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Curious about Kobe beef...

I'm curious about all the Kobe beef I am starting to see on menus, including Spago's for $110. I lived in Japan for a couple of years and while there I was given a gift pack of frozen Kobe beef from a friend which included 4 small thin steaks (about the size of your palm) and some thin sliced pieces for sukiyaki--maybe 2-3 pounds of meat. I have no idea how much it cost but my estimate would be about $500.

In Hawaii last year I ordered a Kobe beef hamburger for $14. When I ordered it I doubted it was real Kobe beef and when I tasted it, it was like regular ground beef. I never had ground Kobe beef in Japan, so I couldn't compare. However, the meat I had in Japan was so unique and incredible I am wondering how anyone can pull off advertising Kobe beef and not serve the real McCoy. It's like when I see crab as an ingredient and get Krab, although it's usually not priced $100. Has anyone ever tried Kobe steak in Japan and in LA for a comparison? Spago's price isn't bad if it really is Kobe beef.

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  1. There is domestic Kobe beef, obviously not the same, but is cattle raised in the same manner as Kobe Steer. Pricing is less, quality inferior. There probably isn't any rule about differentiating the domestic from true Japanese Kobe, the give away would be the quality and pricing.

    1. My family in Japan owns a cattle ranch that produces beef that eventaully becomes Kobe beef. When I lived there, my cousins sent me a care package of Kobe beef steaks every other month. It was heaven on Earth. The meat was tender and probably had fat than actual lean meat. When I came back to the States, I actually became a vegetarian for three years because I couldn't bring myself to eat the inferior meat here!

      Domestically produced Kobe-style beef is called Wagyu/Washugyu and like Veggietales says, it's definitely inferior to the real thing. Personally, I think that restaurants have an obligation to put "Kobe-style" on their menus rather than the very misleading "Kobe" if it is indeed the domestic product.

      As for all these trendy Kobe beef hamburgers, does the quality of the beef really matter when it's a hamburger? You can grind up any beef and throw some fat in to make a hamburger. In that form, it's very difficult to appreciate the marbling and tenderness that is the hallmark of true Kobe. IMHO.

      2 Replies
      1. re: kawaiikitty49

        Oh yeah, it is entirely possible that Spago's Kobe is the real deal as the USDA lifted its ban on real Kobe in December 2005. They allow the importation of boneless beef.

        And Granada Market on Sawtelle Blvd. (@Nebraska) has signs all over saying they sell Kobe beef. I have never purchased it so I don't know about the quality. Can't afford it here!

        1. re: kawaiikitty49

          Some restaurants such as Gyu-Kaku bill it as US Kobe beef.

        2. When I went to Mako (in Bev Hills) last week, the chef (Mako himself) explained to us that the 6-year ban on Kobe beef was lifted because Japan agreed to import American beef. According to him, the term "Kobe" beef has come to signify (in the US and maybe other places outside Japan) any beef exported from Japan. In Japan itself, beef has other names according to the region it is raised--it doesn't all come from the area of Kobe. Wagyu is the name (as poster stated above) of Japanese (or "Kobe") style cows raised domestically.

          I did have a small order of Kobe beef at Mako. We were pretty full, as it was the last course of a tasting menu. Maybe if we hadn't been we might have liked it more--not sure? Was it worth the $25/pp premium--neither of us thought so, but it was served sort of "sushi" style, nothing like steak as you'd have it in an American restaurant. It was a small portion, pan-sauteed (not rare) encased in a round of some kind of green vegetable. The high fat content made it quite greasy, and the taste was just sort of --- nothing special. I'd certainly like to try it again sometime but maybe elsewhere (altho' I love Mako's food--one of my faves in all of LA). On the other hand, he does make a Wagyu beef meatball which tastes sublime (and totally unlike American ground meat)--so go figure.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ThatPat

            At Urasawa we get Kobe (genuine) sliced just under 1/4 inch thick and served so that we cook it ourselves on HOT stones (along with ankimo slices) and also served so that we can cook it to our liking sukiyaki-style in a broth made from some stuff that Urawasa-san imports from Heaven. The meat is truly unlike the best steaks from Mastros and the rest. The thin cut makes it a melt-in-the-mouth bite. Haven't yet been to Cut, but my impression is that a 2 inch thick steak of any cut, black and bleu, would be pretty discusting. What do you folks think?

