LYNNWOOD — Japanese Wagyu looks like a super-fatty strip of meat that would go for cheap.
But these fancy-schmancy steaks sell for $100-plus a pound.
What’s up with that?
The prized beef has gone mainstream. Well, sort of.
It has made it to Costco. Find Japanese Wagyu in the frozen food aisle for $99.99 a pound. A package with two A5-grade ribeyes is about $200, but there’s a $50-off special until May 8.
Diners at Snoqualmie Casino can order Japanese Wagyu A5+ for $25 an ounce, with a 3-ounce minimum.
“For guests who have not had it before, it’s like the show stopper,” said Justin Lee, executive chef of the casino’s Vista Prime Steaks & Seafood. “It melts away in your mouth because it is so incredibly marbled and has such an even distribution of fat throughout the meat.”
Mark Maciejewski, an Issaquah sales manager, is a guy who enjoys a good steak and eats a lot of it.
Japanese Wagyu is an occasional treat.
“It’s like eating steak-flavored butter,” said Maciejewski, 48. “The flavor is intense but not overwhelming. If you like steak, it’s what you want.”
Japanese Wagyu has a distinctive pattern with delicate swirls of intramuscular fat that make the meat appear pinkish.
Imported meat comes with a nose print certificate that tracks the cattle’s lineage: name, age, place of birth and other details. Each animal has an identification number that can be looked up on a Japanese government website.
On a recent day at EC Wilson Meat Co. in Lynnwood, the carcass was of Akitaro, a castrated male born 10/4/2019 in Kagoshima and harvested (a gentle word for slaughtered) on 12/14/2021, with a top-notch A5+ marbling score.
Production manager Sean Sanderson sliced 16-ounce steaks from the 20-pound loin of what was once Akitaro.
“It’s like cutting a bar of soap,” Sanderson said.
Other white-coated butchers in the cutting room aimed sharp knives over bright red hunks of American-born beef. Those animals did not come with certificates.
Does it make him nervous cutting such expensive beef?
“Not anymore,” Sanderson said.
Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle. “Wa” can mean Japanese-style and “gyu” means beef.
Japanese Wagyu beef is highly regulated and the progeny testing is mandatory. Wagyu cows are raised in a stress-free environment with soft music, massages and pampering, such as handmade jackets to keep warm.
According to thejapaneseway.com: “Many farmers call the cows by name and not by number. They assume this practice fosters the cows’ sense of belongingness.”
Those happy cows are pricey cows.
Wagyu beef raised in other places is less expensive. The Australian Wagyu and American Wagyu sold by EC Wilson are $32 for 14-ounce ribeyes.
The flavors differ among Wagyu regions.
Snoqualmie’s Vista restaurant has a 16-ounce “Wagyu Reserve Flight” dinner with different Wagyu cuts from Japan, Australia and America.
The price is a mere $169, with a side dish.
“It’s one of our top sellers,” Chef Lee said. “It’s an educational tool about Wagyu in general.”
Some people share a plate. Others clean the plate solo.
Lee added Japanese Wagyu to the casino menu three years ago to compete with top steakhouses. It was an instant hit, even for players not hitting the jackpot.
“We cook it over a wood fire grill. Put a couple extra logs on and get a really hot spot,” he said. “It is best served rare to mid-rare.”
How does the average person cook Japanese Wagyu, besides very carefully and never in a microwave?
Ian Rinearson cuts it in thin strips for dinner parties at his Lynnwood home to introduce friends to Japanese Wagyu.
It’s an experience and a food, he said: “I like to have it as an appetizer so it’s all about eating and talking about it.”
The price tag isn’t as shocking as it seems, said Rinearson, 26, founder and CEO of wholesale auto broker Inventory Direct.
“A 16-ounce steak cut will feed four or five people,” he said. “It’s very rich. You can’t eat the whole steak.”
He buys Japanese Wagyu from EC Wilson or a Portland butcher.
“I have a ridiculous amount of it in my chest freezer,” he said. “I vacuum seal it and then freeze it. I just busted out some from four months ago.”
If you don’t partake and want to be part of the Wagyu crowd, a custom apparel company, Gearfrost, sells shoes, clothes and handbags with the pattern of the coveted beef.
A pair of leather boots with the Wagyu print costs the same as a steak, but you’ll have something to show for that $100.