Yakiniku – the food of the gods, in my opinion. Delicious, fresh, tender, and savory grilled cow meat. The pinnacle of human food. Bred for hundreds of years, A-5 Wagyu beef is an incredible meat filled with flavor unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. Most other beef in Japan can’t quite keep up in flavor, but is often still quite wonderful and delicious.
No other Japanese food is like it.
What is Wagyu?
Native Asian cattle have been bred for hundreds of years until they reached the cow we know today as the native Japanese beef cattle.
Cows were originally agricultural animals used for pulling things and they were selected for physical endurance. This resulted in animals with more fat cells woven in between their muscles, aka marbling, which provides a fast energy source to the cow when it needed it during enduring work. It’s also what is so rich in flavor.
The word wagyu literally means wa Japanese gyu cow. All Japanese beef cattle are Wagyu.
The beef produced by these cows is a tender, high-end meat unlike any other. There are both red and black Wagyu, and Japanese Black makes up 70% of all Japanese cattle, including the famous Kobe beef.
Wagyu is graded by yields and quality of marbling from A class to C glass and numbers 1 through 5. The very best is rated A-5. If beef is rated lower you usually won’t be told the exact rating at the restaurant.
The marbling I talked about earlier, fat woven in between the muscle cells, is what makes wagyu so delicious because it makes the meat more tender and less tough compared to just muscle chunks. Sorry that my language is not very appetizing, but I believe people should know exactly what they are eating.
Cuts of Wagyu for Yakiniku
Karubi is a boneless short rib / flank-cut rib meat, and is one of the most common cuts when ordering at a yakiniku restaurant in Japan. Karubi has more marbling than roast cuts, making it incredibly tender and juicy. They have higher levels of quality marbling called “sankaku karubi” and “jo-karubi”. You should cook one side for a few seconds until it has a nicely grilled color, and then cook the other side for a much shorter time. A thin slice of karubi, about 1/8 of an inch, can be ready just in 10 seconds.
Harami is skirt steak, and is another very common cut at yakiniku restaurants. It is a skirt steak that comes from the diaphragm area, giving it a bolder and richer flavor than other cuts. The flavor is usually so bold that harami is usually flavored in miso or soy sauce. Harami, being a little tougher, requires a little longer cooking until its well grilled on the outside but tender inside. There’s also “jo-harami” which is often extra tender compared to normal harami.
Rousu / Roast is a lean cut of meat from the back and shoulder. Rousu is the leaner shoulder meat. Rib roast is more closer to the sirloin with more marbling and better flavor. Despite being less fatty, roast is still very tender due to the fats throughout the cow in Japanese beef stock. There are separate levels of roast including rib-rosu and kata-rosu.
Sa-roin / Sirloin comes from the back area and is universally considered one of the highest quality cuts of beef. Even in American you can go to a restaurant and Sirloin will be one of the top cuts available on the menu. Sirloin steak is known worldwide for great flavor and tenderness, even if it isn’t Wagyu. To cook sirloin you want to cook it like you would any other sirloin, ensuring the center is still rare or it will get tough.
Zabuton is chuck meat, which is a flavorful piece of meat from the ribcage area. Zabuton is known to melt deliciously in your mouth. Cows don’t have much of this cut, making it a rarer piece. Sometimes it’s also called “jo-rōsu” aka “higher quality roast”.
Misuji, called brisket in English, is the cut of beef right underneath the shoulder blades. Just like zabuton there is not much of it on the cow, so it costs more.
Makura, or shank, is a beef cut from the lower leg area. It has a deep and slightly tougher flavor due to the leg being a heavily exercised muscle.
Libaa, ie liver, is supposedly a good source of iron and has a distinct flavor, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it. Because it’s organ meat, you’ll want to make sure that it’s well cooked before eating. Eating raw liver is not recommended as it can get you sick.
Horumon are the cow’s small intestines, which may not sound appetizing at first, but they’re a popular yakiniku item to have with alcohol due to an incredibly strong, distinct flavor. If you get super drunk on sake or beer and want something weird, this is something to try once or twice. It’s hard to cook properly without burning it, because you do have to cook it very thoroughly as well. I personally avoid it when I can.
Hatsu, ie heart, is taken directly from the tender muscle fibers around the heart. It is high in some vitamins like B1 and B12. It’s a rarer cut of yakiniku due to the limited amount of this muscle available.
Omasum, or third stomach, is a chewy cut taken from the cow’s third stomach. It’s low in fat and has high levels of iron and zinc.
Teiru, or tail, is, as expected, cow tail. This cut is best if it’s slowly simmered which draws out the bone marrow and creates a gelatinous texture.