Note: If you missed the first part of this series that outlined steak cuts and the USDA grading system, you can find it by clicking here)
I had a dream about cows last night. I have consumed more information about cows and steaks in the last week than any man really should. I also consumed some great steaks along the way. The difficulty in this topic is differentiating the marketing material from the facts. The line is blurred because a great number of these terms were conceived as marketing tools. I tried to sort through it all to provide you with a factual background to increase the knowledge you have to share with your tables and avoid the hype at the butcher counter.
This week I tried to tackle one of the most confusing areas for a server and a consumer. The difference between some of the most popular and pricey breeds of beef is an incredibly complex topic and the basis for much debate even among experts. The focus this post is the differences between Kobe, American Kobe, Angus, Black Angus, and Certified Angus Beef. Confused yet? Hopefully this will help clarify.
(Late Edit: I added hyperlinks so you could see pictures of some of the things discussed here. Isn’t the internet grand?)
Kobe: Produced from Wagyu cattle raised and fed the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. They must weigh less than 1000 pounds and castrated. Marbling and quality standards also apply. They are also generally named individually and come with extensive paperwork to show their pedigree. Most of what is said about Kobe beef is speculation. Stories of daily massages, sake showers, and daily beers are often thrown about, but the producers of this meat are very secretive about how they raise it. Currently there are less than 300 farms in Hyogo raising Kobe Beef. Most have less than five cows while the largest is closer to 15. This keeps supply low and demand high. True Kobe from Japan can often run as much as $1000 a pound.
The Japanese raised these cows to be as fat as possible. They are fed longer with a diet focused on fat rather than nutrition. In spite of the extensive marbling Kobe Beef is much lower in saturated fat than traditional Western breeds. The high level of non saturated fat leads to it beginning to liquefy at just 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked beyond medium rare the steak would begin to fall apart. This also makes the steaks incredibly rich. Four ounces of Kobe Beef is far more filling than a standard steak.
American Kobe: With the high price and demand for Kobe Beef, it is only natural that American farmers would want in on the racket. This has lead to a marketing label of “American Kobe” or “Kobe Styled Beef.” In these cuts the traditional Wagyu cattle has been bred with American breeds, usually Angus. American producers argue that this cross leads to a steak that has the benefits of Kobe, but a look and texture more desirable to the American palette. American Kobe can be used as both steak cuts and ground. The cuts are still better at lower temperatures due to the fat liquefying much earlier than traditional American breeds. American Style Kobe is also fed a higher calorie diet for a longer period of time to achieve optimum marbling.
Angus: Angus cows originated in Scotland and were first brought to the small Kansas town of Victoria in 1873. When first brought to market in Kansas City, they were mocked for being hornless in a time when cattle were categorized as longhorn and shorthorn. The mocking ceased when the delicious meat made it’s way to the plate. Soon after more Angus bulls and cows were imported to create pure Angus herds. Angus cows are generally black, but a recessive gene can cause them to be a copper red color. Angus cows are often bred into herds of other breeds of cow because their hornless quality is a dominant trait.
The American Angus Association created the term “Certified Angus Beef” in 1978. To receive this certification a rancher’s herd must be at least 51% black Angus and individual carcasses must meet minimal requirements. Not all beef billed as Angus is “Certified Angus Beef.” The creation of the certification had increased the profile of the breed. Many fast food restaurants now serve Angus burgers, but these are rarely “Certified Angus Beef.”
That is all for this week. Next week I will discuss terms like grass fed, grain fed, dry aged, and wet aged.