Wagyu Brisket: Things You Should Know But Probably Don’t
Wagyu Brisket. If you’ve been competing on any one of the various BBQ circuits for any amount of time, you’ve likely come across this mythical cut of beef and, if you’re at all serious about winning with competition brisket, you’ve most likely given it a go. Though widely popular among serious competitive BBQ pitmasters, backyard cookers or those just starting out with competition BBQ often edge into Wagyu brisket little by little with varying degrees of success.
This post sheds some light on what Wagyu brisket is, where to buy Wagyu brisket online or – in some cases – local to you, and why it might be the answer to seeing better scores in the brisket category at your future competitions.
Before I go into some of the particulars about Wagyu brisket, I want to highlight some points about what Wagyu beef is.
#1 Background – What Exactly is Wagyu Beef?
Traditionally, the term “Wagyu” simply means Japanese cow: ‘Wa’ meaning Japanese and ‘gyu’ meaning cow. Originally, these cows were used a work animals, bred and selected for their strength and endurance.
Given their work load, cows used as draft animals were predisposed to having a lot of intramuscular fat (marbling), which they use as easily accessible energy.
Here is an excellent video overview on Japanese Wagyu that gives you some understanding on where this delicious beef hails from:
Wagyu breeding is highly regulated in Japan, where a system of DNA cataloging is used to track animals from birth to slaughter. This process is also used by the more specialized cattle producers in the US, such as Meyer All Natural Red Angus.
Japanese Wagyu are classified into the following categories:
- Japanese Black
- Japanese Brown
- Japanese Polled (not bred outside of Japan)
- Japanese Shorthorn (not bred outside of Japan)
Today, the export of Wagyu cattle from Japan is all but prohibited, as they are considered a national treasure. However, sometime in the late 80s and early 90s, roughly 40 full-blooded Wagyu cattle were imported to the US. Currently, only a few ranch operations breed 100 percent Wagyu beef cattle, and these herds are used to blend with other breeds of US cattle. Most of what is sold as American Wagyu is a cross between Japanese Wagyu and either American Angus or Hereford. This cross-breeding results in beef that has the size of Angus and the marbling of Wagyu .
The following information about each breed comes from the American Wagyu Association website:
Japanese Black* (黒毛和種 Kuroge Washu)
The Japanese Black was primarily used as the “workhorse” prior to the turn of the 20th Century. This breed was improved during the Meiji Era through crossbreeding with foreign breeds, and was certified as indigenous Japanese beef cattle in 1944. It is raised in most Prefectures of Japan, and more than 90% of Wagyu raised and fattened in Japan is of this breed. Fine strips of fat are found even in its lean meat (known as marbling). The flavor of the fat is exquisite, with a buttery, tender texture that dissolves in one’s mouth. Slaughter age is around 28-30month with an average Japanese grade of BMS 5.6
Japanese Brown* (赤毛和種 Akage Washu)
Also known as “Akaushi (Aka =red ushi =cattle),” the Japanese Brown is raised primarily in Kumamoto and Kochi Prefectures. The Kumamoto line is the most common with several hundred thousand in existence. The Kochi line has less than two thousand in existence and is only found in Japan. They can be distinguish by the dark points on its nose and feet. The more dominant Kumamoto line was improved by crossbreeding Simmental with Hanwoo(Korean Red), which was formerly used as a “work horse” during the Meiji Era. It was certified as indigenous Japanese beef cattle in 1944. Among its characteristics is its low fat content, about 12% or less. Because it contains much lean meat, its tastiness and pleasantly firm texture is highly enjoyable. Its fat is also not very heavy but is of fine texture, and has been attracting a great deal of attention by way of its healthiness and mild taste. Slaughter age is around 25 months and this is attributed to the lower level of marbling averaging a Japanese Grade of BMS 3.2
Read the full overview of all four Wagyu breed varieties here.
Small Sampling of Wagyu Beef Producers in the US
The following provides a sampling of some of the better known American Wagyu Beef Producers.
Thompson River Ranch states on their website that they strive for a 75-100% Wagyu breed production.
Lone Mountain Ranch Co. out of Golden, New Mexico raises and sells full blooded Wagyu cattle. They have an impressive breakdown of the Wagyu bulls they use for breeding as well as a grading system they are developing.
