If you're a burger lover, you've undoubtedly noticed the trend in recent years of restaurants flaunting "Kobe" beef burgers, usually with inflated price tags. The truth is, real Kobe beef is a delicacy, but the "Kobe" label is applied too liberally based on an ambiguous definition. ChicagoBurgerBible.com is here to help clarify:
Wagyu cattle (literally translated to "Japanese beef") were introduced to Japan centuries ago and unique herds developed due to varying breeding techniques developed over countless generations (we've heard that such techniques include massaging the animals and feeding them sake and beer). These techniques over time caused the cattle to produce beef that is celebrated for its intense marbling, high fat content, extreme tenderness and rich flavor
While Kobe is the most famous variation of Wagyu beef, there are many others that, unlike Kobe, are now found all around the world, including here in the States. Wagyu cattle in the United States are typically bred with Angus cattle in order to help them become more tolerant of the climate, and also to give the meat a deeper red coloring that Americans associate with high-quality beef.
Some ranchers try to replicate the unique techniques that their counterparts in Kobe, Japan employ in order to produce a similar product. This beef might be referred to as "Kobe style," and it might even exhibit many of the same characteristics as Kobe. This beef may even be sold to you in the form of a "Kobe" burger. But, since the Kobe can only be produced in, well, Kobe, do not be fooled into thinking your $13.00 burger was shipped in from Japan. Unless you're spending a lot more than that on your patty, you can put your raised little pinky finger back down on your bun.
Why Do We Care?
Frankly, we don't. We've found that Wagyu beef (including Kobe-style) offers a buttery, rich flavor that makes the basis of many tasty burgers. That said, the distribution and quantity of marbling that makes Kobe the steak-lovers Holy Grail becomes less relevant in a ground burger patty. Regardless of the origin of the beef, grinding fat and other ingredients into the beef is commonplace. Usually, the Kobe label is just a marketing tool to be wary of, employed to justify a high price. Unless you're paying over $10 per ounce for that burger, you're most likely eating some other strain of Wagyu or American-style Kobe.
We don't really care what you call the beef, as long as it tastes great and is not overpriced.
Here are Chicago Burger Bible's reviews of two Kobe-style burgers, Paramount Room and Luxbar.
We were instant fans of Paramount Room and even bigger fans of their "Kobe Burger." Like all really great burgers, the best part of this masterpiece is the patty itself -- Wagyu beef, thick and tightly packed, juicy but not dripping, and its seasoning is just about perfect -- present but not overpowering. They offer one standard burger option -- brioche bun, lettuce, tomato, red onion and special sauce (a tasty combination of ketchup, mustard, mayo and diced pickles). Cheese and other toppings cost a buck extra each.
$9 - $13
A Golden Triangle standard, Luxbar provides the debutantes with a refreshing fill of prime beef. The double patty combines very well with its superb pretzel bun (right amount of flavor, perfect size and texture) and toppings to provide their burgers with a very good overall flavor. We give their "BBQ" burger (with delicious tangled onions) a slight edge over their also good "lux royale" burger. And the more expensive "Kobe" burger has nothing on either of these two, so don't splurge. The fries are good, but towards the bottom they become soggy.