Japan boasts of a variety of branded beef, such as Kobe, Matsuzaka, Omi, and Yonezawa. Beef can be appreciated in many ways, but yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) is always a popular choice. This article will provide useful information about the different cuts of beef, complete with the recommended ways to enjoy those cuts. It also has an in-depth explanation of Wagyu (a type of high-quality Japanese beef) and the types of Wagyu brands! After reading this, you’re sure to have an even more enticing and palatable yakiniku experience!
The Major Cuts of Beef and the Best Way to Enjoy Them
Beef can be divided into 10 major sections.
The names of the cuts may vary depending on the restaurant or region (e.g. Kanto or Kansai), but beef can be divided primarily into 10 sections, with even smaller cuts for each portion. The quality of the fat, umami (Japanese term to describe a savory taste), and texture will vary with each cut, so it is recommended to try different cuts at a well-respected and trusted yakiniku restaurant.
The following sections will describe the recommended ways to cook and eat each of the cuts. However, please note that the cooking environment (e.g. charcoal or gas grilled) and meat quality (e.g. freshness and size of the cut) will vary according to each restaurant. Let this be a reference as you explore how you prefer to cook and enjoy beef!
*Only the most common cuts of beef are represented in this diagram.
1. Kata Rosu (Chuck)
“Rosu” refers to dorsal cuts of meat, starting from the neck. The closest cut from the neck is called the “kata rosu”. It is a lean cut with fine marbling, a strong meaty taste, and just the right amount of texture.
Other than yakiniku, this cut is suited for steaks, shabu-shabu (sliced meat parboiled with vegetables), and sukiyaki (hot pot stew).
・Zabuton / Haneshita (Chuck Flap)
“Zabuton” is a cut from the chuck that is especially evenly marbled. The Japanese name originates from the shape of the cut, which resembles a zabuton (a square cushion traditionally used when sitting on straw mat flooring).[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
This cut tastes best when cooked rare. The best way to eat it is to grill one side over high heat, and once the fat begins to melt, turn it over and cook until lightly browned. The fatty slices go extremely well with a sweet sauce.
2. Kata (Shoulder Clod)
“Kata” (also called “ude”) is the cut of meat from the upper part of the foreleg. It is a well-muscled cut with lots of tendons and muscle tissue.
・Misuji / Hon Misuji (Top Blade)
This cut of meat is located behind the shoulder blades. It is a rare cut, with a low yield per cow, and its rich umami (Japanese savory taste) is best enjoyed through yakiniku. However, it is also frequently served in other forms like sashimi.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
The most recommended level of doneness for this cut is medium rare. Cooking the meat over high heat to thoroughly melt the fat will bring out its full umami, which otherwise would be lost if the fat remained uncooked. The intense flavor of the meat pairs well with sweet sauces and rich, thick sauces.
Uwa Misuji (Upper Top Blade)
This is a very small cut of meat from the upper part of the top blade. It is a rare cut, as you can only get so much from one cow. If you’re lucky enough to come across this offering at a restaurant, don’t hesitate to order some! It is leaner and less marbled than the top blade, so it is recommended for lean meat lovers.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
This is best enjoyed rare. How well it should be cooked on the inside depends on the freshness of the meat and the thickness of the slices, but it is generally best when the meat is lightly browned on the outside. To bring out the full umami, experts will season the meat with a salt-based sauce if the slices are thin. But if it is served in thick slices, it goes great with just salt or with a soy sauce and wasabi combo.
Kurimi / Ude Sankaku / Shakushi / Kuri (Chuck Eye)
This is a well-muscled and lean cut from the area between the shoulders and upper part of the foreleg. It is relatively tough because it is filled with tendons and muscle tissue, but it has especially strong umami.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
To relish the umami, eat this cut rare. If the slices are thin, searing is the way to go. Be careful not to overcook them! Since it is not so fatty, it is excellent when lightly seasoned with simple condiments, such as salt or soy sauce with wasabi.
