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Food

Are Wagyu burgers a waste of money?

Wagyu burger
Photo: Shutterstock

Question:

I understand the appeal of Wagyu steaks, but isn't a Wagyu burger just a waste of money?

– Cook

Answer:

The Wagyu breed of cattle is known for its superior level of intramuscular fat (marbling) with a lower melting point that makes it melt-in-your-mouth delicious when properly prepared. Wagyu is produced in many countries, including the Australia and the U.S., but Wagyu from Japan is the most highly prized. There are a variety of reasons for the emphasis on Japanese Wagyu, including agricultural and feeding practices, as well as cultural traditions, but also because the majority of fullblood Wagyu can be found there. Meat labeled Wagyu from elsewhere is more likely to have been bred with other species.

Whether produced in Japan or abroad, many guests and industry professionals are familiar with high- end cuts from highly graded cattle such as A5 ribeye. The Japan Meat Grading System evaluates wagyu on yield as well as marbling, beef color and beef fat color to fall into one of fifteen grades, from C1 (lowest) to A5 (highest).

To your burger question, it’s complicated. Yes, it would be a horrible waste to grind up a beautiful cut of Wagyu into a burger. However, it is very unlikely that that is what is happening here, especially if your restaurant is sourcing these burgers affordably. One of these other scenarios is much more likely:

Nan Sato, chief sommelier of Wagyu Sommelier, says, “In reality, you rarely use real wagyu meat in burgers. They mix in the ground fat with other traditionally leaner meat. If you see a wagyu burger on a menu, it’s probably American wagyu or a burger with mostly lean beef [blended with] wagyu fat.”

Sato says that cuts from other cattle that may find their way into burgers would not be a good use of Wagyu: “Even the secondary and tertiary cuts of Wagyu are well marbled. Even round or chuck can make a premium preparation that you would normally use a premium cut like ribeye for. I want people to fight over these rare cuts, which in the US you call secondary. They are as good if not better than more familiar steaks. You can use them in any cuisine but have to take into account the fat content and tenderness.”

If you have questions about the composition of the burger, my advice is to speak with your supplier to learn more about the blend, sourcing and percentage of Wagyu included. Your guests may ask for this level of transparency, and you are right to ask as well. Sato emphasizes that U.S. chefs have much to learn about Wagyu, noting that “where we are with Wagyu now is where we were with wine in the 1970s.”

More on Wagyu here.

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