Description and location of Wagyu beef cuts
Wagyu cuts are presented according to their location on the carcass and comparisons with names commonly used in the beef industry in Australia and USA illustrated at the end. The first cuts that are described are the Primals from the back and the forequarters:
The Ribeye is called “Kaburi” in Japan and displayed in the photo below to the left. This is the thin flap of meat around the rim of the Ribeye steak which is the most tender and flavourful part of the whole cow. The Ribeye is essentially made up of three muscles. The large central one is the longissimus dorsi muscle with is a long muscle that stretches down the back of the cow. There are two muscles that constitute the cap, namely the spinalis dorsi and multifidus dorsi. These are two flat muscles that lie next to the backbone of the cattle and are very tender, extremely marbled and very flavourful. Some chefs call this the “butter” of the cow.
Because these cuts are generally quite tender to begin with, most Yakiniku restaurants would cut them relatively thick, just shy of a centimetre. When you sink your teeth into a slice of nicely grilled Ribeye, you will be rewarded with a burst of beefy juices. Now close your eyes and allow the aroma waft up your nose, let the umami flavour linger at the back of your palate for a while and wash it all down with a sip of sake!
Sirloin from Wagyu is illustrated above, to the right. In Singapore, a Sirloin steak usually refers to the Shortloin portion of the cattle which is the portion of the cattle between the ribcage and the pelvic bone. This primal is a little more confusing because the British and Americans define their Sirloin primal differently. The Sirloin primal (US) covers the entire hip area of the cattle and is divided into Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, Sirloin Tip and Sirloin Cap. The premium cut is the Striploin which is commonly called the Sirloin in Singapore and it should look like the photo above. Some restaurants might serve Sirloin Tip or Top Sirloin and price it very competitively. These are fine and are perfectly good meats but they should be not be confused with a proper Sirloin steak.
The tenderloin is popular as it is the tenderest part and usually contains very little fat. However, the marbling can still be quite intense in the Wagyu cattle. Technically, this is a single muscle called the psoas major and because it doesn’t do much work, it is very tender. Since there is only 1 kg of it in a 500kg cattle, it is also very expensive.
The Tenderloin (photographed below, to the left) is situated right next to the Sirloin and separated by a thin bone (transverse process of the lumbar vertebra). You get a T-Bone Steak when both Sirloin and Tenderloin are cut together with the bone. The Tenderloin gets thicker nearer to the rump end of the cow and a T-bone steak cut from this region is sometimes called a Porterhouse steak. The same Tenderloin from this region served without the bone is called a Chateaubriand steak which is basically the thickest part of the Tenderloin.
Tenderloin lacks flavour and during cooking this lack of marbling is sometimes rectified with a slice of bacon wrapped round the meat in the case of really lean beef. However, this is not required with Wagyu since it can still be quite marbled and full of flavour.
The chuck is a large primal that is just behind the neck. In the West, Chuck is not traditionally considered prime meat for steaks. It is usually used for stews and ground to make hamburgers. However, with the intensity of marbling in the Wagyu cattle, some parts of the Chuck are actually very good for Yakiniku and are in fact considered Prime Yakiniku cuts.
The Zabuton (photo above, to the right) is a cut which is so named because of its resemblance to the flat Japanese cushions used for sitting. This cut is getting very popular as it is tender and flavourful. Any respectable Yakiniku restaurant should serve Zabuton.
The Zabuton is cut from the Chuck Roll which is the portion of the Chuck between the ribcage and the shoulder blade. The Zabuton is the Chuck Underblade (aka Chuck flap) which is the serratus ventralis muscle attached to the outside the ribcage. All these muscles which line the ribcage are excellent as Karubi as they have excellent flavour and well marbled. Rather than being just tender and juicy, they have a bit more bite and can be pleasantly chewy.