            1. re: ThatPat

              Long after we had our last meal of our Kobe beef gift pack we decided to go to our local butcher get some more. Through lots of hand signals we told him we couldn't afford Kobe beef but we wanted to try the next best meat. (That's like going from mega-expensive to incredibly expensive.) However, that meat was like a normal very good steak.

              Kobe beef is literally pink with fat that really does almost melt in your mouth. People often describe filet minon as "cuts like butter" but Kobe beef really does. As for the taste...it's delicate. I guess I liked the sensation of biting into it, the mouth feel and the taste. When we ate it, we sat quietly and savored each bite.

            2. the one at spago is the real deal, at 20 dollars per ounce, so a pound of it would cost you areound 360 or so.

              1. sorry not spago, i meant cut. the new puck joint/steakhouse.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kevin

                  It is Cut that sells it at $20 an ounce. Cut is Puck's

                2. I run a restaurant that uses the American style Kobe from Snake River Farms, among other types of beef. It is definitely not the true Japanese Wagyu, but it is readily available and the quality is definitely superior to most beef produced in this country. As for labeling it correctly on a menu, there is a law about truth in menus which should be adhered to. Our menu states that it is American Style Kobe from Snake River Farms. To do anything else to trick the customer is unethical and probably illegal.

                  With that said, Snake River Farms produces their own burgers and freezes them and prepackages them for sale, wholesale or retail. After years of trying many kinds of beef to grind for a hamburger, I can honestly say I have never tried a better burger. And to respond to Kawaiikitty49, the quality of the beef absolutely matters when making hamburgers. I was a cook at Daniel in NYC when we were developing the DB burger and it became clear the quality of beef is the most important factor in making a good burger, though obviously there are other factors as well. The quality of the beef just happens to be number one.

                  As far as using premade, frozen patties, the process they use at SRF is definitely interesting. The burgers are not just compressed ground beef. It looks like they actually emulsify some of the fat into the meat, similar to the process for making hotdogs. When the burgers are thawed and then grilled, they are incredibly juicy and the flavor is exquisite. We make a homemade poppyseed - brioche bun and it needs no condiments except some salt and pepper and the toasted bun.

                  I will say, though, that I have had other American Style Kobe made into burgers or as a steak and I did not think any of them were anything special. Especially for the premium that is usually associated with it. I am speaking only of Snake River Farms here.

                  1. Oops, I do believe the quality of the beef matters for hamburgers matters, but I meant that I didn't think that using Kobe beef to make a hamburger was practical since I think it is much more enjoyable in a steak. I think beef from a quality producer like Nimian Ranch or Meyer Ranch would make a hamburger that is as good as a Kobe burger.

                    And I didn't mean to imply that Spago's beef wasn't the real deal. I just knew that for the last few years Japanese beef has been banned in the US because of BCE fears and that the ban was recently lifted.

                    And I agree with you peepswang that the American Kobe is superior than American beef. In fact, when I do eat beef, I only buy the American Kobe at Marukai. I just have to try not to compare it to the memory of that gorgeous meat in Japan that has been seared into my brain. Thanks for the info on the Snake River Farms hamburger. I'll have to try it, maybe it will change my mind!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kawaiikitty49

                      The LA Times had an article a month or so ago in which it went through local restaurants that offer high-end burgers and discussed the use of Kobe versus other types of beef. You might want to hunt it down on the LA Times archives.

                    2. I had a wonderful "Kobe" beef steak from Japan at Garden Grill at the New Otani. I thought it was well worth it.

                      I've had high grade Wagyu in Tokyo as a sukiyaki dish and also as a Korean BBQ. When I first had it as sukiyaki, which my uncle made, it brought tears to my eyes because it was so good! I thought what they served at the Garden Grill was comparable.

                      Link to my review...


