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Kobe Beef Burgers: Any Reason Not Idiotic?

  • j

I fully admit I may be ignorant/naive about this, having never eaten Kobe beef in any form.

But I'm wondering: can anyone make a case for me that a Kobe hamburger (super trendy right now all over the country, judging by our forums) isn't an idiotic idea, in light of the fact that much of the value of kobe beef is textural? It seems to me that a burger is to great beef as fondue is to great stilton (spritzers to great wine?). Am I wrong? Can any discerning hounds out there, who are well-versed in matters Kobe, tell me that a Kobe burger is conceivably worth the premium and NOT a vulgar culinary blasphemy?

Also, I suspect a whole lot of regular beef is already being served as Kobe (I can't count the number of times this year I've ordered saffron rice and been served saffronless yellow rice). In steak form, the discerning might know. In burgers, one can't possibly know (or can one?).

And if, per my theory, above, the very notion of Kobe burgers is for vulgar rubes, chefs must take extra delight in charging them up their trend-mongering wazoos for same-old burgers (perhaps goosed somehow - extra tallow? - for je ne sais quoi).

Or am i wrong, and a Kobe burger is a fine thing, and rarely viewed by kitchens as a fraud jackpot opportunity?

Restaurant biz insiders who'd like to post under alias, feel free; just please don't name restaurant names (for legal reasons) if you're discussing fraud.


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  1. Jim,

    I would go a bit further. You don't use filet mignon in burgers because it is, compared to chuck, less tasty (sometimes even fairly tasteless) and mushy (precisely because of its vaunted tenderness -- and mushy burgers are gross). I would think Kobe beef would be in a similar category from all that one reads about. In other words, it sounds like the wrong king of meat for the purpose of a burger.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      The reason that a burger made of chuck tastes better than one made with filet mignon is because of chuck's higher fat content (filet has little marbeling). Fat provides flavor. Hence, a Kobe burger would have supreme flavor because Kobe has supreme marbeling? I think not. I think that there's a fat threshold beyond which you wind up with just a fatty, greasy hamburger...of which I've eaten my share.

      1. re: TomSwift

        And fatty, greasy hamburgers have an very important place in the Chow pantheon, especially when topped with melted cheese and served up alongside a heap of fries and a tall Coke with lots of ice: there is no finer hangover cure.

        1. re: GG Mora

          I agree completely, but would amend Coke to ice cold draft, and add a slab of red onion.

    2. I've had Kobe beef on one of my business trips to Japan. It was part of a dish called "shabu-shabu" (see the link below). The cooking method (boiling) didn't sound very promising but the tenderness of the beef combined with some excellent dipping sauces made it very tasty.

      My Japanese hosts took great pleasure in telling me that the cattle destined to become Kobe beef were raised in deluxe barns and were fed beer while listening to classical music. I answered that 'that didn't sound like a bad life at all' and we all had a good laugh.

      In America it sounds like the laugh is on us as the Kobe burger is the latest in a string of "deluxe" products foisted on a jaded and gullible public. They'll be mixing gold flecks into the burgers any day now.

      Link: http://www.globalgourmet.com/destinat...

      1. I'm hardly an expert..having tasted kobe for only the 3rd time last night. First, It's "kobe style" or waygu (see below).

        A burger would seem like a waste of the beef..sort of defeating the purpose of the great texture. I've read of waygu being used for steak tartare..but haven't tried it myself..might be ok.

        As I wrote below, I think this beef should be heated only minimally...maybe a super, super, rare burger would be ok.

        1. Weak teeth?

          1. Kobe beef burger sounds stupid, but kind of makes me want to try.

            Link: http://www.asahiya-beef.com/tuhan/kat...

            1. Besides the texture, the beef has its own unique flavor. Much deeper and richer, and I prefer it as simple as possible. This comes through in a burger too. Here's a link to my recent encounter with a Kobe burger. While I normally order my burgers rare, I think this would have been better cooked a little more.

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              10 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Fwiw, I thought the burger showed off unique flavor better than the filet at a recent Bordeaux dinner.

