Why Costco Beef Is a Favorite Among Chefs and Butchers
There's been so much debate about the supremacy of wagyu: Which wins out? Is Kobe really better than American wagyu? Is full-blood American wagyu comparable to imported, and worth springing for because it's so much cheaper? Is Miyazaki wagyu, which famously beat out Kobe in Japan's National Beef Olympics, actually better than Kobe? Obviously, at the end of the day it's all subjective, but when we asked chefs what they loved to eat—and where they shopped for it—we were in for a few surprises. (Confused about definitions and terms? Check out a full, easy to understand primer on wagyu and Kobe here.)
Walter Apfelbaum, a butcher with almost three decades of experience who's currently executive butcher at Prime + Proper Steakhouse in Detroit, is a huge fan of Costco. That's where he goes to buy his steak of choice: USDA Prime.
"Costco sells some of the most beautiful prime beef I've seen out of the restaurant industry. They have huge buying power," he says. That endorsement means a lot, coming from an artisanal butcher who only buys his fish from a fishmonger.
When it comes to buying Japanese wagyu, which is the most baller thing you could ever buy at Costco, Apfelbaum pays close attention to diet. "It's what the cows are eating, how they're raised, the kind of water they're drinking, everything," he says. "Miyazaki cows, for example, are fed sake mash and are grazing on vegetation grown in volcanic soil, which is super fertile."
It's this type of diet that leads to that crazy marbling for which Japanese wagyu is so well known. And while one can argue with the marbling of Japanese wagyu, but do you actually want to eat a whole steak that that's that rich? Apfelbaum thinks it's overkill. "When I eat a steak, I want to actually be able to eat a steak," he says. "Miyazaki is so rich, I can have just a couple ounces of that, and I'm good."
Chef David Walzog agrees. "We grew up on something that has texture, albeit our moms probably overcooked it," he says. He credits Kobe's popularity in part because of its myth of opulence—especially in Vegas.
"Is it top shelf delicious? Yes, it's up there with lobsters from around the world, it's up there with foie gras, it's up there with being able to procure dover sole. But people know what that beef tastes like in their mouths, and feels like," he says. And for Walzog, nothing quite comes close to that experience and that quality than USDA Prime, which comprises only an estimated 1.5% of all beef in the United States. "And it's a tenth of what we're buying Kobe for," he says.
And Walzog's store of choice for beef? New York-based butchery Lobel's (which conveniently delivers).
Wherever you end up buying your beef, once you've brought it home and are looking for tips on how to grill it, look no further than these tips we've compiled from some of the country's best chefs.