                      2 Replies
                        1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                          The whole course was about $150 and the steak was about 6 oz or you could get 1 oz for $20.

                      1. kawaiikitty49 - The SRF Kobe burger is fantastic. If you can't find them locally, you can order them from Preferred Meats in Oakland (www.preferredmeats.com.) Probably one of the best meat purveyors in the US. We use them for our wholesale account. If you do get the SRF burgers, make sure to thaw them first and then grill them very quickly (or certainly cook them in a fry pan). They cook very fast. Also because of the production method, they look almost light pink. They are not freezer burned, it is just the emulsified fat giving it that appearance. Just give them some liberal s+p and enjoy. If you do go through Preferred, I would also reccommend the grass fed Estancia beef from Uruguay. It is extremely flavorful with a nice beefiness that is lacking in so much beef grown in this country. We use this in addition to the SRF Kobe. It is well worth it to seek it out. Enjoy!

                        1. I wrote to Snake River Farms and asked what is the difference between American Kobe and Japanese...the reply was that American Kobe is from cattle bred 50% Black Angus and 50% the Japanese cow. The guy from Snake River said because Americans like "big, thick steaks" they don't feel there would be enough of a market for 100% Japanese beef. However, I think he's wrong about a market for true 100% Japanese kobe beef...look at how popular sushi is with little tiny pieces of raw meat! It took about 10 years for that to become standard fare. Why wouldn't reasonably priced kobe be popular?

                          1. I had what was labeled as a Kobe beef burger at a nice steakhouse for $16. I thought it was very juicy and flavorful, though very loose in consistency...but it did smack of regular ground beef. I asked the chef where it had come from and he said from America. The menu does not indicate "Kobe-style" or "American Kobe", so I wonder if that is legal or not...I thought there was some kind of trademark on Kobe. The hilarious part is the restaurant's slogan is "Truth in beef"!

                            2 Replies
                            1. As names go, "Kobe" is like "Champagne": The only real stuff comes from there. The breed of pampered cattle that's raised with special diets, massages, beer to drink, etc., in Kobe, Japan, is the Wagyu breed. Most U.S. purveyors/restaurants that buy Wagyu beef stretch things by calling it Kobe or "American Kobe", regardless of no Japanese-style pampering and no special diet. Places like Spago undoubtedly import the real thing, but most eateries that boast "Kobe" really are just serving Wagyu beef (which may or may not taste better, have more marbling, etc.)

                              22 Replies
                              1. re: Riccardo

                                All the hysterics over Kobe Beef reminds me of a study the USDA did in the late 1980s. First, they quantified the total volume of "Organic Chicken" that was marketed in the U.S. for the subject year; then, the total production at farm level was investigated. The study revealed that 3 times more "Organic" Chicken was sold than produced!!!!!!! O.K..........

                                1. re: Riccardo

                                  I did quite a bit of research on this over the years, searching for true Kobe beef in the U.S. that I could buy and make at home...I haven't found it yet. There is an outfit in the U.S. that raises and sells "Kobe" beef with imported Wagyu cows from Japan BUT they have breed them with American breeds. I spoke with someone at that company (I can't remember the name) and he said the market for beef with that much fat isn't big enough in the U.S. I also contacted an outfit in Tasmania, AU that raises pure-bred Wagyu but they don't market to the U.S.

                                  From what I could find, only Puck's CUT or that type of high-end restaurant is going to fly meat in from Japan. I wouldn't believe it's the true Kobe beef unless you were spending considerable bucks at famous restaurant like CUT.

                                  1. re: bohemiana

                                    You haven't done enough research. There is lots of American Kobe beef and lots of demand for it. As for Japanese Kobe this mail order site was found in 2 seconds: http://www.1-800-kobebeef.com

                                    1. re: observor

                                      Nope that's not "true" Kobe beef.
                                      It's not exported. There was just an article (I think in the NYT) with a profile and interview with the largest producer of Kobe beef.

                                      1. re: cls

                                        Why don't you look at the web site...Japanese Kobe beef.

                                          1. re: cls

                                            So, what, are you saying the company is lying? They specifically advertise selling A5 Japanese Kobe beef.