                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                Image: http://www.chowhound.com/misc/mel/bor...

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Have you ever had a burger made from grass-fed beef? I have been cooking these up lately and the texture, juiciness and flavor are similiar to what you describe, totally unlike grocery-store burger. mmmm gobble gobble

                  1. re: john clark

                    Austrailia and Canada are the main supply and it's great if you don't mind the "Leaness". I prefer Canadian FR Veal to Provini for taste and texture.

                    1. re: john clark

                      I've not had a burger...but my two encounters with grass-fed beef in steak form in the US were not happy ones.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I have had one such experience with steak from grass-fed cattle. For now I am chalking it up to user error, as I had a similiar problem with pork chops, followed by a divine experience with identical product. Accepted wisdom as I have heard, though, is that grain-finishing is essential to good steak.

                        OTOH THE BURGERS LORD A MERCY.

                        It may be just because they're actual ground meat, not extruded mush like grocery-store burger. The texture is quite firm on the seared outside and as you said in your Napa review very tender inside and unset at the center. The juiciness is uncontrollable, the flavor unbelievably dense and rich. I won't put anything but a bun and a little salt on these burgers and I am reconsidering the bun as I write this.

                        I'm kind of turning into a single-issue evangalist and I know I must stop but I can't help myself. Sorry. Please, I beseech you all, try some grass-fed burger.

                        1. re: john clark

                          I know this sounds odd (maybe even a little kinky, perhaps), but lately I've taken to eating my burgers bottomless when I know that the beef is above average. By removing the lower bun, the meat goes directly on your taste buds with no doughy mass to dilute the flavor. The top bun still provides a medium for holding together the various toppings and complementary flavors. However, it's a lot more messy to eat this way.

                          I'd like to say that I adapted this approach from proper sushi-eating technique (fish side goes on the tongue, not the rice), but to be honest I stumbled across it when the bottom bun on a particularly tasty burger had slipped to one side.

                          1. re: Chris G.

                            this would only be kinky if you didn't explain bottomless and left people to assume you meant without pants.
                            this seems like a great idea to me, someone who always eats her bread butter side down.

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    thanks, melanie, just what I was hoping for. great to have another perspective.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      As indicated by the replies to my post linked above, the beef for this burger was butchered specifically for these two restaurants. It might be different from what's served in other places.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        You've hit the nail on the head. Most KOBE burgers are made at the factory which leaves us in the dark about their contents. Others, can be made from selected pieces. The Finest Wagu available comes in a Gold Wrap and is imported presently through LA then shipped to NY to a very famous restaurant that starts with a "D". I'm able to get 2 pieces only (20lbs) from this 50 thousand dollar pallet, just to insure our friends will bring fine wine when they come over.

                  3. Jim: I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity of Taste Testing real top quality "Kobe Beef" together with French, English, Argentine, Australian, New Zeland and American Beef in Hong Kong where we were attempting to achive the best possible Hamburger for taste, flavor, character both for Steak Tarter and 7 Oz patty, Rare and Medium. The Kobe from fat free Top Round and the American Fat Free Top Round with the addition of some Suet Fat added, they were both excellent. For Steak Tarter, not ground but chopped with knife the Kobe Filet, Argentine and American were the winners, the grass fed Argentine had slightly more character and flavor, was also leaner. For smaller, as well as larger patty's the taste was almost the same, using Chuck with 80/20 meat to fat mixture, all the various type meats were similar. I'm looking foward to buying Argentine Beef as it may be available in America soon. The thing that surprised us about the Beef was that the Beef with the most marbleing and fat cover was from Scotland. For making Hamburger at home nothing beats using Lean Neck Meat from a Kosher Butcher, cooked Rare. [Kosher Meat has no E-Coli].

                    1. I'm sure that the producers of Kobe beef would be delighted if they were raising a cow that was 100% steak. Wagyu cattle, however are anatomically the same as all others being raised for their meat. The tenderloins, strip steaks, rib eyes and sirloins will bring a premium price, the hangar and skirt steak a middling price, but the rest of the meat is rich and tasty as well, albeit not nearly as tender as the prime cuts. Consequently-- Kobe (or wagyu) hamburger meat.

