What does it all mean? A diner’s guide to Wagyu
Date Published : 21 May 2018

They’re terms that we see on menus all the time; Iberico pork, Wagyu and USDA certified beef; they’re marks of quality that guarantee the provenance of our food. Or do they? On its own, the label ‘wagyu’ tells you very little about the beef that you’re actually getting.

Wagyu can come from any one of four breeds of cow originating in Japan. It has some distinctive qualities; the main attraction of wagyu is that it’s more extensively marbled than beef from other breeds. Marbling is made of deposits of fat between the cow’s muscle fibres, this fat melts during cooking keeping the meat moist and tender and imparting loads of rich flavour. But the word ‘wagyu’ on the menu is, in itself, not a rock-solid guarantee of quality.

What to look out for

There are 15 different grades of Japanese Wagyu. The meat is graded in quality from A to C, A being ‘above standard’ and C being ‘below standard’. It’s also rated from 1 to 5 for the amount of marbling present, 1 is ‘poor’, 5 is ‘excellent’. So, if the menu simply claims your beef is wagyu, there’s no guarantee that its not C1 substandard beef. If the menu specifically says ‘A5 Wagyu’, then you know you’re getting the good stuff; beef that has been raised on quality grain and cared for properly by the farmer.

Not all wagyu is Japanese. The grading system outlined above only applies to wagyu beef raised in Japan. Herds of the four wagyu breeds; Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn plus other crossbreeds that are also sold as wagyu, can be found in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Each of these countries uses their own beef-grading system. (For more on this, see our upcoming Diner's Guide to USDA Beef.)

The particular part of the cow the meat comes from will have a much greater impact on your enjoyment of your meal than the breed of the cow; a piece of A5 (top graded) wagyu shank is unlikely to be as tender as a piece of tenderloin from a less glamorous breed of cow.

If you want to enjoy your steak like a connoisseur, you’ll do better investing a little time familiarising yourself with the properties of the different cuts available rather than investing in names alone. And if you’re wondering which cut to choose; the muscles in a cow’s neck and legs do the most work, and therefore, produce the toughest meat. So, as a rule of thumb, the further from the horn or the hoof the meat comes from, the more tender and juicy it will be.

If in doubt, ask your waiter or butcher to tell you more about the beef you’re buying. This is the only way to find out if they really know what they’re talking about, or if they’re just using fancy-sounding names as an excuse to charge premium prices.

READ NEXT: What does it all mean? A diner's guide to detox

You may also like...
Tenkei: the verdict

Experimentation runs amok

What does it all mean? A diner’s guide to… USDA beef

Good beef or a load of bull?


Helmed by executive chef Jack Law, who previously worked under Umberto Bombana, Involtini has a small menu of appetisers, pastas and mainsRead more...

Jimmy‘s Kitchen

Jimmy’s Kitchen opened its doors in Hong Kong over 80 years agoRead more...

Ore-no Kappou by Ginza Okamoto

Located in Lan Kwai Fong’s California Tower, this Japanese eatery serves modern and authentic kaiseki cuisineRead more...

Chautari Restaurant

Second to none

Subscribe to our newsletter
Plate of the week
Warm baked goodies

Banana Millet Bread and Oatmeal cookies

Read More
Choosing Sorbet

Couldn't decide between mango and raspberry sorbet

Read More
Adorable Dimsum

Cutest dim-sum ever...

Read More
Crispy spring rolls

Spring rolls stuffed with tofu patty at Above & Beyond

Read More
Pink cocktail

Choosing cocktails over coffee this weekend!

Read More
DIY Burger

@thisgirlabroad "The DIY burger station at Beef & Liberty's weekend rooftop BBQ brunch was a fun way to get creative with my burger!"

Read More

Chutoro marinated in 10-month pickled garlic. Unbelievable!

Read More
Follow Our Facebook
Follow Our Instagram