Snake River Farms out of Boise, ID maintains their proprietary herd of purebred Wagyu cattle outside American Falls, ID. From this herd, they send out bulls to their partner ranches to be bred with English base cows to supply the calves for the Snake River Farms American Wagyu Beef program. You can find their main sales website here, and their parent corporation, AgriBeef website here.
Note – this is not by any means an exhaustive list. For a full listing of American Wagyu beef producers, visit the American Wagyu Association. Note, there are quality Wagyu Briskets coming out of Australia as well.
OK Great… So What’s the Big Deal? Why Wagyu Brisket over say, Prime Brisket?
If you’re asking this question, I am with you in terms of what I was thinking initially as well. Though I’m familiar with the difference between Wagyu brisket vs. Prime or even CAB briskets, this wasn’t always the case.
In short, the key benefit you’re getting when you move up to Wagyu brisket from CAB or even Prime briskets is an increase in marbling. But it’s really more than that. The consistency of the intramuscular fat found in Wagyu beef appears to be of a finer quality – rendering a more “luxurious” end product, if you will. (Yeah, I know. A BBQ Blog using the word luxurious. I’ll put a dollar in the jar now.)
I’ve talked to many different competitive BBQ pitmasters who cook Wagyu briskets, and they all tell me that they just can’t quite coax the same results out of a CAB or even a prime brisket as what they get from the Wagyu.
Grades of Wagyu Brisket: the Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)
Note, when you buy Wagyu briskets, you’ll likely find them in two (maybe three) marbling rating categories. Each purveyor will call it something different, but it normally runs on a scale called the Beef Marbling Standard.
Typically, you will find one grade of Wagyu brisket set at a BMS of 6-8. Then, you’ll see a second tier option or premium option set at a BMS of 9+. For Snake River Farms, the lower tier of Wagyu brisket is their “Black Label” and the upper tier is their “Gold Label.”
As to which option works best for BBQ Competitions, it’s really up to the individual pitmaster to decide. Some pitmasters swear by the higher fat content/marbling while others find it too rich. It’s all a chemistry experiment. As you work with rubs and injections, you’ll come to a consensus of your own.
For more information on grading out Wagyu beef, you can view the JMGA Meat Grading Brochure in English by clicking here.
#2 Where to Buy Wagyu Brisket Online
We’ve covered most of the basics concerning why you might want to up your competition by moving to Wagyu brisket. As such, I wanted to share a few places where you can find Wagyu brisket online. As always, if you know of others to check out, please leave a comment below as a resource.
- Snake River Farms (find on Amazon here or the SRF site here.)
- Mr. Brisket (Email or call as he has more options than what’s on the site)
- Premier Proteins – call and they’ll ship to you
- Paradise Meats – They sell the Wagyu (American Style – more than 75% Wagyu, less than 25% Angus) or the Akaushi (Japanese Style – 100% bloodline) – both raised in the USA. Ratings are 6 to 7 BMS and 8 to 9 BMS.
#3 How to Prep and Cook Wagyu Brisket for Competitions
First, unless you’re made of money – I can’t see cooking Wagyu Brisket at home unless it’s for a very special occasion or maybe you got a killer deal on one. So let’s talk about competition cooking.
I’ve attended a few competition BBQ classes, and without giving away specifics – each and every one has used both rubs and injections when cooking Wagyu brisket. The one thing I’ve heard and read in a few of the various online BBQ forums is that Wagyu briskets tend to cook a little bit longer than their less marbled counterparts, as you want to be sure and get the extra fat rendered. Some have reported finishing temperatures as high as 213 to 217 F!
A toothpick or meat temp probe is going to be your friend when determining when its’ done. Do not rely on temperature alone as your guide… but if you’ve cooked competition BBQ enough to walk a few times you already know this.
Again, it might be worth your time to take a class from someone who has a proven track record winning with Wagyu brisket. Three local choices here in the Central Florida area are:
- Swamp Boys Q School – Rub Bagby, Pitmaster
- Sweet Smoke Q’s Competition Class – Jim Elser, Pitmaster
- Hot Wachula’s Competition Class – Matt Barber, Pitmaster
Best Ingredients and Gear for Cooking Wagyu Brisket
OK. So now that you have a general overview and the ability to answer the question of why is Wagyu brisket used by competition pitmasters? – you’ll want to be sure you understand how to cook it.