                                            1. re: observor

                                              I guess one of them is probably lying.
                                              You can choose whom to believe: either the largest Japanese Kobe beef producer, or an Internet company that (allegedly) is participating in the obfuscated marketing surrounding Kobe beef.
                                              I would acknowledge that, for a price, just about anything is available, however I would also be skeptical of any company purporting to sell Kobe beef in the US. I mean, I can get a $12 Kobe beef burger down the street at an awful restaurant, and even during the ban on Japanese beef imports, restaurants all over town were selling "Japanese Kobe beef."

                                              1. re: cls

                                                I think you're the one who is lying now...I think I will believe this company, which advertises in bold letters "100 % Japanese Kobe beef" not to mention someone in this thread said Costco once sold it.

                                                  1. re: cls

                                                    It doesn't say *Japanese* kobe beef, guy.

                                                1. re: cls

                                                  Though you couild be right, the web site does seem rather honkey tonk...it also says the cows are grown all over Japan, which is totally not true.

                                                  1. re: cls

                                                    Here's another one...http://www.thewagyubeef.com/chateaubr......

                                                    Kobe beef exclusively from Japan.

                                                    EDIT: It's the same company.

                                                    1. re: observor

                                                      makes one wonder, doesn't it?

                                                      1. re: cls

                                                        You're right, I looked at the official Kobe beef Web site...no official Kobe beef has ever been exported out of Japan...of course I'm not sure exactly what exported means.

                                          2. re: observor

                                            My last research online was about a year ago so it appears some have come online. However, I just called 1-800-kobebeef.com and they do not import from Japan anymore but they import from Greg Norman's ranch and Darling Downs ranch in Australia. I also found this website that seems to describe that although the Australian ranches have 100% wagyu cattle, they don't follow exactly the same methods as the Japanese which is taste/texture/fat content distinguisher.
                                            In Japan I lived in Kobe and I had both Kobe steak and the next level down and there was no comparison.
                                            However, I would be interested to try the beef from 1-800-kobebeef just for kicks to see how closely it compares.
                                            The Japanese are such rule-followers that I might only believe it's 100% Kobe beef coming from a Japanese company.

                                            Interesting article in the Japanese Times--thanks!

                                          3. re: bohemiana

                                            You're willing to pay for it, it's out there.
                                            This was a $2,500 piece of A5 Kobe beef from Japan that Costco was selling online a couple years ago.

                                            1. re: monku

                                              Lacking any laws to the contrary, someone can call anything they want "Kobe Beef." However, it seems pretty clear that true Kobe beef (from Kobe, meeting all the requirements to use that moniker) hasn't been sold in the United States any time in the past few years, if ever. True Japanese Wagyu has been sold, but it comes from other prefectures. That's not to say it isn't as good as Kobe -- perhaps even better -- it simply isn't true Kobe. If any place claims to offer true Kobe, ask to see the certificate for the beef in question. You can then check the serial number to see if it's the real deal.

                                              In addition, right now thereis no Japanese beef of any sort making its way to the United States. Several months back (May 2010?), foot-and-mouth was found in Japanese cows, and all exports were halted. Anyone claiming to offer true Japanese beef of any sort is going to have some angry U.S. inspectors on their hands.

                                              Japan says the outbreak is over.If all goes well, Japan hopes to receive international certification in February 2011. After that, it's up to each country to decide when/whether to allow importation of Japanese beef. I have no idea how this will work in the United States.

                                                1. re: monku

                                                  I don't need to. They can sell "Kobe" from Alabama if they want to!

                                                  1. re: Larry

                                                    Costco didn't stock the item.
                                                    Like many items they sell online it was to be shipped directly from Japan.

                                                2. re: Larry

                                                  "Lacking any laws to the contrary, someone can call anything they want "Kobe Beef."

                                                  No, not really. If someone did that (for example called a Twinkie "Kobe Beef") the FTC would be all over them.

                                          4. i m curios wagyu and kobe about marbeling...how can we know that lean of marbeling

                                            1. interesting take from a caterer/restaurant owner who serves wagyu. Some good clarification: