Lately wagyu beef—you know, the transcendently tender, fatty, umami-rich steak—has become as synonymous with luxury as caviar or black truffles. But no matter how many Michelin-starred menus this delicacy graces, all of the facts about wagyu steak still tend to elude even the most seasoned diners.
“It’s an extremely fascinating but confusing world,” says Joe Heitzeberg, the co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow. Heitzeberg, who admits it wasn’t until he’d spent ample time meeting with Japanese slaughterhouse owners and farmers (his minor in Japanese at the University of Washington helped) that he felt like he truly understood wagyu.
“There’s a lot of information out there that’s not accurate, mostly unintentionally, and perhaps some intentionally,” he says. Because of the prestige associated with wagyu and the premium price it fetches (a pound can easily run in the triple-digits), some people throw around “wagyu” and related terms as a marketing gimmick, even if what the purveyor is selling isn’t that luxury version. So what is wagyu beef—and why does it taste and feel, unlike any other steak you’ve ever had? We’ve gathered some of the foremost experts in the restaurant industry to explain.
Simply put, wagyu means Japanese cow, But the straightforward definition belies a subject riddled with misinformation.