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The Rise of Kosher Wagyu Beef

Suddenly, kosher restaurants are serving the ultra-expensive meat. How did it catch on—and why did it take so long?

Anna Rahmanan
May 28, 2024
Wagyu beef at Manhattan's Tabernacle Steakhouse

Courtesy Tabernacle Steakhouse

Wagyu beef at Manhattan's Tabernacle Steakhouse

Courtesy Tabernacle Steakhouse

Among the charcuterie boards, plant-based dishes, and visually pleasing menu items that have recently come to dominate the experience at kosher restaurants, a new ingredient seems to now define these establishments: wagyu beef.

This ultra-expensive meat comes from a specific breed of Japanese cattle. Highly marbled given the amount of fat it boasts, wagyu beef offers an almost butter-like bite corresponding to its low melting point. So unique is its flavor that it has been considered one of the most luxurious types of beef on menus in tref restaurants across America for years—but it is only now becoming popular in the kosher world as well, especially in markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Florida.

In a way, the rise in acclaim and its trajectory were inevitable: It is the plight of the kosher industry to forever follow trends that have taken over the tref side of the business years before.

“Generally speaking, I think the kosher market is five to 10 years behind the secular one,” said Jonah Chusid, the founder and owner of Chu’s Meat Market, a kosher butcher shop in New York that specializes in wagyu meat. According to a report by Technavio, the wagyu market overall is projected to grow by nearly $3.6 billion by 2027. And the kosher market is now following the same pattern: Chusid says that Chu’s Meat Market alone is projecting a 160% growth in wagyu beef sales from 2021, the year the store opened, to 2024.

This time lag isn’t just about trends taking a while to filter into the kosher world; wagyu’s adoption by kosher suppliers couldn’t have happened overnight even if they wanted it to.

“I first noticed [the trend] about three years ago,” said Eliyahu Ebrani, who runs the kosher-restaurant-review Instagram account Kosherist. “It took a bit of time for it to really come along. Someone had to pioneer it since it’s not easy to raise a herd—it takes a long time.”

“You have to make a three- to four-year investment of your time if you want to be able to sell a full-blood wagyu cut,” explained Chusid, noting that he also offers customers F1 wagyu, which is basically a crossbreed made of 50% wagyu and 50% Black Angus that is less expensive than its full-blood counterpart.

When the parents come home, the kids may ask them for a $100 piece of steak and I always say to them, there are worse things that children could be asking you for.

Demand first drove the supply—and then supply drove the demand. Yehuda Istrin, the owner of Texas-based kosher meat supplier Holy Wagyu, believes that the mere availability of the beef in kosher form is one of the catalyzing factors behind the recent increase in demand for it. “We’ve seen an uptick in interest in the last two years but we have been planning for it,” he said, explaining that raising cattle is a long process that could take between three and five years from conceptualization to the actual delivery of a steak on a diner’s plate.

“I used to sell whole wagyu cows,” Istrin added. “Sort of like a co-op or a private share where a group of individuals would get together and purchase the whole cow, have me then butcher it, and send it over.”

Today, Istrin raises his own wagyu cattle and is therefore able to supply individual cuts to consumers directly.

But an increase in availability isn’t the only element spurring the beef’s popularity. Raised ethically—at least more so than other cheaper cuts—wagyu beef also happens to fall within wellness-related categories of food that have picked up steam in recent times.

“There is an increased demand from consumers for higher quality product,” said Josh Goldstein, the director of operations at Tabernacle Steakhouse, a kosher destination in Manhattan. “They want a more elevated experience when they go out.”

Chusid agrees with that assessment, noting how shoppers are continuously asking him about sustainability and ethical servicing. “People want to know where stuff is coming from,” he said. “In order for wagyu to end up being the way it is intended to be, the cows have to be treated well, they have to be fed good stuff. If not done the right way, wagyu is not gonna end up the way it should so I think it’s leading the forefront [...] and there is a real focus on getting stuff from the right farmers who do the right things and don’t cut corners.”

Given how hard it is to find kosher wagyu and the very limited number of folks in the United States who are actually raising cattle meant to satisfy the market, diners inevitably feel like they know more about the piece of steak that they’re ingesting. There is less choice and, therefore, more knowledge.

That sense of understanding and education is most readily apparent when analyzing wagyu beef as presented all over social media.

Guga Foods, Max the Meat Guy, and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay are constantly posting content focusing on beef, often zoning in on the supremacy of all things wagyu. Although not necessarily focusing on kosher food, the accounts obviously have a big reach and end up informing kosher consumers as well: If everyone in the secular world is eating wagyu beef, you better bet that Jewish foodies will flock to restaurants and butcher shops that offer them the chance to try it in kosher form.

“I think kids on TikTok and Instagram are watching the stuff online all day so that helps,” said Chusid. “When the parents come home, the kids may ask them for a $100 piece of steak and I always say to them, there are worse things that children could be asking you for.”

Seeing that marbled piece of meat basically melt on a grill or barbecue while scrolling through Instagram—a visually appealing image that seems to have been created for the platform—certainly adds to its appeal.

And yet, despite it all, one simple characteristic of wagyu is the underlying motive behind its allure: It is just delicious.

After all, things don’t go viral and people won’t invest time and money in them unless they’re actually worth the stress. Perhaps wagyu beef in kosher circles proves to be just the thing that diners need to remember that the fare we consume should be more than a mere trend. Whether kosher or not, we shouldn’t just eat to satisfy our hunger pangs but, instead, demand that what we ingest taste and feel good as well.

Paradoxically, given the recent focus on veganism as the emblem of health, could wagyu beef become the modern symbol of well-being and ethical eating? We’ve got until the next culinary trend takes over to find out.

Anna Rahmanan is a New York-based writer and editor.