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Wagyu beef--marketing hype?

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First off, I'm not talking about the luxury cuts. There is a visible difference between a Kobe ribeye and one from the local megamart. But it seems like you can't throw a rock these days without hitting somebody selling "Kobe" burgers, "Kobe" beef hot dogs, "Kobe" sausages, etc.. My butcher sells Wagyu "london broil" (top round?) for about double the cost of a choice cut.

Without getting into the nomenclature issues, how are these products different than run-of-the-mill beef? The main distinguishing feature of a Wagyu ribeye--extensive, well-distributed intramuscular fat--just isn't present in a top round steak, and it vanishes when you grind the meat and form it into patties or extrude it into casings. I mean, you can get perfectly "marbled" hamburger just by throwing extra fat into the grinder.

So, is there something else that distinguishes Wagyu from other types of beef, or have the producers just found a way to get a premium price for the parts of the carcass that are left after the distinctive cuts have been sold?

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  1. "So, is there something else that distinguishes Wagyu from other types of beef..."

    Yes, it refers to specific breeds of cattle.

    And note that while all Kobe beef is Wagyu, not all Wagyu is Kobe...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobe_beef
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagyu
    .
    .

    6 Replies
    1. re: Joe Blowe

      But do those specific breeds of cattle produce a superior hamburger / hot dog / top round steak, or is it just marketing hype?

      1. re: alanbarnes

        It's my understanding it's not so much the breed of cattle, but the way it's raised
        -- a fat-producing diet and hand massaging. Don't see any advantage with tougher cuts that have to be braised anyway.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          Did you read the links?

          "...genetically predisposed to intense marbling..."

          How the rancher raises it, finishes it, and brings it to market also influences the final product.

          I understand your skepticism, but properly bred and raised Wagyu cattle WILL, on average, have better marbling and flavor characteristics than basic beef cattle.

          And what you're seeing in Kobe hamburgers and hot dogs (?) is pure marketing. They're buying scraps and other cuts that aren't preferred by the typical Wagyu consumer. Grocery stores sell off the braising cuts to unsuspecting or ignorant customers.

          1. re: Joe Blowe

            I completely agree with you that Wagyu cattle have better marbling characteristics than other beef cattle--IN CUTS THAT ARE MARBLED. Top round is the leanest cut of meat on a beef carcass. It has almost no fat. No fat=no marbling.

            I'm not skeptical, I'm curious. You run "marbling and flavor characteristics" together. Does Wagyu have a distinctive flavor profile independent of the superior marbling? Or is lean Wagyu nothing more than over-hyped and over-priced lean beef?

            As to the "Kobe" hot dog, I was walking through the Phoenix airport last month and saw this: http://www.jodymaroni.com/sausages/ko.... It inspired the original post.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              "You run 'marbling and flavor characteristics' together."

              Fat = Flavor. ;-)

              And no, I would not waste my money on lean Wagyu.

              There is a lot of other source material out there regarding the flavor profiles of various cattle (and other livestock) breeds that I won't go into. And, my palate is not talented enough to pick up a difference in the flavor of similar cuts of muscle tissue alone.

              When it comes to a skirt or flank steak versus tenderloin then, sure, I can taste the difference. But I haven't compared similar cuts of grocery store Choice or Select to Wagyu -- sounds like a fun test though...

        2. re: Joe Blowe

          Note that most people selling 'Kobe beef' are selling 'Kobe-style' beef, which means...pretty much whatever they want it to.

        3. I'm not sure about the london broil, but I think its an incredible waste of money to get Kobe or Wagyu hamburgers, ground beef, hot dogs, etc. If you think about it, they were invented to use up meat that couldn't be used for steaks/roasts, etc. Grinding meat makes it more tender and one of the reasons to eat Wagyu is for the tenderness.