                      No one would be foolish enough to grind up tenderloin or strip steaks that sell upwards of $25 a pound and make hamburger out of them! The same cow has pounds and pounds of round and chuck and neck and hock to grind into hamburger meat.

                      I am a regular customer of Sunnyside Organics Farm in Little Washington, VA, at the Dupont Circle weekly farmers' market in DC. They raise wagyu cattle and sell their "Virginia Kobe beef" to fine restaurants in the DC area. Once in a while, I splurge on a strip steak, which I have to say is truly the most delicious beef that I've ever eaten. But I regularly buy skirt steak and hamburger meat, which are more in my price range. The flavor of the meat is far superior to any other I've encountered, and I appreciate the fact that the animals are humanely raised and slaughtered--I think they spend most of their time grazing in pastures, not in barns listening to classical music and being massaged with beer, however.

                      It's the only meat that my almost-vegetarian daughter will eat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: zora

                        >No one would be foolish enough to grind up tenderloin or strip steaks that sell upwards of $25 a pound and make hamburger out of them!

                        LOL! Never underestimate the foolishness of my friends and me :) The look of absolute horror on the butcher's face here in Tokyo when we asked him to put the Kobe steaks through the grinder was priceless.

                        FWIW, after eating the burgers, my friends and I all unanimously decided that we prefer our Kobe beef in steak form.


                      2. Though no longer in the business, I did grow up in a restaurant. The economic angle is that while the burger is indeed made of Kobe beef (not too many well established joints would be willing to endanger their reputations by engaging in outright fraud and using, say, US Prime), the burger is most likely made from the scraps and less favorable cuts of the animal, which is an inevitable consequence when you buy bulk meat (i.e. sides of beef, shells, etc.). Also, it creates buzz and ink, and what business is it that can't use the p.r.? As for the consumer perspective, I can't see Kobe making a great burger, but wasn't it Mencken who said "nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the average American"? Didn't we create lobster Newburg??

                        1. I used to sell a Kobe Beef hamburger. The cost to me is $4.95 per pound for a 100% kobe (wagyu cow) beef. that translate into a cost to me of about $3.50 for the hamburger with fries. We charged hmmmm well lets not say. but to tell you the truth. Id go with a 75%/25% blend from Niman ranch over the Kobe grade beef.

                          Unless you eat your beef rare or medium rare. Kobe is not for you.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Bassomatic

                            "The cost to me is $4.95 per pound for a 100% kobe (wagyu cow) beef"

                            Perhaps I've not read this thread carefully enough, since I seem to be the only one dumbfounded by this:


                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              I assume Bassomatic is talking about the trims and leftovers and "non-steak" pieces of the sort that Zora described in her post below. Poking around on the internet I'm finding ground "kobe" meat for sale as low as $8-10/lb to retail customers, so maybe $5/lb wholesale isn't so surprising. Still a heck of a lot pricier than the comparable meat from your local run-of-mill American factory-farm steer.

                              1. re: PayOrPlay

                                Wholesale cost for already made 6oz Kobe burgers is around 2-per pound, their mostly fat.

                                1. re: russkar

                                  Mostly fat is right. We used to use the ground chuck portion. I didnt see what all the fuss was about. Now the flat iron steak is a different story. Very tasty.