Another very popular Yakiniku cut taken from the Chuck primal is the Misuji. This cut is easy to recognize because it is shaped as a leaf with a line of connective tissue in the centre. The Misuji is also cut from the Chuck Primal but this time from the shoulder clod. (ie outside the shoulder blade). It is a club shaped muscle that lies next to the shoulder blade known anatomically as the supraspinatus muscle. You might sometimes see this muscle sold as Chuck Tender in the supermarkets. The muscle on the other side of the shoulder blade just separated by a thin bone (spine) is the infraspinatus muscle which is a new cut of meat marketed as the Flat Iron Steak. This meat is the second most tender part of the cattle after the Tenderloin and is becoming a very popular cut.
Misuji is served as “Yakishabu” style (photo below) meaning that the meat is sliced thin like how it would be cut for Shabu Shabu except that it is grilled instead, hence the name. The meat is amazingly tender but still retains some bite and has a nice sweetness that is released when chewed.
Sankaku Karubi is considered to be the “King” of Karubi because of its outstanding marbling and flavour. This meat is taken from the Chuck Short Rib which is essentially the meat attached to the outside of the ribcage in between the forelegs of the cattle. This cut is essentially the serratus ventralis muscle which lie over ribs 2 to 5. From ribs 6 to 12 the same muscle is cut into “Short Ribs” which is part of the Short Plate primal. The Japanese call it the “Sankaku” Karubi because of its triangular shape.
Needless to say, the Sankaku Karubi is one of the most beautiful and distinct slice of meat that you will ever get in Yakinku. The meat is tender, bouncy and very juicy. A5 grade Karubi can be a tad too rich for the Western palate so a slice or two of Sankaku Karubi is great to have with some of the other cuts.
There is more focus on the cuts that are less popular lately and is part of a global push to reduce wastage and maximise the value of the carcass. Whereas in the past the Chuck might just be used to make mince, certain muscles can be used as prime meat for steaks as well. With the higher mono unsaturated fatty acid content in Wagyu, there is a better heart health profile than from saturated fat.
For the Koreans and Argentinians, the short ribs are the most sought after cuts. The meat here is full of beefy flavour, well marbled and has a nice bouncy chew. The Koreans would slice and accordion the meat thin while still attached to the bone and serve it as Galbi in Korean BBQ restaurants. The Argentinians on the other hand eat the short ribs as steaks where they would grill it till it is well done.
Because the beef used for Yakiniku is cut thin and grilled quickly, there is a lot of the other parts of the cattle that is usually used for stew meats and mince that work well for Yakiniku. Granted that when you bite into a 1 cm thick Sirloin that has been quickly seared, you will experience that explosion of juices in your mouth that is quite pleasurable. However, what you are missing is the umami and beefy flavours that come from the meats that have been exercising a lot.
A tough steak is not necessarily a bad steak, so long as it remains juicy and you are able to swallow it when you are ready to swallow it. Try to recall the last time you had a bad steak. You chew the meat and it becomes dry very quickly and when you feel that it’s time to swallow it, you can’t. Either you chew it a bit more and try to swallow again, or you spit it out. Now, that is a bad steak. However, if you had a slice of well marbled Wagyu brisket, the meat might be a little more chewy but it remains juicy while you are chewing it and the more you chew, the more beefy flavour and sweetness is released. Now that is a good steak!
The first cut that is a good chewy meat for Yakiniku is the boneless short rib (head bara – belly) see the photo below. This is essentially the continuation of the Chuck Rib (Sankaku Karubi) which was discussed above and which consists of the serratus ventralis and latissimus dorsi muscles. The latissimus dorsi are the coverted “wings” that bodybuilders work so hard to develop and is a thin flat muscle covering the ribs.
Just like the Sankaku Karubi, this cut is regarded as a prime Yakiniku cut. The meat is full of flavour and it has a nice chew but the marbling can be so intense that you have more fat than meat! It is one of the most beautifully marbled slices of beef you can get at a Yakiniku restaurant and always very enticing when you have a few slices on your table! However, you really can’t eat Sankaku Karubi just by itself. You need a more balanced diet with a bit more meat than fat, which is where all the other cuts come in.
