How to Grill or Smoke with American Wagyu Beef

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Grilling or Smoking with American Wagyu Beef is a treat! It’s also a great way to maximize flavor and enjoy the incredible marbling. If you find yourself with some American Wagyu, you’ll want to understand a few key things about it before throwing it on the grill, as it cooks differently from its Prime or Choice cousins. Find out those key differences and how to grill or smoke this delicacy.

a raw snake river farms American wagyu tomahawk steak
A Snake River Farms American Wagyu Tomahawk steak.

What is American Wagyu Beef?

Wagyu (wag-you) refers to Japanese cattle (Wa = Japanese, gyu = Cattle), which uses very specific breeds of Japanese cattle. Japanese Wagyu has a distinct marbling, or intramuscular fat, that is prized around the world. Kobe beef is an example of a Wagyu beef that comes from Kobe (the city in Japan).

American Wagyu started with imported cattle from the same Japanese lineage, but most often cross-bred with American Cattle breeds. This cross-breeding provides incredibly marbled and flavored steaks and roasts, often more marbled than Prime graded steaks in the US.

Other countries, like Australia and Canada, also imported Wagyu cattle and may have a similar lineage. Japan no longer allows for the cattle to be exported.

This infographic from Snake River Farms is an awesome resource for more insight.

Benefits of Cooking with American Wagyu Beef

American Wagyu has one of the most flavorful beef profiles, with flavor that comes from a distinct level of marbling. Because of the higher fat content, it does not require the level of heat you may expect for a similar cut of Select, Choice, or Prime. Especially when cooking hot and fast.

There are also health benefits1 that are correlated to the higher fat content.

The superior flavor combined with the health benefits makes it worth seeking out.

American Beef Rating versus American Wagyu

The USDA rating system (Select, Choice, Prime) still oversees all US ratings. American Wagyu producers can fall into that bucket. But often the reference to quality is marketing in addition to rating. Most often you’ll see a comparison to the rigorous Japanese rating system which is a range from 3 – 12 in terms of marbling.

raw steak marbling from prime and American wagyu.
On the left is a Prime Ribeye Steak. On the right is an American Wagyu Ribeye Steak. Notice the marbling difference.

American Wagyu producers will often have their own gradient ratings, such as Gold and Black for example, as with Snake River Farms. From all the American Wagyu we have cooked with, we have always seen it at or above Prime quality in terms of marbling.

Regardless of the rating, American Wagyu will have some of the most marbled beef in the US rivaling the highest end of Prime.

How to Grill or Smoke with American Wagyu Beef

Lower heat and faster cooking times. That is the most important thing to remember when cooking.

You can substitute American Wagyu beef with any beef recipe. The factor that will have the most impact on cooking technique and time is the amount of marbling it has. Because of the higher intramuscular fat, we find that the American Wagyu beef will generally cook faster.

This may seem counterintuitive, with the idea that lean meats cook faster (they can and do), but as heat is applied to such an incredibly marbled cut of beef, it seems that the thermal dynamics occur faster.

  • Low and Slow: Expect a smoked brisket, prime rib, or chuck roast to cook about 20% faster. So take 2 hours off of a 10-hour brisket cook (on average).
  • Reverse Searing – If a standard reverse-seared steak takes one hour to smoke to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, an American Wagyu steak may take closer to 45 minutes.
  • Grilling – One thing to pay attention to is using a two-zone method for grilling. The amount of fat that will drop will cause flare-ups as it renders and drips into the fire. So we like to have a two-zone setup and move the meat from direct to indirect to prevent charring or burning the steak. This setup will give you the most flexibility. We typically set our grill to 450 degrees Fahrenheit in the cooking chamber.
  • Pan Searing – We find the same dynamic exists if pan searing steak, especially if you finish it in the oven. Be sure not to have your pan overheated and be sure not to use too much extra oil (which is another form of fat).

Where to Buy American Wagyu Beef

Many grocery stores now carry some American Wagyu beef, with the most common being ground beef. But the best option outside of a specialty butcher is to buy online and have it shipped directly to your home.

Here are some of our favorite online retailers of American Wagyu Beef. The product will be shipped flash-frozen directly to you so you can order well in advance of use. We recommend cooking it within 1 year of purchasing.

  • Snake River Farms – Based in the Pacific Northwest, Snake River Farms and its sister brand, Double R Ranch, have been making some amazing beef and pork for decades. They are some of the first pioneers of American Wagyu beef. Shop Snake River Farms
  • Crowd Cow – A great selection of beef, including Wagyu beef from various producers like Mishima Reserve and Lonestar Pure Blood Wagyu (no crossbreeding).
  • D’Artagnan – Historically a chef’s wholesale company, D’Artagnan Fine Foods curates meats from small and sustainable farms from around the world. In addition to American Wagyu, they also have Japanese Wagyu as well.
  • The Wagyu Shop – An online journey through Japanese, American, and Australian Wagyu, the Wagyu Shop has amazing options for all budgets.

Chef’s Tip – When buying online look for special deals and bundles. Often you’ll see free steaks or ground beef when spending over a certain monetary threshold.

Seasoning American Wagyu

Less is more so that you can experience the intricacies of the flavor of the beef. We love a simple beef rub of kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and granulated garlic to let the meat quality shine. If you do want more seasoning then consider our brisket rub or most importantly any beef seasoning without sugar.

Beef seasoning in a mason jar.

We avoid sugar with any beef cuts because it can burn over direct heat and can get overly sweet when smoked. That flavor does not balance well with beef.

Finish with a compound butter to add a little more flavor. But trust us when we say, it doesn’t need much additional help on the seasoning front.


Here are some favorite ways to prepare and eat American Wagyu on the grill or smoker.

  • Reverse Seared Steaks – This guide is all about cooking low and slow for smoke flavor and then finishing hot and fast. This is a great way to enjoy the marbling and flavor of a perfectly cooked Wagyu Steak.
  • Brisket – There is no better way to enjoy brisket than a slowly smoked American Wagyu brisket. There is a reason they win so many awards in competitions.
  • Bavette – This lesser-known cut, similar to a flank steak, is a delicious cut that is more affordable.
  • Beef Tenderloin – You can roast the filet or cut it into grilled filet mignon, an American Wagyu tenderloin is tender, and packed with flavor.
grilling a cowboy ribeye steak with wine
American Wagyu Cowboy Steak cooking over direct heat.

About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

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  1. Source: National Library of Medicine ↩︎

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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