How to Cook a Wagyu Steak - Getting the Most Out of Your Meat Experience
Wagyu beef, originally raised and perfected in Japan, is highly desired and precious among beef and culinary experts. A legendary beef, wrapped in legendary myths - like years of daily deep tissue massages for the godly cows, along with sake baths and a pint of beer with every carefully crafted feeding.
As fun as these are to think about, they are myths. Cattle are still cattle, and what you put into it, you get out of it. That’s why humane treatment, nutritionally balanced and appropriate diets, and stress-free lifestyles are so important for livestock, especially when it comes to rare beef breeds like Wagyu. (Whether you think humane treatment includes massages and sake baths is another story.)
If you’re thinking about ordering Wagyu and having a legendary experience of your very own, we’re here to help you make the most of it (and not mess it up!) There are a couple of different widely-accepted ways to cook Wagyu. We’ll cover the traditional Japanese preparation in smaller pieces, our own American version that’s more like what you’re used to, and a few other variations to try out.
Sizing Up Wagyu - How Much Do You Need?:
Wagyu steaks are ridiculously high quality, flavorful, and ribboned with very edible fat, making them much more filling. There’s a reason the Japanese method is to serve it in small pieces - it will fill you up, and the richness of it can be overwhelming in quantity. We find a normal size, normal thickness Wagyu ribeye can easily serve 2-3 people. If you’re going in solo, you can cut the meat down to smaller portions and keep the other parts to cook up later.
What You'll Need:
- Cast iron pan, or another type of skillet that can withstand searing heat and being put into the oven after searing.
- Searing medium - we recommend using either a bit of fat trimmed from the steak or high quality beef tallow. Avocado, Grapeseed, Safflower, or Peanut oil are other options. We highly prefer using trimmed fat or tallow - it keeps flavors consistent, keeps the smoke levels down, and above all, gets you a great sear.
- Large-grain salt. A lot of it - enough to cover both sides of the steak generously. We prefer Kosher salt, either Diamond Crystal or Morton’s.
- A meat thermometer. This is optional but we highly highly recommend it to achieve the results you want. Wagyu cook times can really vary from what you’re used to, and it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to a Wagyu steak!
- Tin foil. Enough to tent over the steak while it rests.
Preparing a Wagyu Steak for Cooking
How to Defrost Wagyu:
When you first get your Wagyu steak, it’s likely going to be frozen. You’re going to want to defrost it, in its package, in the fridge. This can take up to 48 hours. Do NOT defrost at room temperature or in a microwave - you’ll lose fat and flavor and compromise the integrity of the meat.
Once your steak is thawed, remove it from the package. If it has a good strip of fat on it, you can trim off a little bit and put it in the fridge to use to oil up your pan later. On particularly fatty steaks, we like to trim off a good bit of the fat strip and freeze it to use for other things, too.
We like to salt our Wagyu… and everything else, frankly. Salting meat tenderizes it by pulling moisture out of the steak, dissolving into it, and then diffusing back into the steak. The longer a steak is salted, the better this works. You can salt a steak anywhere from 40 minutes before cooking, to 2-3 days before. Our sweet spot is right around a day and a half.
Cover your thawed steak generously on both sides with a large-grain salt like kosher. Then, wrap it back up in parchment or butcher paper and place either in open-air or in a bag in your fridge until you’re ready to cook it. If you’re salting within 2 hours of cooking, you can leave it at room temperature.
A quick note about dry aging Wagyu:
Dry aging is a process that reduces the amount of moisture in beef for a richer, more full-bodied flavor. We do dry aging for 1-2 weeks before cutting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it further with your cut. However, make sure you’re doing it right. Your regular kitchen fridge likely will not do the trick for this - and nobody wants Wagyu that tastes like the cut-up half onion you left in your fridge a little too long. Please see this post by Barbecue Bible for how to dry age meat at home.
Bring to Room Temperature Before Cooking:
When you’re ready to cook, take your steak out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. For steaks, this takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the thickness. You can leave it out for up to 2 hours before cooking.
