The other day I was watching the Las Vegas episode of Food Network Star and one of the contestants, Loreal, went to Le Burger Brasserie and was served, of all thinks, a Kobe beef burger. I was a bit flabbergasted. You have to be one hell of a lying liar to claim Kobe beef on a menu and then claim you made it into a burger! Why? Because, since at least 2009 Kobe beef has not been available in the U.S. due to a ban on ALL Japanese beef into the US. Most restaurants claiming to have Kobe beef were lying. Pure and simple. Kobe beef comes from Japan. We have no beef from Japan. Or do we? Did something change?
Apparently, so. Larry Olmstead, who broke a huge story, originally, that exposed the Kobe beef scam in the US has written a follow-up piece. It turns out that small amounts of Kobe beef have been imported into the US. I’m talking very minute quantities of a beef that is very rare to begin with. Only a small amount of Japanese cattle qualify to be made into Kobe beef each year and much of this is now shipped to other countries. Just a trickle of Kobe has been allowed into the U.S. and this would probably be the most outrageously expensive steak you ever bought, should you come across one, which you almost certainly will not.
Kobe beef is so misrepresented and misunderstood in this country that I chose to put this post in my food myths category.
The USDA, according to the article, changed its policy in August of 2012 and at that time, only FIVE head of Kobe beef cattle were shipped to the United States. JUST FIVE. Then, for almost the entirety of 2013, the US got 17 head but never more than six a month, and often we received none. Are you getting how little beef that is? That is almost nothing. It makes Kobe beef so rare it would be almost impossible for the average person to find some.
Most Restaurants Claiming to Serve Kobe Beef Burgers are Lying
So, what does this mean? It means that the vast majority, so close to 100% it may as well be all, restaurants claiming to serve Kobe beef are still lying, but they are charging hundreds and hundred of dollars. They are committing fraud. It also means that nobody would EVER turn this rarest of the rarest meats into a BURGER!
Yet, in Vegas, where that episode of Food Network Star was set, there are dozens of restaurants and just plain old burger joints offering Kobe beef burgers. This burger that Loreal was served was claimed by the waiter to cost $777! That is why it is called the 777 Burger. It also featured foie gras. Was it Kobe? We can be almost certain that it was not. Nobody who was able to get their hands on some Kobe would grind it up into a burger.
The whole idea of Kobe is its melt in your mouth tenderness, due to its unique marbling distribution (the fat is evenly distributed throughout) and it’s abundance of unsaturated fats which melt at much lower temperatures. In fact, these fats begin melting at around n dissolving at 77°F, close to room temperature. Not only will they “melt in your mouth,” but, if you hold a piece they will begin melting in your hand! This would be lost in a burger because so much of this fat, responsible for the taste, as well, would melt out of the burger. It’s just asinine. And since these “Kobe burgers” are sometimes sold for only 15 dollars, you KNOW they are fake. Kobe beef is at least $200 a pound.
As well, you will come across recipes for Kobe beef burgers. Guy Fierri has one on the Food Network site calling for 3 pounds of ground Kobe beef. Can you imagine grinding up over $600 bucks worth of beef? Seriously? Not only is the idea ridiculous it shows a complete lack of honesty, or at least knowledge of what Kobe beef really is, since there is no way Fierri would have ever done this. If he did he is a decedent idiot. That’s like using a $500 bottle of wine to make wine coolers.
Wagyu Versus Kobe
Wagyu beef is often sold in the U.S. and is supposed to be like Kobe beef because it uses Japanese cattle. Wagyu basically just means “Japanese cow.” However, there are no regulations to control the purity and procedures used so it is very difficult to know what you are getting in a restaurant. Much of the Japanese cattle imported into the U.S. are crossed with U.S. beef. Read the article linked for more details on this. Most beef called Wagyu will cost you hundreds of dollars, but you have no real way of knowing how authentic it is.
However, it is theoretically possible to check the authenticity of Kobe beef since the Japanese Kobe Beef Council keeps meticulous records and even includes 10-digit ID numbers or scannable QR codes. The beef comes with certificates, which may or may not be helpful, but since the council has a record of every single carcass that has been exported to the US or anywhere else, you can check their website and compare the ID number on a certificate to the ID numbers given on the website. For the amount of money you’d spend, I’d say, yes, it is worth it. Of course, you’d have to get the restaurant to produce the certificate.
As for where you CAN get Kobe beef, Olmstead tells us that one sure-fire place to get it is at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort, at any of their restaurants. Wynn is the first US participant in a new partnership program with the Kobe Beef Council that makes it a certified US end-user of Kobe beef. The 777 Burger at Le Burger Brassiere, probably one of the most, if not the most expensive burgers in the country, is most likely made with a U.S. produced wagyu beef, which, unfortunately, restaurants are free to call Kobe, if they want. You would be a fool to pay such an amount for a burger, no matter what kind of beef it was made with, since so much of what makes the beef special would be lost in a burger. Kobe beef would most likely be cooked in the simplest way possible with very few additional flavorings, beside salt and perhaps pepper. A quick sear to not more than medium-rare would be used, to keep the fats from just melting right out of the beef. Kobe beef, as well, would not likely be served with a bunch of burger toppings, even if you were foolish enough to make it into a burger. Kobe beef would be allowed to stand alone.
American Kobe Beef Compared to Japanese Kobe Beef
There are many labels applied to so-called Kobe beef in the US, besides just wagyu or kobe. Some popular terms are “kobe styled beef” or “American Kobe beef.” Most often this comes from Angus cows that have been cross-bred with wagyu stock. True Kobe, which comes from the the Hyogo prefecture, uses a special breed called Tajiima, whereas imported wagyu stock might be one of several breeds. According to the Kobe Beef Council:
“Wagyu” or Japanese cattle is divided into four breeds – Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Poll, and Japanese Shorthorn. Tajima-gyu cows from which Kobe beef comes from are classified as belonging to the Japanese Black breed.
“Kokusan-gyu” cattle refers to all cows raised domestically in Japan. So, whichever country a cow is from and whatever its breed is, the cow is classified as being “Kokusan-gyu” cattle if it has spent more than half of its life in Japan.
Tajiima refers to the province of Tajiima, an ancient province now called the Hyogo Prefecture, from which, as mentiond, Kobe beef comes. Tajiima is the old way of referring to such beef, but the actual “black breed” is called Kuroge. There are some sellers that have real certified Kobe beef, including one on eBay.
Also, there are many legends about how wagyu are raised for true, certified Japanese Kobe beef, such as the cattle being rubbed down with Sake, fed beer, regularly massaged, and given the treat of relaxing music. Some US producers say that all you need to do is have some Japanese stock and put them on a special feeding schedule, and all the sake massaging, beer drinking, and music listening practices are nonsense. Well, they are probably right as far as the affect of these practices on the marbling. The Kobe Council says that some farms probably use some or all of these practices, but none of them have anything to do with being certified, and will mostly only serve to reduce stress in the animals. Which, I’d say is a good thing. As far drinking beer, it is claimed by some that this increase the cows’ appetites, but the council says there is no evidence to support this. As well, massage does not soften the meat or make it more tender.