wagyu or Kobe, you want it to arrive in prime condition.
Within the world of Wagyu, there are many options. Our favorite purveyors have a range of items with plenty of information on what makes each special.
You shouldn’t have to empty your bank account to buy Wagyu, but it will likely be expensive. Not only does it take more work to raise, but it’s often shipped from Japan. Wagyu and Kobe are not areas to bargain hunt, though you can save on shipping, depending on where you’re buying from.
If you just want to be able to say you’ve tasted Wagyu beef, you can always opt for something like hot dogs, jerky, burger, or sausages made from Wagyu. There still should be a noticeable flavor difference in those products, though the famed Wagyu marbling won’t be part of the experience.
How is Wagyu beef raised?
The process of raising Wagyu or Kobe beef is almost the exact opposite of the way cows are raised in the industrial food system. They’re given names and have just a few other cows in their paddock with them. If cows clash with each other, they’re moved to a different paddock.
There are myths out there that classical music is played to them and that they’re treated to regular massages, but farmers do go out of their way to minimize the stress of the cows. Noise levels are controlled, and farmers constantly check in on their animals. While they’re not massaged, they do occasionally get a good brushing to relax them and increase their circulation.
It’s important to note here that Wagyu beef must be from the four recognized breeds: Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn) and Mukaku (Polled). Even if a cow is raised in the Wagyu manner, but not from these breeds or specifically called out as a cross-breed, like “American Wagyu,” it doesn’t qualify as Wagyu.
Why is Wagyu beef so expensive?
Between the special breeds required and the immense amount of work that goes into raising them, Wagyu beef is understandably expensive. Specialty breeders raise Wagyu calves until they’re between seven to 10 months old, at which point they’ll be sold to a farmer to raise them into adulthood. Wagyu calves can cost as much as $30,000, which is more than 10 times what a typical American beef cow can cost. Kobe beef is even more expensive, due to its scarcity.
What are the different grades of Wagyu beef?
Different countries have different systems for grading beef, but most purveyors will use the Japanese grading system, which is based on yield and grade. Yield refers to the amount of meat between the sixth and seventh rib, relative to the weight of the carcass. The grade refers to the texture and firmness, marbling, and color of the fat and meat. The yield score ranges from A to C, with A being the highest, and the grade score ranges from one to five, with five as the highest. Most Wagyu steaks in the US are A4 or A5. This information should be very easy to find on the purveyor’s website.
Writer and professional eater Christine Clark is a nationally recognized food expert and locally recognized eater of good things. She was a vegetarian in college and now refuses to live life without a steady stream of delicious, responsibly raised steaks. She has a cheese podcast and is a Certified Cheese Professional through the American Cheese Society.
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