Showtime! Cooking Your Wagyu Steak
Traditional Japanese Grill Method for Cooking Wagyu Steak:
Okay, we’re generalizing a bit because there are many, many traditional Japanese ways of preparing Wagyu. They range from eating thin strips raw by themselves, or in dishes like the slow-cooked one-pot meal sukiyaki or broth dishes like shabu-shabu. However, one of the most popular ways is on a communal flat grill (think hibachi grill) or an iron pan heated over charcoal. The cooking method for both of these is very similar, and it’s what we’ll go over below.
First thing’s first - when we say grill, we mean more like a griddle. Not the thing you have hanging out on your porch. A traditional grill is NOT something we recommend using for cooking Wagyu, unless you’re using it for indirect heat. This is because the fat content of Wagyu is much higher, and that means there is more grease lost when cooked over open flame. This is both much more likely to start a fire, and simply a waste of fantastic quality fat that should stay in your steak.
A great way to cook Wagyu using the Japanese method at home is to use a cast iron on the stovetop or over the grill, the flat grill plate on your grill if you have one, or if none of those options are available, an electric skillet that can reach high temps.
The Steps to Perfectly Seared and Cooked Japanese-Style Wagyu:
- Take meat out of the fridge and unwrap it. Wait until it reaches room temperature (around 30 minutes)
- Pat the meat dry.
- If you’re going to trim some fat to sear with, trim a little fat off now. Around a small pinky finger size will work.
- Slice your meat against the grain into strips. These should be around 1 inch square and 3-4 inches long. You can also cut the strips much thinner (around ¼-½ inch) but keep them wider - this is a personal preference. Try both, if you’d like!
- Heat up your pan, grill plate, or skillet. It should be hot enough that when you flick water at it, it boils off immediately.
- Place beef tallow or trimmed fat onto the hot surface until it melts. Swirl it around to make sure you’ve got decent coverage.
- Place the strips on the pan to sear. Sear for around 1 minute until the bottom side is golden brown, then flip and sear another minute. Then sear on the remaining two sides for around 30-45 seconds until the meat is seared evenly all around. Note: refrain from poking, squishing, flipping, or sliding the meat while it sears. If your strips are thicker, you can also slide a meat thermometer into the strip and place in the oven at 300ºF to finish at your desired temperature for doneness. (120º - 130ºF for rare, 130º - 140ºF for medium rare, and 140º - 150ºF for medium. USDA recommends cooking beef to 145ºF minimum.)
- Rest meat under tinfoil for 3-4 minutes, then enjoy!
The American Method for Cooking Wagyu Steak
(AKA we’re Americans and we crafted this method ourselves and trial-and-errored it to perfection. We love it and use it all the time, and use this method when we invite friends over for steak dinners.)
This method is for cooking an entire, untrimmed Wagyu steak to perfection. It will look and taste like the steak you always dreamed about. We use a cast iron pan and a stovetop/oven combination. This can also be done with a regular skillet that will take the heat of searing and can go into the oven. It can also be done using indirect heat with a pan on a grill. We find the cast iron pan stove-to-oven method to be the most reliable and easy.
- Do all the prep steps above - Defrost, salt and let sit. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
- Pat the meat dry and trim off a little fat (about a little pinky finger’s worth) for searing.
- Heat up your pan, grill plate, or skillet. It should be hot enough that when you flick water on it, it boils off immediately.
- Place beef tallow or trimmed fat (or other searing medium) onto the hot surface until it melts. Swirl around to get good enough coverage for underneath the full size steak.
- Start a stopwatch that counts by the seconds. Drop your steak into the pan, and note the time when you hear the sizzle. Sear the first side for 60-100 seconds, until a nice golden brown crust forms on a good portion of the steak’s underside. Flip and repeat for another 60-100 seconds.
- Once both sides are seared, flip the steak back to the original side. Insert a meat thermometer probe longways into the steak so it sticks out the side with the end of the probe in the middle of the steak, then slide the entire pan and steak into the 300ºF oven.
- Finish the steak in the oven until it reaches your desired temperature for doneness (120º - 130ºF for rare, 130º - 140ºF for medium rare, and 140º - 150ºF for medium. USDA recommends cooking beef to 145ºF minimum.) See our Mastering Meat Kitchen Guide for a time chart if you don’t have a thermometer.
- Move steak from pan to plate. (If you’re going to put butter or herb butter on the steak, do that now.) Then cover with tinfoil.
- Rest for 5-10 minutes before enjoying!