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Cutting Beef Like the Japanese

By Joe Heitzeberg - Co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow. I'm on Instagram at @jheitzeb.

A5 Wagyu from Japan is legendary in the beef world. Its unique genetics help it to produce the most insanely decadent, marbled beef on the planet.

Beef this rich and marbled shouldn't be eaten like an American Angus steak (read: salted, grilled on open flame, and devoured multiple pounds at a time by a single person). I've been that person. I am that person. So believe me: Wagyu really does deserve a different treatment. For one, the literal melt-in-your-mouth tenderness means you're going to want to savor every bite. Add to that the intense richness of A5 Wagyu (and the dent it leaves in your wallet), and it won't take much to fulfill your wildest steak fantasies.

Available now: Japanese A5 Wagyu

Crowd Cow works directly with some of the best Wagyu farms in Japan.

The typical cuts you'll find in Japan differ from the American cuts. Japanese cuts are adopted to suit the richness as well as the high price-point of the beef, both of which encourage smaller portions than you might be used to. Japanese cuts also highlight the beef's distinct qualities, and celebrate traditional Japanese cooking styles.

A5 Wagyu is traditionally an experience, not a meal.

Thus, all Japanese A5 steaks are cut much thinner, typically just 3/4" thick for steaks and 1 & 1/2" to 2" for tenderloin. This allows them to be seared quickly on each side on a teppanyaki grill (or stainless steel pan), which warms the meat just enough to melt the interior fat. This can then be sliced; and it serves up as a perfect, melts-in-your-mouth strip of decadent steak delight. (That should be a band name.)

The A5 Wagyu we import from Japan follows the exact specifications of Japan's top steakhouses:

  • Ribeye - cut 3/4" thick, weighing 15-20 oz. (estimated range) depending on what section of the primal it came from
  • Striploin Steak - cut 3/4" thick, also weighing 15-20 oz. (estimated range) depending on what section of the primal it came from
  • Tenderloin Steak - Each cut to a target weight of 8 oz, and thus ranging in thickness from 1 & 1/2" to 2" thick
  • Rib Cap Steak - each cut to 6 to 7 oz., and generally 1 to 1 & 1/2" thick, depending on what end of the primal it comes from
  • Rib Cap Strips - when not enough of the rib cap is left to make a steak, and it begins to taper off, the remainder is cut into strips about 1" thick that can easily be cooked-to-order and enjoyed a few at-a-time with friends (or just by yourself). Packed in 8-oz packages
  • Filet Ends - a.k.a. "tips and tails" of the tenderloin. Packed in 1-pound packages
  • Ribeye Ends - fallout, irregularly shaped ends from the rib section
  • Striploin Ends - fallout, irregularly shaped ends from the striploin section

But wait, back up a sec, what's the deal with having so many different cuts anyway?

If it were possible to turn an entire steer into just New York steaks, every butcher in the country would be down for that, because it would, so to speak, bring home to bacon. But the fact of the matter is, it's not steaks all the way down. So in the U.S., often up to 40% of a steer by meat weight gets turned into ground beef (when you account for the fat, the trim, and some less desirable cuts).

Not so in Japan; no, indeed! In fact, they rarely make any ground beef at all. Instead, at any grocery-store meat counter in Japan, you'll find a package labelled "kiri-otishi" (切り落とし) which is just as common as ground beef is in the U.S. "Kiri-otishi" is little bits of meat -- often sorted and packaged according to part of the animal. It's sold as convenient, bite-sized scraps perfectly suited to yakiniku (焼肉), or a tabletop grilled meat preparation that's usually paired with a sauce consisting of sake, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic, fruit juice and sesame. (Sign me up.)

Tongue, heart and other offals are also popular with yakiniku; and in fact, there's even a subgenre of meat preparation and fandom dedicated to cow tongue -- Gyūtan (牛タン), with several restaurant chains centered around Gyūtan alone. To be fair though, the U.S. probably still has weirder chain restaurants. Which shall here remain unnamed.

The Japanese take a clever approach to the relatively tougher cuts like top round and bottom round. While in Western cuisines they'd typically be braised or slow-roasted, in Japan they're sliced paper-thin, and used for sukiyaki and shabu-shabu -- forms of cuisine that involve cooking the meat directly in boiling broth by swirling it around with chopsticks.

Be sure to check out our A5 Wagyu cooking video,
collection of A5 Wagyu Recipes, and our blog post, Top Japanese Chef Reveals How to Cook A5 Kobe Beef.

Available now: Japanese A5 Wagyu

Crowd Cow works directly with some of the best Wagyu farms in Japan.


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