The so-called “Thai wagyu” is a crossbreed between Australian or Japanese wagyu and Charolais, Brahman or Holstein cattle. “I’m the one who named it ‘Thai wagyu,’” says Thanabodee Ratchana, the man behind Best Country Beef
butcher shop (see below). “About six years ago, some big people in Surin happened to import a wagyu bull. They let Suranari University keep its sperm and distribute it to local farmers. From there on, the wagyu-cross cattle has spread to many more farms in Buriram, Mukdahan, Nakhon Ratchasima and throughout Isaan.”
The wagyu genes result in higher fat content in between the meat, which makes it super succulent and tender. The Thai cattle, meanwhile, contribute to increased meat fibers. Thanabodee says, “For me a Holstein-cross is the best as its meat carries the highest fat. Holstein is a native, straight-blood that can thrive very well here, unlike Charolais and Brahman which are already crossbreeds.” However, Phanuphon “Black” Bulsuwan, chef-proprietor of Chiang Mai’s Blackitch restaurant and the guy behind Krbb
butchery in Bangkok (see below), says these local crossbreeds still can’t compare with full-blood wagyu. “I haven’t seen any Thai wagyu with an A5 score, not even an A3 actually. Most of them fall in the B range,” he says.
While cooked top-grade Japanese wagyu (A4-5) can set you back over B2,500/100g here, a top Thai wagyu slab starts from a more humble B2,900/kg.
Chef Black says the support system for Thai farmers is still not as good as in Japan, which poses many challenges. “We’ll have to keep checking the blood of the new-generation cattle to make sure they retain the right percentage of each breed and make sure they don’t change or mutate,” he says. KU Beef is also said to be developing its own Thai wagyu, too.
After starting his butcher life about 20 years ago at a premium supermarket, Thanabodee thought he’d learned everything about beef before a trip to Northeastern Thailand convinced him to take Thai wagyu seriously. He’s now butcher and distributor for Thai wagyu at his own Best Country Beef company.
The Chiang Mai-based Blackitch restaurant’s chef-proprietor is not only a Japanese cooking enthusiast, but he also recently opened Krbb butcher shop in Bangkok after several trips to Japan where he studied wagyu in great depth.
Marble Grading 101
Marbling is the amount of intramuscular fat visible as flecks within the muscle. Different countries use different standards to grade their beef. Here are the big ones.
The USDA rewards marbling with eight different grades, the most common of which are “Select,” “Choice” and, the highest one, “Prime,” which requires a minimum 8-11 percent intermuscular fat.
Assessed within the ribeye muscle, a subjective measure of the ranging from 0-9 refers to the visible fat found between muscle fibre bundles
JMGA (Japanese Meat Grading Association)
Beef is graded A-C according to yield, an estimated cutability percentage obtained at the sixth and seventh rib section, with A being 72% or above and C under 69%. A meat quality score, ranging from 1-5, is then judged according to marbling, meat color and texture.
BMS (Beef Marbling Standard)
The generic marbling grade for beef, ranging from 3-12, with 8-12 equal to 5 and 5-7 equal to 4 in JMCA.
What is Wagyu?
Literally, wagyu means “Japanese cow,” referring to four native breeds of beef cattle known for a high percentage of unsaturated fat and omega 3 and 6. The term also covers specific ways of raising and feeding that distinguish wagyu from other cattle. This means wagyu beef can come from outside of Japan, so long as it’s from a Japanese breed of cattle.
Beware Fake Fat
While fatty slabs of meat are getting more and more popular, mass consumption means there’s now such a thing as artificial marbling, which refers to the process of injecting fat into red meat to make it more succulent. “It’s getting scarier and scarier,” says chef Black. “We can’t know for sure if it’s really cow’s fat that they inject into the beef or something else.” His advice? “Avoid heavily-marbled meat with artificial looking white veins.”
Where to Taste Thai Wagyu in Bangkok
This much-hyped butcher-slash-eatery still requires reservations, with the well-priced Thai wagyu playing a huge part in its appeal. Pick your own cut of meat either to take home or let them grill for you. The top-tier “Arno’s Super T-Bone” costs B5,900/kg.
2080/2 Narathiwas Soi 20, 02-678-8340
This nearby burger spin-off of Arno’s uses the same grade of beef, resulting in flavorful and juicy patties. Add in the restaurant’s special sauce and fluffy bun, and you’ve got one must-try burger, starting at B220.
Narathiwas Soi 15, 02-087-5087
This butcher shop dry-ages and retails Thai wagyu beef starting at a 2-3 marbling score (B2,150/kg for tenderloin). Buy it to take home or let them grill it for you upstairs where a 500g T-bone (at 4-5 BMS, see box) costs B3,200.
On top of A4 wagyu beef from Japan, this Japanese restaurant also has Thai wagyu on its menu from time to time.
3/F, Portico, 31 Lang Suan Rd., 02-041-6056
Aside from offering slabs of beef for takeaway and delivery, this butcher shop accommodates dine-in customers with yakiniku and hot pot. Dry-aged Thai wagyu is on offer at B2,900/kg for T-bone and striploin.
3/F, Habito, Sukhumvit Soi 77, 02-090-9697