I am actually working with some true Wagyu (but not from KOBE) beef today at home and thought i would attempt to clear up the fog on it. American beef is graded in 7 different ways but the only important grades are-select, choice, prime. you wont see the others as they have been canned, dehydrated, made into dog food, etc. prime is the best grade of American graded (FDA) beef that money can buy (in all honestly jury still out on this as i like most choice steaks more than i like prime ones). on a sidenote these grades has been changed 3 times since the current laws were created (1950's), and they were changed by huge slaughterhouses basically without any argument from consumers. that wont happen again if i can prevent it. in turn what we see as prime grade steak now wouldve been graded as select only 50 yrs ago, so an inferior product could be sold at a more expensive price. regardless a good American graded Prime steak will get my juices flowing. i have seen, eaten, cooked, transported, and roasted some of the nicest our country has to offer. i am both lucky and thankful that i get to see things like that, a gorgeous steak will brighten an entire kitchen brigade.
Kobe beef is a term that has been bastardized in the last 10 years. true kobe beef comes from kobe Japan. it is 100% wagyu (the type of steer). rumor has it they are fed beer and sake and massaged daily, yielding and amazingly fatty product. It is graded A1-A5, A5 being the nicest grade. when i have worked with this product especially grades A3-5 it is a amazingly fatty product. sometimes more fat than meat, the temperature of your bare hands while trimming, cutting, or prepping will melt the fat and cover your board, knife, and hands in beef lard. Due to trade restrictions, and the fact that Kobe wants to keep this beef in Japan we dont see it very often. It is the original, the most expensive (i have seen around $80/oz on restaurant menus), and best.
Somewhere down the line some American ranchers got a hold of a Wagyu bull and began cross-breeding it with American Angus steers. Now this is bologna. I see the term KOBE on menus referring to burgers, hot dogs, sirloin steaks, etc. its not Wagyu, it is just a term used to cash out on a trend. this beef wasnt fed beer, it wasnt massaged, it may be good but it is just good American beef. I dont like it, i think it is a trap to confuse you. if it is affordable, then its not Kobe beef. it shouldnt be labeled as such. its a rip-off.
To further confuse things some Australian got hold of some Wagyu steers and actually are not cross breeding with other types of cattle. true Wagyu, raised in a similar manner, just not from Kobe. They can do this as land isnt as valuable as it is in Japan, and they can have more cattle in bigger operations. this meat is rather affordable and if you dont mind the fact that it has come all the way from Australia then it can be just as good, and isnt mis-labeled.
This is what i was working with today. true Wagyu (from Australia) brisket. it got 5 hours of hard smoke and mop (a new technique i am working on). i will refrigerate until sunday when it can take a few hours in the oven and be carved Texas BBQ style for the 4th of July. to further confuse the whole system a lot of time i will ask servers, chefs, salesmen, and they wont have any idea what the beef really is. i want to know, cause i want to know and often i cant be told. i was told by the Corporate chef of a big food distributor that he was cooking a Kobe beef burger, he wasnt he was cooking an 80% american burger and 20 percent wagyu. while a fantastic burger, i knew he was full of it. bottom line is i need to know my stuff about this, so i can question pricing, explain to customers, and cook appropriately. as consumers you deserve to know as well.