Togarashi / Tonbi (Chuck Tender)
The Japanese name originates from the shape of the cut, which looks like togarashi (chili pepper). It is taken from an area near the shoulder blades. It is yet another rare cut, with a small yield per cow. It is incredibly juicy and has intense umami, which is why it is often used to make roast beef.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
As the cut is suited for roast beef, do enjoy it rare. It pairs well with a sweet sauce or soy sauce, but if you wish to savor the umami, a dash of salt and pepper will do the trick.
Sankaku Bara (Chuck Short Rib)
Literally meaning “triangle rib”, its name fits its shape, which is like a triangle. It is a cut of meat taken from the first through the sixth ribs. It is evenly marbled, with a perfect balance of fat and lean meat. It is a popular cut for enjoying the sweet flavor of the fat and the umami of the lean meat all at once. This cut is sometimes served as “tokujo karubi”. As a side note, “bara” is a general term for the meat around the rib area.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
When cooked to medium rare, the meat will have the perfect balance of juiciness and fattiness. While it may depend on the thickness of the cut, it is usually best eaten when it has been thoroughly heated to the core, but not overcooked. The fatty flavor matches well with a sweet sauce.
Burisuke / Koune (Brisket)
This well-muscled and rather tough cut is located just below the sankaku bara. The fat to meat ratio is generally about half and half, but the lean meat is packed with an intense amount of umami. It requires great technique to separate the fat from the meat, so if you come across a restaurant that serves brisket without any fat, you know you’ve hit gold.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
If served without the fat, it is best to make the meat medium rare, using just enough heat to cook the core. If the fat is left in, cook it a little longer. The lean meat should only be lightly seasoned with a salt-based sauce, soy sauce with wasabi, or other mild-tasting condiments to enjoy its full flavor. On the other hand, a sweet sauce would pair well with brisket that hasn’t had the fat removed.
3. Rib Rosu (Rib)
This refers to the meat at the back of the ribs, between the chuck and sirloin cuts. It is one of the top cuts of beef alongside sirloin.
Rib Kaburi (Rib Cap)
The rib cap is the section of the rib that is closest to the back. It is a finely marbled cut with an intensely sweet fat and rich umami. Other than yakiniku, it is also suited for dishes like shabu-shabu and roast beef.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
If the slices are thin, they are best cooked rare. Grill the meat over high heat, just enough to melt the fat, and enjoy. If the slices are thick, make sure that they are thoroughly heated. Sweet sauce is highly recommended to accompany it, but if you prefer soy sauce and wasabi or a salt-based sauce, you can go ahead and use those instead.
Rib Rosu Shin / Rib Shin (Ribeye)
This is another top-class cut that can be located at the center of the ribs. It is not just extremely tender, but is also considered to be the most well-balanced cut from the ribs. Some consider it to be the best cut, so you might want to turn a blind eye to the price and give it a try.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Thin slices should be lightly seared on the surface and enjoyed rare. It might be a little tricky to control the doneness of thicker slices, but try grilling the surface until it browns and then lower the heat to cook them to medium rare. The standard condiment for this is a sweet sauce.
Maki Rosu / Maki (Ribeye Lip)
This is the cut of meat that is wrapped around the ribeye. Though it is very tender and full of flavor, it is rarely offered at restaurants. Some yakiniku places serve it as “tokujo karubi”.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Rare is best for this cut. It is well-marbled, so thin slices should only be grilled on high heat, just enough to melt the fat and enjoy its umami. The most basic condiment to pair this with would be a sweet sauce, but soy sauce with wasabi or a salt-based sauce will also make it taste delicious.
4. Tomo Bara (Short Plate)
This cut of meat is located around the ventral section of the ribs. “Bara” refers to the ribs, which is why many of the cuts near the ribs have it in their name. It is generally called “karubi”, originating from galbi (Korean word for “rib”), and is one of the standard offerings at any yakiniku restaurant.
