Kobe Beef 101: Everything You Need to Know About This Exceptional Cut of Meat

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If you’re indulging in this Japanese delicacy, here’s what to know before you buy.

Marbled, tender, and undeniably decadent, Kobe beef falls into the super-elite category of specialty foods that chefs and foodies seek out time and again, despite the hefty price tags. Technically, Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu beef, a category of aged, marbled meat sourced from just four different breeds of Japanese cows in several regions of Japan. If you know anyone who loves Japanese cuisine, you’ve likely heard them wax lyrical about the meat’s pink hue and melt-in-your-mouth, buttery characteristics.

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Because Kobe beef comes from a specific bloodline of certified cattle in Japan’s Kobe region, these cuts of meat are highly sought after, and just a few ounces can cost as much as an entire five-star meal. The meat has to pass strict qualifications mandated by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association in order to be sold at a store or restaurant and given the Kobe Beef Certificate of Authenticity. There is even a DNA testing system in place so that any Kobe beef can be traced, even after distribution.

Read on for everything to know when buying authentic, delicious Kobe beef.

Medium Rare Kobe Steak Cut in Half
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What Is Kobe Beef?

So, what is Kobe beef, exactly? The specialty meat, which has been traded worldwide since the mid-19th century when Kobe opened as a port for international trade, is a type of Wagyu beef. It is produced exclusively in the mountainous Kobe region of the Hyogo prefecture of Japan, which is part of what makes it so coveted. Kobe beef can only come from Kobe, the same way that Champagne must be produced in Champagne and Scotch must be distilled in Scotland. All Kobe beef—and relatively speaking, there isn’t much of it in the world—comes from the same 12 male Tajima Wagyu (Japanese Black cows) that are kept in a special facility by the Hyogo prefecture’s government. Additionally, Kobe beef must score an A4 or higher on the tiered Wagyu beef grading system.

How Much Does Kobe Beef Cost?

The steep Kobe beef price is part of what makes it so hard to come by. Generally, Kobe goes for around $20-50 per ounce, depending on the restaurant or store of purchase. If you’re purchasing the delicacy from a certified online retailer, you’ll likely pay $100 (or a little more) for a 2-ounce cut. This can be much higher if you’re dining at a restaurant, of course. You can find a full list of the 42 restaurants in the U.S. that offer Kobe beef here, provided by the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association.

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  The chef showed this beautifully marbled authentic kobe beef steak to us before he began preparing it.
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Kobe Beef vs. Wagyu Beef: What's the Difference?

When ordering in a restaurant, you’ll want to understand the basics of Kobe beef vs. Wagyu beef. The only difference is that Kobe beef just falls into the overarching category of Wagyu beef, which encompasses any beef derived from four distinct breeds of Japanese cattle: Japanese Black (the most common), Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. The word Wagyu means Japanese cattle, and the word Kobe refers to the Kobe region of Japan, where that specific type of beef comes from. In short, Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu.

Where Does Kobe Beef Come From?

Sourced from cattle bred in the picturesque Kobe region, Kobe beef cows, called Tajima, are relatively few in numbers—there are only some 3,000 head of cattle every year that qualify as Kobe beef cows. While you can find Kobe beef in a select few restaurants in the U.S., you’ll want to be thorough in your research to ensure that it’s an A4-graded piece of Wagyu beef from the Hyogo prefecture. Better yet, start planning a trip to the Kobe region for the travel and culinary experience of a lifetime—you can even visit a Tajima farm.

Slices of Kobe Beef are seen at its launching ceremony in Tsim Sha Tsui.
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Where to Buy Kobe Beef Online

Rule number one: don’t Google “Kobe beef” and then expect all the shoppable links to be viable options. If you’re in search of authentic Kobe, you’ll want to be sure that you’re ordering Japanese Kobe (not American Kobe-style beef) with an A4 rating or higher. The good news is that there are some wonderful, reputable options when ordering Kobe beef online from the U.S. The Wagyu Shop is a veritable one-stop shop for all kinds of Wagyu beef from cattle raised in Japan. You can purchase a Kobe beef A5 Wagyu filet mignon on the site from $129 (2 ounces) to $359 (8 ounces). Another option is Holy Grail Steak Co., which offers several cuts of Kobe, but they sell out quickly (sometimes a 13-ounce steak for $349 will be the only option available). Crowd Cow also sells a few different cuts of Kobe, with current options from $256 for a 13-ounce A5 Kobe Beef New York Strip End.