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Ask JLB: The truth about Kobe

Feb. 27, 2013
Grade 10 Wagyu beef / Special to The News-Press

Q: What are your thoughts on Kobe burgers? I was wondering if there was really any advantage since the meat is ground.

A: When you order a so-called Kobe burger at a restaurant, thereís a very (very!) good chance youíre not getting actual Kobe beef. If you ordered that burger (or steak, or any cut of meat) before August 2012, thereís a 100 percent chance you werenít eating Kobe.

Kobe is a breed of cow specific to a region of Japan. Like Champagne, which can be called Champagne only if itís made in the Champagne region of France, Kobe can be considered Kobe only if itís from Japanís Hyogo prefecture, of which the city of Kobe is the capital.

Until August of last year, the USDA banned the import of beef from Japan. So, unless you know someone who smuggled Kobe beef in after a holiday in Hyogo, chances are youíve never had Kobe. Problem is these Japanese trademarks arenít recognized by U.S. law, so restaurants can use the term Kobe for just about anything.

What the better restaurants are really serving you is Wagyu, a term used for breeds of cattle with highly fat-marbled meat. Like Japanese Kobe, Wagyu is graded (1-12) based on how intensely marbled it is (the picture above shows a grade 10 Wagyu steak). So-called Kobe burgers are often made with much lower grades of Wagyu that are no better marbled than USDA Prime or Choice beefs. And because the meat is ground, as you pointed out, all that marbling really doesnít matter.

Some believe Wagyu meat just tastes better in general, that itís nuttier and more rounded in flavor than Angus and other breeds. Thatís a matter of opinion, but if you find Wagyu tastier, go ahead and make burgers with it! And next time youíre in Japan, save a few thousand yen and buy a steak in Hyogo.

To Ask JLB, send email to, tweet to @jeanleboeuf on Twitter, or submit your queries at Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Pressí expense.

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