Once you remove the meat from the outside of the ribs, there is still some meat in between adjacent ribs. These are the intercostal muscles and there are two sets whose fibres run perpendicular to each other that enable you to inhale and exhale. These are rare cuts as there is only about 1 kg of it in a 500kg carcass and the Yakiniku connoisseurs would specially ask for them. This is the same meat that you enjoy when you are gnawing on your Pai Gu (排骨) in Bak Kut Teh.
Eating the intercostal Karubi is a whole different type of experience - see the photo below. There is a lot of fascia which makes it really bouncy and almost squeaky when you chew on it. But the flavour is wonderful and the meat continues to release juices while you are chewing it.
The Round is essentially the thigh of the cattle and is a primal made up of many large muscles. Essentially, this is broken down to the muscle group in front of the thigh just above the knee known as the Knuckle (aka Sirloin tip), the muscles on the inside of the thigh called the Top Round, the muscles on the outside of the thigh called the Bottom Round or Silverside/Gooseneck Round and the muscle at the posterior end of the Bottom Round called the Eye of Round (semitendinosus) which is known in the Yakiniku restaurant as the Nakaniku.
Although the Nakaniku muscle is generally considered to be a tougher cut, when it is quite well marbled it is bouncy and chewy, and quite enjoyable. In some restaurants it is served as a prime cut (see photo below). Many Italian restaurants actually use this cut from non-Wagyu beef for carpaccio.
Oomomo means “big thigh” in Japanese and refers to the large muscle in the inner portion of the thigh. Top Round) This is usually quite lean even in the Wagyu and is some of the least marbled parts of the Wagyu. This particular piece came from the same cow as the rest of cuts in this series of photos, so you can see how lean this part of the cow is below.
The Japanese divide the Top Round into two sections. The Oomomo corresponds to the semimembranosus and adductor muscles while the Komomo is the smaller (and more tender) pectineus and sartorius muscles. The inner thigh muscles are more tender that those of the outer thigh (Bottom Round) and are actually tender enough to enjoy as Yakiniku if they are cut properly. It was beefy and there was lots of umami and sweetness in the meat.
The muscles in the thigh just above the knee cap form a cut the Japanese call Maru. Maru means “circle” in Japanese and it is not hard to understand why when you look at the cross-section of the part of beef which is commonly known as the Knuckle. This cut consist of four muscles, the rectus femoris, lies right in front while the other three muscles are located just in front of the femur (bone) namely vastus intermedius (middle), vastus medialis (inside) and vastus lateralis (outside). The reason I am being so pedantic is because we can reduce wastage of the cattle if we separate the muscle in the Knuckle and serve them individually since the four different muscles vary in toughness. The rectus femoris is the toughest (Warner Bretzler 2.6kg) but the portion just behind it i.e. the vastus intermedius is actually quite tender (Warner Bretzler 1.7kg) which is only slightly tougher than the Tenderloin (1.5kg).
So although the Knuckle is in the leg and subsequently gets lots of exercise, it really isn’t too tough to eat as Yakiniku and its one of the best parts to order if you want meat that is chewy but juicy with lots of beefy umami and sweetness. It leaves the palate with a nice subtle sweet sensation which we Teochews call “Karm Karm”. Best of all it is much cheaper than the more expensive prime cuts.
The Knuckle is sometimes called Sirloin Tip which you sometimes see on the menus of some restaurants in Singapore. This should not be confused with the more expensive Sirloin cut (Striploin) which comes from the loin portion of the cattle.
Tomosankaku is Tri Tip and one of the easiest to cuts to spot (phot below). Its triangular shape gives it the name “Tri” Tip and it is basically one muscle called the Tensor Fascia Lata. This muscle is cut from the lower portion of the Sirloin primal and is the part of the cow in between the outer portion of the leg and the abdomen. This is a very nicely marbled cut and is quite tender, very juicy and has a wonderful umami that develops with chewing.
Now we touch on the cuts that are found right at the bottom of the cow which correspond to the chest and abdomen area. These are thin flat muscles which form the covering layer just beneath the skin. Starting from just under the neck is the brisket which is the area where the pectoral muscles lie (The pectorals) then at the level of the 6th rib is the Plate and then from the 13th rib to the pelvis is the Flank.
