Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

japanese yakiniku wagyu beef

Wagyu beef is one of the most expensive cuts of meat in the world, leading many people to wonder whether it’s worth the price.

The meat comes from several breeds of Japanese cattle raised with special care. The result is soft, savory steaks with a juicy, mild flavor.

Due to the price, you may hesitate to try it yourself. Tender, top-rated Wagyu beef can cost several hundred dollars or more per pound.

Here is a closer look at a few of the reasons why Wagyu beef is so expensive.

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Wagyu Beef Production Is Regulated

The high price of Wagyu beef comes from a combination of limited supply, high demand, and quality meat. Only a small percentage of beef qualifies as Wagyu beef, as production is heavily regulated.

Wagyu beef comes from a limited number of cattle breeds. Through selective breeding, cattlemen have continuously improved the quality of the cattle. However, every cow is registered. To qualify as Wagyu, it needs to come from one of the following breeds:

  • Japanese Black
  • Japanese Brown
  • Japanese Shorthorn
  • Japanese Polled

Domestic cattle crossbred with a Wagyu breed do not qualify as Wagyu. While most of the beef produced in Japan comes from Wagyu breeds, only a small percentage receives the highest meat ratings of A4 or A5. Strict requirements on the quality of the meat leads to less of a supply.

In 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) banned Japanese beef imports. While people could no longer import Japanese beef, US ranchers could still raise cattle from the Wagyu strain.

In the United States, domestic production of Wagyu breeds remains incredibly small compared to overall beef production. There were about 5,000 full-blood Wagyu cattle in the United States in 2015.

No matter if you are in the United States or Japan, the availability of quality Wagyu beef is limited. You can walk into any grocery store and purchase prime domestic beef, but Wagyu remains a delicacy, resulting in higher prices.

A5 Wagyu Beef Costs More to Produce

To get the highest rating, Wagyu beef needs to be carefully raised, which increases production costs. The cattle are selectively bred to continually improve the marbling. They are then raised with extreme care.

To get the best results, the cattle need to be raised in a stress-free environment. Instead of crowded facilities with feed, the top Wagyu cattle freely graze. Along with grazing, the cattle receive quality rations.

Domestic cattle frequently receive simple carbohydrates to promote faster growth while Wagyu cattle are fed high-quality grains to promote natural growth. The specialized diet, environment, and extended timeframe contribute to the high cost of Wagyu.

wagyu kobe beef steak

Quality Wagyu Beef Tastes Incredible

Along with a limited supply of top-quality Wagyu beef, the meat tends to cost more due to high consumer demand. The delicious flavor of Wagyu beef makes it a premium product.

People will pay more for quality food and Wagyu beef is not an exception. The average price of high-grade Wagyu beef from Japan is about $200 per pound. Individual Japanese Black cattle can sell for up to $30,000.

Wagyu beef produced in the United States using cattle crossbred with Angus cattle typically costs about $60 to $120 per pound. For comparison, USDA prime beef averages about $5 to $10 per pound.

Wagyu Beef vs Kobe Beef – What’s the Difference?

Kobe beef is a type of Wagyu beef. As mentioned, there are four breeds of Wagyu cattle. Japanese Black is the most produced Wagyu breed and it has several strains, including the Tajima breed. Tajima cattle produced in the Hyogo prefecture and featuring a high marbling score is the only source of Kobe beef.

Basically, Kobe beef is the top shelf variety of Wagyu beef. It has stiffer guidelines compared to other types of Wagyu, with rules outlined by the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association.

To qualify as Kobe beef, the cattle must be born and farm fed in Hyogo prefecture. The animal must also be processed at designated slaughterhouses in Kobe, Kakogawa, Himeji, or Sanda. When grading the carcass, it needs a meat quality score of 4 or 5 and a yield grade of A or B.

The strict regulations for Kobe beef limit the supply. Only 3,000 head of cattle qualify for distribution as Kobe beef each year.

Kobe beef has the softest texture and highest-quality marbling compared to other steaks. As part of the requirements, the beef needs to receive a beef marbling standard (BMS) score of 6 or higher on a scale of 1 to 12. A score of 8 to 12 is needed to achieve the coveted A5 rating from the Japanese Meat Grading Association.

As mentioned, non-Kobe Wagyu averages about $200 per pound. Top-quality Kobe beef costs $1,192 per pound.

Japan at chureito pagoda and mt. fuji in the spring with cherry blossoms full bloom during twilight.

Can You Buy Kobe Beef Outside of Japan?

Kobe beef and other full-breed Wagyu are available throughout the world. The USDA banned the import of Japanese beef in 2009 due to fear of the foot-and-mouth outbreak that occurred. In 2012, the USDA eased restrictions and imports resumed.

You can buy authentic 100% Japanese Wagyu beef in the United States at specialty meat shops and online.

Wagyu is also produced domestically in the United States. However, the Wagyu cattle produced in the United States does not qualify as Kobe beef based on the Japanese grading system.

While some US ranchers produce purebred Wagyu cattle, it rarely achieves the same level of marbling found in Japanese Tajima cattle. However, the Kobe beef trademark is not recognized in the United States, allowing companies to market their beef using the name.

japanese wagyu beef grill with chopstick

Conclusion – Is Wagyu Beef Worth the Cost?

So, why is Wagyu beef so expensive? In the end, Wagyu beef is expensive due to its limited availability, higher production costs, and delicious flavor. Only a small amount of meat receives the highest ratings from the Japanese Meat Grading Association.

If you want to try the meat yourself, you can expect to pay quite a bit more compared to the ground chuck at your grocery store. However, most people will agree that Wagyu beef is worth the higher cost.


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