I’ve mentioned that you’ll want to be careful to render out the fat a bit more thoroughly with Wagyu briskets than you might with a CAB or even a nice prime brisket. If you don’t you might find the end product less than optimal. You won’t really know what I’m talking about until you cook one of these bad boys.
Before you cook your first Wagyu brisket, however, be sure you have the right gear on hand. I’m talking a good knife, a stellar rub, a quality injection, and some ancillary support items.
A Good Knife Is Your Very Best-est Good Friend.. like… in the Whole World
As I mention in my post on cooking competition BBQ Brisket, a good. No. A great knife and the ability to keep it sharp is critical to trimming up the new sexy piece of Wagyu beef you’ll be getting your hands on.
Trim Fat and Silverskin with the Infallable Victorinox 6-Inch Flex Boning Knife with Fibrox Handle
There’s a reason the good folks over at America’s Test Kitchen say that the Victorinox 6-Inch Flex Boning Knife is your very best option for trimming large cuts of beef. The thing I love most about the Victorinox brand is that you get amazing quality as a great value. I’ve found these knives for as little as $25.00 before. So, they don’t break the bank, but they do take a lickin’ and keep on tickin!
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This baby has a sharpness and flexibility to easily slide under those bits of silver skin on a brisket that drive you plumb nuts! You’ll rule the day with this bad boy, and what’s more – it does a bang up job during chicken prep as well!
Keep Your Victorinox and All Other Knives Sharp with a Smith’s Diamond Steel Sharpening Rod
I’ve tried just about every kind of knife sharpening tool on the market. Some cost a TON, others were dirt cheap, and just like “Goldilocks,” I found that this diamond steel sharpening rod from Smith’s is hands down my go to option. I like them so much, I have two.
Smith’s #3001 10-Inch Oval Diamond Sharpening Rod
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I’m telling you that once you use this sharpening rod, you’ll want to sharpen everything you can get your hands on that “Might” hold an edge. Knives, scissors, everything! My technique is to pretend that I’m just shaving off the dullness on each side of the blade. Just a few runs across each side of the sharpening rod usually does the trick.
Until I tried this sharpening tool from Smith’s, I had a go with the old sharpening “steel” my dad used at holiday dinners, which of course I never seemed to be able to get to work all that well. Not so with this one. Now, I’m a knife sharpening Ninja on a mission!
Brisket Injections: Maybe Not For Home Use, but a MUST at BBQ Competitions
I’m a Texas Brisket fan. I love the stuff. Salt, pepper, a little granulated onion and garlic maybe, heat and smoke. That’s all I need. But… turn that in at a KCBS event and you’ll likely come in DAL. I’d score it a 9. But ol’ Hank from Cincinnati, yeah – he’s gonna put down a nice round 6 and ask you what the hell you did to his beef.
See, competition BBQ Judges – on the whole – don’t now squat about what I call brisket. They want a savory, maybe even slightly sweet and peppery cut of brisket with a little candy cube of point meat to snack on for dessert. As such, you better inject your brisket. But be careful, the wrong product will surely do you in.
My go-to beef injection is a liquid product from Jim Elser of Sweet Smoke Q. It mixes with no granulation, as it already comes in a sediment-free liquid form.
If I can’t get a hold of Jim’s product, a very good alternative is Butcher’s Brisket injection. It’s a powder, so you’ll want to be sure to mix it very well. I know people who mix it up and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight – giving it another good mixing prior to use the next day. It’s got great flavor, and I think you’ll be happy with it as well.
Gotta Say Thanks to My BBQ Peeps!
As thanks to my Facebook fans who shared their favorite spots to buy Wagyu brisket, let me say gracias to Steve Botkin of Desperado BBQ for pointing me to Huntspoint, Chris Rios of Manny’s BBQ for “steering” me to Premier Proteins*, Paul Grant of Slippery Pete’s BBQ for heading me over to Mr. Brisket, and Anthony Minderman of Pitbull BBQ for helping me latch onto Paradise Locker Meats.
* Chris Rios lives in Brookville, Kansas – just a few hours outside the Kansas City area, where he travels to pick up Premier Proteins Wagyu brisket, Duroc pork butts, and Duroc ribs at the Kansas City Price Chopper. Keith from Team Price Chopper is the meat manager there, so he stocks the good stuff. (I’m so jealous.)
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