In Japanese terminology the Plate is called Tomo Bara where Bara refers to “Belly” (see photo below). The Plate primal lies underneath the Rib primal and are the abdominal muscles of the cow which consist mainly of the rectus abdominis, external oblique and transversus abdominis muscles.
The meat here is tougher than Karubi but not unpleasantly so. It is chewy and has a wonderful sweet beefy flavour which lingers on the palate.
Finally – the Brisket (see photo below). The Americans love to use this cut for slow smoked BBQ Brisket as well as pastrami. The Brisket is the chest portion of the cattle and basically consists of two portions. The Brisket Flat and the Point. Lovers of Cantonese style stewed brisket will tell you that the best Ngou Lam is made with the Brisket Point which is a wonderfully fatty and marbled meat which is very tough but wonderfully flavourful when slow cooked.
The Brisket Flat is the deep pectoral muscle and is ideal for Yakiniku because it is a flat muscle which makes it very easy to cut into attractive little slivers of meat for BBQing. The meat is extremely flavourful and full of umami. It’s a bit more of a chew but very enjoyable.
The final section is the belly portion of Wagyu Cattle. The wonderful thing about Yakiniku is that since the meat is served in small bite sized pieces, not only do you get to savour the different parts of Wagyu, there is also much less wastage. In the West, a lot of the less popular cuts get turned into minced beef. However, in Yakiniku, the individual muscles of the cow are turned into bite sized delights and each cut has its own nuances in flavour and texture. That is what makes Yakiniku such an adventure for the beef lover.
The Japanese like the bouncy texture of meat which develop flavour as you chew on it. That is why naizou (offal) is very popular in Japan. Beef intestine, when grilled, has a very chewy texture that is quite enjoyable. Like chewing gum, a little piece of intestine goes much further than a tender piece of meat. Gyutan (tongue) is very popular in Japan - see phot below. The fact that every cow only possesses slightly more than 30cm of tongue makes this quite a delicacy. Sliced thin and grilled, the meat has the texture akin to that of canned abalone and a beefy flavour with a slight iodine/metallic aftertaste.
The different cuts from the belly are shown in the diagram. They essentially come from the part of the cow that corresponds to the front of your chest below the nipples to the belly area just above the pelvis. In the West, these correspond to the Short Plate and Flank cuts. The top diagram shows the part of the cow from the interioroof the carcass while the bottom diagram shows the part for the cow on the exterior.
The Kainomi is known as the Sirloin flap in the West and is one of the two leaner cuts (see photo below). Anatomically, this is the M. obliquus abdominis internus muscle and is middle of three muscles that make up the wall of the belly. The muscle fibres here are thicker and coarser but it has a nice sweet and beefy flavour and is quite juicy. It is actually one of the best ‘value for money’ cuts.
Naka Bara is cut from the Short Plate and is the outer layer of the abdominal wall anatomically known as the M. obliquus externus abdominus. I found it a bit more chewy and bouncy than the Kainomi and not as flavourful.
Skirt steaks are very popular in Mexican cuisine as Fajitas. Skirt steaks can be a bit confusing as there is the Inside Skirt and the Outside Skirt. Both are actually very different muscles. The Outside Skirt is the diaphragm which is the dome shaped muscle that divides the body into two cavities namely the thorax (lungs) and the abdomen (bowels). When you breathe in, the diaphragm muscles contract, flattening the dome which creates negative pressure and so you inhale. The middle part of the dome is all ligaments so as you can imagine, when you trim off the middle part, you are left with a ring like muscle which skirts around the inside of the rib cage.
The Inside Skirt is the M. transversus abdominis which is the innermost layer of the abdominal wall.
Both inside and outside Skirt are thin and long muscles with muscle fibres running perpendicularly across its length. (like a ladder). The fibres are rough but still relatively tender and very flavourful since they line the inside of the abdominal cavity and are in direct contact with the innards. Some describe this as a beefy flavour, but I would like to think of it more as offal flavour. It is the kind of flavour that you get with the organ meats which are usually strong and metallic. Some might describe it as gamey. If you are not used to strong beefy flavour, it would be wise to avoid this.
