There’s no doubt that one of the key factors in a deliciously tender steak is the level of fat marbling throughout it. And if you are looking for one of the highest levels of marbling that you can get, Japanese Wagyu beef is definitely a great option.
As we’ve detailed in our in-depth article on Wagyu beef, cuts from these premium cattle are often found in Michelin Star-quality restaurants or in the smokers of some of the top BBQ pitmasters in the game. Fans of Wagyu beef rave that it is the best-tasting and most tender cut of beef you’ll ever taste.
In discussions about Wagyu beef, you may have also heard or seen the terms “Kobe beef” or “Ozaki beef”. These terms are often used interchangeably (especially Wagyu and Kobe) and, understandably, can cause some confusion. So, in this article, we’ve broken down Wagyu beef vs Kobe vs Ozaki beef to explain the differences and try to clear things up.
In comparing these three types of beef, we’ll start by quickly summarizing what Wagyu beef is exactly. True Japanese Wagyu comes from a specific breed of Japanese cattle that have special genetic features. Due to a genetic predisposition, these cattle metabolize fat internally, so the fat integrates with the muscle tissue itself. This leads to an extremely high level of fat marbling and a finer meat texture. Specific breeding conditions and a special diet also aid in the characteristic marbling that Wagyu beef is so known for.
So, true Japanese Wagyu beef offers a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and an unmatched taste exploding with umami. No other type of livestock does this the way these specific cattle do. So, even if they are raised in the same conditions as Wagyu cattle by award-winning Wagyu cattle farmers, no other breed of cattle will produce Wagyu beef.
The next common question is what is Kobe beef versus Wagyu beef? Kobe is actually one specific type of Japanese Wagyu beef. It originates from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, raised in the capital city of Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture, Kobe. So, all Kobe beef is Japanese Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe. There are a few other stipulations for the meat to be considered actual Kobe beef.
First, the cattle must meet strict grading requirements and are fed to a minimum of 26 months. Furthermore, 499.9 kilograms of beef production cannot be exceeded per one individual Tajima cow. Also, the meat has to be rated an A4 or A5 on the Wagyu Beef Grading Scale.
Finally, everyone who has a hand in the production of the meat, from the farm to the restaurant it is being served in, has to be licensed and/or certified by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association. When you are purchasing Kobe beef to cook yourself, genuine Kobe Beef will always have a Japanese Chrysanthemum logo on the branding and packaging.
If you are in a restaurant and see American Kobe on the menu, don’t fall for the marketing gimmick! As you can see now, true Kobe is not able to be produced in the U.S. So, American Kobe beef does not actually exist.
There are currently only 37 restaurants in the US that are certified and sell imported, authentic Japanese Kobe beef.
While Kobe beef definitely has the tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture that regular Japanese A5 Wagyu does, it does have a deliciously unique flavor profile. More specifically, Kobe has a creamier taste and texture in the mouth compared to “regular” A5 Japanese Wagyu.
As far as the exterior appearance, Kobe usually has extremely wide veins of intermuscular fat (aka marbling) running through the meat. Many people agree that Kobe beef takes Japanese Wagyu to an even higher and more delicious level.
Similarly to Kobe beef, Ozaki beef is a specific type of Japanese Wagyu beef. But, it does have its differences compared to Kobe beef.
Considered the premium upgrade on regular Wagyu, Ozaki beef comes from the Kuroge Washu genotype of Japanese Black cattle that are located on one single farm in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture that is run by Mr. Muhenaru Ozaki. He is the only Japanese cattle farmer that is allowed to use his own name when marketing his beef.
This unique beef has acquired the nickname “the phantom of Wagyu”, largely due to the fact that Mr. Ozaki only produces 30 cattle a month (very low compared to the average Japanese Wagyu farm).
Much of the secret of the premier qualities of the meat lies in the cattle’s diet, which Mr. Ozaki perfected over almost two decades. The cattle feed production process is a labor-intensive two hour process that happens daily. The feed contains up to 15 different ingredients, including seaweed and algae, and is free of antibiotics or preservatives. Several of the ingredients help stimulate more blood circulation in the cattle.
Apart from the diet, the Ozaki cattle are matured 4 to 8 months longer than regular Japanese Wagyu cattle, allowing them to age to between 29 and 36 months. Mr. Ozaki believes that the flavor of the meat in these cattle only gets better with age.
As the nickname implies, compared to other types of Japanese Wagyu, Ozaki beef is harder to find but extremely worth the hunt for it.
The flavor profile of Ozaki is savory and complex, while offering the perfect level of umami that Japanese Wagyu is famous for. But what sets Ozaki beef apart is what happens during the aftertaste. You’ll enjoy subtle hints of sweetness as the meat’s flavor evolves in your mouth. Don’t worry though, it’s not an overpowering sweetness and offers just a gentle hint that gives Ozaki beef an extra layer on an already outstanding flavor profile.
Regarding the texture, you can expect a fantastic melt-in-your-mouth feel just like regular A5 Japanese Wagyu. But Ozaki takes it to another level. The fat melts in your mouth quickly and is easily digested. Allowing you to eat a whole cut of the beef without being overpowered by richness.
Choosing the best between these three options for Japanese beef will really come down to your personal tasting preferences. As you can see, all three are going to offer a delicious, tender bite. So, if you have the opportunity, try regular Japanese A5 Wagyu, Kobe beef, and Ozaki separately and discover which one is your favorite.
If you want to give it a go with cooking this delectable beef yourself, there are some great high-quality online wholesalers you can order from. Specifically, The Wagyu Shop, Holy Grail Steak Co., and Crowd Cow. Then you can enjoy authentic Japanese Wagyu beef that is shipped straight to your front door.
Have you recently tried Wagyu beef for the first time? Do you have a favorite type of Wagyu beef? Leave a comment below and tell us about it, we want to hear from you!
If you’re ready to grill a Kobe steak or smoke a Wagyu brisket like the pros, check out the one-of-a-kind online grilling classes and online BBQ pitmaster classes taught by Champion Grillmasters and Pitmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. You’ll learn everything you need to know to cook a perfect cut of Wagyu beef.
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