                          2. WHOA! Seems like this post is going into ? Eatist or Elitist "Chowhound's" let's get real. Each and Everyone of us growing up in the good old USA, that have eaten probably 90+ percent of fast food or purveyor prepared Hamburgers or Ground Beef Patty's have been eating "GRASS FED BEEF". That's the primary meat utilized for burgers, The main supply has been imported from acceptable countries IE: South or Central America, Australia or New Zeland, as well as Range Beef [grass fed] from America or Poor Doers. This product is packed in Boxes rated at percentage of visable lean meat. Then it's mixed together with Trimmings or Fat from Packers to produce your 70/30 or 80/20 commercial hamburger. So why is grass fed beef suddenly, sigh. So Delicious? The real reason is that the better quality Grass Fed Beef is allowed to age in the primal cuts, permitting enzymes to build up character and flavor, then being , trimmed, butchered and ground either at the restaurant or specialty wholesaler. That why it tastes so much better. It mostly because they care, have finesse and want your business. Even the method's of cooking are becoming particular to the actual taste of YOUR BURGER. The 21 Club in NYC under it's original management realized this 55 years ago when they started serving the most expensive burger for close to $9.00 when a Steak cost under $5.00 at fancy restaurants. It was made from Ground to order Top Round with sauted onions and celery mixed into the patty [1/2pound] due to the fact that most patrons couldn't handle raw onions, with the booze customarily served for lunch. The celery was for modifying the smell of the onions, guess booze breath was okay, onions not okay. The most important thing about this burger is that it was prepared from delicious, flavorful beef that tasted great raw, but even better no matter how it was cooked, rare or well done it was moist and delicious. To those who could afford it well worth the price. Kobe type beef, due to it's price, plus mystique is treated better, but I don't think that all suppliers are interested in much more then the bottom line or profit.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Irwin Koval

                              I think that the bottom line is dry-aging and proper butchering. When I referred to grass-fed beef in an earlier post I was talking about locally raised, dry-aged ground beef. It is my understanding, from anecdotal information, that most commercial burger is made by blasting everything but solid bone off of the carcass with high-pressure water jets ("high-efficiency meat extraction"), then pulverizing the resulting slurry, along with trimmings from butchering, and separating the "meat" from the water and the fat in a centrifuge. The "meat" and fat are then mixed back together in the desired proportion and extruded, resulting in the ropy texture that we see in supermarket "ground beef." This is how spinal-cord tissue gets into burger, spreading Creutzfeld-Jacobs etc.

                              My "grass-fed" beef is not finished in feedlots or processed in those bizzare Piranesi-esque slaughterhouses where exhausted workers have to wear chainmail to keep from slicing each other to ribbons. It may not be all natural but it's pretty natural and that's reflected in the unrestrained explosions of juicy flavor that mark the passage of each hamburger across our dinner table.

                              I wonder if Kobe/Wagyu burgers are substantially different from any other burger made of properly raised and butchered beef. Surely someone can shed some more light.

                            2. I thought that it would be nice to educate some of your readers about Kobe Beef. First, some of your readers spoke of the great attributes of grass fed product. Having the expierence of processing two of the most well thought of grass fed products in America, I can say that it is generally a lower quality product and is inferior to any fed product (unless you enjoy gamey tasting food). As one of your writers mentioned that fat is added to the product (that is where most of the flavoring is coming from) to give a lean to fat ratio. It is true too much fat can make a product too rich (below 73% lean). It is also true that once a product gets too lean it will have very little flavor (above 90%). Certain dishes work better with leaner product (chili), but again if too lean will reduce flavor. You ask what does this mean to a Kobe Burger? Well, all Kobe burgers are not made the same (ie lean content). Also you and all your readers are missing the main point, the fat in Kobe is completely different than other beef breeds. Kobe beef is 2 to 1 in monounsaturated fats compared to regular beef. Kobe has more of the "healthy fat." Besides the health aspect of the fat is the flavor. Kobe beef has a buttery flavor. Every Kobe burger I have ever eaten has been incredible. Let me know what other brand or type of burger you can say that about. Back to the health aspects. Take a 80% lean burger of Kobe and a 80% lean any other burger, and the Kobe burger will not only beat the burger in flavor, but will be healthy for you. The cost is now the question. Considering that most grocery stores sell their premium ground beef from $2.75 per pound to close to $4/lb, and Kobe is around $5 per pound, the average 1/3 pound burger (compare $3 to $5lb), Kobe will cost $0.66 per burger more. A 1/4 burger will cost $0.50 more. I don't know about you, but for that kind of money, to guarantee a great burger that is healthier for me, I think Kobe is a no brainer.