The strong flavour and tough texture lends well to marination and so that is what the chef does with the trimmings after he cuts out the sections which are presentable for yakiniku. The marinated Harami is very flavourful and excellent value. You could order a pot of it and eat with rice and you would have a good meal. However, the marination does negate the value of the Wagyu somewhat since the original flavour and sweetness of the Wagyu beef is overpowered by the flavours of the marinade.
Although the restaurant labels Tomo Bara as Karubi plate, from what I can gather from the diagram, it should correspond to Brisket Naval Plate which consists of the M Transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis.
Tomo Bara can taste rather rich, very juicy, delicate and somewhat less flavourful. and is a cheaper alternative to the Tokujo Bara.
Geta Karubi (see photo below) consists of the muscles between the ribs which are known as the internal and external intercostal muscles. Together with the diaphragm (Outside Skirt) they help to expand the ribcage to enable the animal to breathe and the meat is very sweet.
The Flank is that part of the body known the “Six Pack”. Technically, the Flank the muscle known as the M. rectus abdominis and is easily recognized as a long, flat muscle with the fibres running longitudinally. This can be quite a tender piece of meat and in recent years has become quite popular in the West. The meat is juicy and tender and the beefy flavour is not as strong as Harami. Sasami (below) is essentially the continuation of Tomo Bara and both are quite similar except that presentation wise, Sasami can be cut into nice rectangles which is more attractive. The meat is also more delicate than Tomo Bara.
Finally, the premium Karubi is popular because the meat is chewy, juicy, sweet and flavourful; and also very attractive (photo below). It is bright and beautifully marbled with a fine reticular (net like) pattern of fat. This comes from is the layer of muscle that covers the rib cage of the cattle and is technically known as M. Serratus ventralis. It is so named because the way the muscles attach to the ribs looks like the teeth of a saw (serrated). This pattern can be seen in body builders in the rib area just under the armpits.
The names in common use for cuts of beef across Australia are displayed on this poster below that has been prepared by Meat Standards Australia:
Beef cuts and recommended methods of cooking in use in USA:
Cuts and descriptors used in the Argentine are shown below:
Translation of several names:
Entraña gruesa or centro de Entraña – Hanger steak/thick skirt steak
Falda – Flank Steak
Matambre – Flank Steak
Nalga – Round
Tapa de Cuadril – Top of Rump Roast
Tapa de Nalga – Top of Round Roast
Ojo de Bife – sirloin/New York strip steak
Palomita – Shoulder Roast in Butterfly Cut
Peceto – Beef Round Steaks, Roast Eye of Round
Pecho – Brisket
Tapa de Asado – Rib Cap Roast
Tira de Asado – Short Ribs
Tripa – Tripe
Chorizo – Sausage
Mollejas – Sweetbreads (thymus glands)
Morcilla – Blood Sausage
Higado – Liver
Lengua – Tongue
Chinchulin – Lower Intestines
Riñones – Kidneys.
English names and uses for beef cuts in Europe:
Adams, T., et al., 2009. Hamburger high in total, saturated and trans-fatty acids decreases HDL cholestreol and LDL particle diameter, and increases TAG in mildly hypercholesterolaemic men. British Journal of Nutrition (2010). 103, 91-98.
Cattleman's Beef Board and National Cattleman's Association, 2013. Poster of Beef Cuts and Recommended Cooking Methods.
European Cuisine, General: What part of the cow does corned beef come from? EuropeanCuisine.com
Tay, L, 2012. Magosaburou: Japanese Wagyu Beef Cuts: Part 1.
Meat Stanadrds Australia, 2012. Poster of Beef Primal and Sub-Primal Cuts.
Tay, L, 2012. Magosaburou: Japanese Wagyu Beef Cuts: Part 2.
Tay, L, 2013. Ito Kacho Yakiniku Restaurant: Wagyu Beef Yakiniku Cuts Part 3.
The Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan. Japanese Beef Products Guide Book
Wander Argentina, 2019. Argentina Cuts of Meat Guide. Culture / Food and Drink / Argentina Cuts of Meat Guide