Forget Kobe Beef: These Are the Cult Steaks Everybody Wants Right Now
Once upon a time, it was enough to impress people with your fancy steaks just by saying "Kobe" and "Wagyu." No longer.
Now a small but mighty movement of cult steaks is sweeping the globe, starring farmers and artisanal producers in places from Shodoshima, Japan, to Marin County, Calif. They’re all vying to raise the bar when it comes to beef, and they're succeeding, largely thanks to their shared concerns for heritage breeds, sustainability, and fair husbandry practices.
Here are the six of the best premium steaks to buy now. Just be warned: Unlike the now-ubiquitous Kobe and typical grades of Wagyu, they’re not always easy to find. And may cost you a pretty penny more.
The Heritage Steak
What: Chapel Hill Farm Randall Lineback Steaks
Price: Two chops for $98
Where to get it: Direct from the farm
Why we love it it: What started as a herd of 25 nearly extinct Randall Lineback cows grazing on 600 acres has grown into one of the world’s most respected beef businesses. Joe Henderson’s operation at Chapel Hill Farm, Va., now tops out at 700 cattle on 2,200 acres—and his clients include top Washington-area chefs, from José Andrés to Bryan Voltaggio to David Guas. The meat's bright, clean, complex flavors don’t come from fat (as is required with Wagyu), but from solid genetics and well-developed muscle that characterize the Randall Lineback breed.
“Our animals never go indoors,” Henderson told Bloomberg. “They’re always outside on the grass. That’s where they’re born; that’s where they roam.” Whereas the cuts were formerly only available in whole-animal form, Henderson’s young e-commerce business is thriving. But he’ll continue to keep it small so he can always tell you where the animal was born, which cows were its parents, and which fields it roamed.
The Investment Steak
What: Blackmore Wagyu
Price: $180 per pound
Where to get it: At select retailers in Australia, Taiwan, China, and Singapore; in the U.S. your only outlet is Gwen, Curtis Stone’s butcher shop and restaurant in Los Angeles.
Why we love it: Wagyu is a misleading term in most places. Few Wagyu cows are pure-bred, and inconsistencies in quality have seriously diluted the market. Blackmore is the exception to beat all other exceptions. These pure-bred cows yield steaks that literally broke the Wagyu grading system—and they continually exceed the best possible score at competitions. What used to be a six-point grading system now stretches to nine points, a reflection of the steaks’ ultra-tender, buttery qualities.
The Destination Steak
What: Olive-fed Japanese Wagyu
Price: The cost of a plane ticket to Japan, and then some
Where to get it: High-end restaurants such as Jean Georges Tokyo and Yamagataya. Here’s a full list.
Why we love it: You might not know that Japan produces a decent amount of olive oil. And that the pressed olives make an incredible nutritional supplement to livestock feed. That’s what cattle rancher Masaki Ishii discovered almost by happenstance—and what led him to create some of the world’s most sought-after steaks. Now his herd of 1,700 olive-fed cows—all raised sustainably on the idyllic island of Shodoshima—are growing a fan base well beyond Asia.
A series of chef events and special tasting sessions as far as Brooklyn, N.Y., are creating a craze for the cuts, even though they aren’t yet being exported. (Key word: yet; a distributor network in the States is in the works.)
The Vintage Steak
What: Belcampo Custom-Aged Steaks
Price: Over $80 dollars per pound
Where to get it: Select Belcampo restaurants and butcher shops in Northern California and Los Angeles
Why we love it: Anya Fernald has been labeled the "first lady of livestock," a cattle-ranching revolutionary. Her focus is sustainably raised, grass-fed meat; she has 2,500 cows which she grazes on 20,000 acres of California pasture. “California has sweet, high-calorie, high-protein grass,” she explained. The resulting rich, red beef is super-flavorful and well-marbled, with a terrific tender-chewy texture.
The ne plus ultra of her beef is a new custom-aged service that Fernald has introduced at her Santa Monica and San Francisco locations. Customers can choose their prime beef rack (prime being the cut with enough fat to withstand the aging process), which will weigh in somewhere from nine to 15 pounds and yield eight very generous steaks. The beef is then aged for anywhere from 40 to 100 days at Belcampo. To improve the flavor even further, Fernald can wrap the meat in tallow, which slows down the aging process and minimizes the funky flavor not everyone loves. The resulting, custom-aged beef can be cooked at Belcampo, or budding grill masters can take it home and prepare it themselves.
The Stylish Steak
What: Double RL
Price: $200 for a 44-ounce, bone-in rib eye
Where to get it: Any Ralph Lauren restaurant, namely the Polo Bar in New York and Ralph’s in Paris
Why we love it: For his main job running his eponymous $7.9 billion dollar business, Ralph Lauren deals in moneyed Americana fashion that changes with the seasons; no surprise then that his premium-beef side hustle is also seasonal.
Double RL beef comes from about 800 Angus and South Devon steers and heifers that graze on almost every available blade of grass on the designer’s 17,000-acre ranch in southwestern Colorado, beneath the San Juan mountains. (The cows are led from pasture to pasture by a team of cowboys; one would hope they’re wearing Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren or Chaps.) The incredibly succulent beef, which is finished on corn, is calved in the spring and harvested 18 months later; the beef is available as 44-ounce and 22-oz. ribeyes through the fall until it’s gone. Then you’ll have to wait until next fall to have it again.
The Dramatic Steak
What: Snake River Tomahawk
Price: $119 for a 2.5 lb steak
Where to get it: Direct from the ranch
Why we love it: Recently you might have seen someone with a steak in front of them that looked as if it came straight out of the Flintstones: a tremendous cut of meat attached to a long bone. That’s the tomahawk, and it’s become one of the most popular cuts at steakhouses. Snake River Farms began offering them earlier this year.
The Idaho-based company raises its cows along the picturesque Snake River, sourcing most of their feed (a diet of hay, forages, and grains) from within 150 miles, converting cattle waste to fertilizer for local farmers, and transforming beef tallow into fuel at its biodiesel plant. The meat is favored by chefs around the world for its superior beef from proprietary American Wagyu; the rich marbling makes the meat insanely tender. Snake River hand-cuts each Tomahawk, so the richly marbled rib eye includes the prized rib eye cap as well.