Nami Karubi / Tatebara (Boneless Short Ribs)
This cut of meat is taken from the half of the outer ribs that’s closer to the upper foreleg. Some yakiniku restaurants may separate the cuts by naming them as karubi (short rib), jo karubi (special short rib), and tokujo karubi (premium short rib). This occurs because there isn’t a standard way to separate them. For this reason, the way a restaurant serves this shows off their skill and character. This cut is rich in flavor and is characterized by a slight sweetness.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Medium, with caramelized fat, is the way to go for this cut. Its strong flavor will go well with a thick, sweet sauce.
Nakaochi Karubi (Rib Finger)
This cut is taken from in-between individual ribs. Both the actual meat and fat are loaded with an incredible amount of rich umami. This is a popular menu item that many restaurants will serve at reasonable prices.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
The best way to enjoy it is grilled to a medium doneness, heavily searing it and melting off any excess fat to make it easier to eat. Just like nami karubi, the most popular way to eat this cut is with a sweet sauce. Another recommendation is to season it with a bit of gochujang (sweet and spicy Korean red chili paste).
Kainomi (Flap Meat)
The section of the ribs that’s closest to the back is called “naka bara” (chuck short rib). Within that section, the cut of meat that’s closest to the tenderloin is known as “kainomi”. It has the umami and tenderness of both ribs and tenderloin. As only a small yield can be produced per cow, this is a rare cut that has an excellent flavor balance between lean meat and fat.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
It is very tender, so it is best to cook it to medium rare or rare enough that it doesn’t lose its tenderness. It can be enjoyed with any type of condiment, such as sweet sauce, soy sauce with wasabi, and salt and pepper.
Sasabara / Sasami (Flank)
This cut of meat is located right above the hindleg joints, around the ventral section of the ribs. Though they’re both cuts from the ribs, it is milder in flavor compared to short ribs.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Browning the surface on high heat and grilling it to medium rare is the best way to enjoy this cut. Many people are addicted to its tenderness and umami. The mellow flavor goes well with simple condiments like soy sauce with wasabi, but sweet sauce is another good option. Why not try both?
Uchi Harami (Inside Skirt)
This cut is composed of the transverse abdominal muscle located near the diaphragm (skirt). Since it is close to the skirt, it has lots of umami. Don’t hesitate to place an order if you see it on the menu, as it is a rare cut![Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
To enjoy its tenderness, have it rare. Lightly sear the meat over hig heat and eat it as soon as the surface becomes crispy. A simple combination of soy sauce and wasabi will bring out the flavor out to the fullest, but a sweet sauce will make it taste delicious as well.
This cut of meat is taken from the anterior of the cow’s back. Out of the three loin cuts that can be taken from the back – ribs, sirloin, and tenderloin – the sirloin is considered to have the best quality.
Sirloin is one of the most well-known and expensive cuts of beef. It doesn’t get exercised too much, so the lack of muscle tissue makes for a tender texture. Wagyu sirloins are especially beautifully marbled. Sirloin is commonly enjoyed as steak, but the yakiniku version is a pleasant alternative.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
The better the quality, the less done it should be. Sirloin is rather fatty, so it’s best to sear the surface to trap in all the umami of the fat. Enjoy it hot off the grill! Sweet sauce is highly recommended to go with sirloin as yakiniku. However, salt and pepper is also a great choice if you wish to enjoy it like steak.
6. Hire (Tenderloin)
This is the oblong strip of meat along the lumbar vertebrae. It is one of the most tender cuts of beef.
This part rarely gets exercised, so it is lean and tender. The lean meat has a mild sweetness and robust umami.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Most yakiniku restaurants will serve this in thick slices. The meat is super tender, so it should be cooked rare. Once the surface is browned, slowly grill the meat over low heat until ready. A sprinkle of salt and pepper will be just enough to bring out the rich umami. Soy sauce with wasabi is also recommended.
Chateaubriand is a world-renowned cut taken from the center section of the tenderloin. It is the most tender cut of tenderloin, but with half the fat. It is characterized by a subtle and mellow sweetness. It is one of the scarce and expensive cuts, but a Wagyu chateaubriand is well-worth the try.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
For thick slices, cook slowly over low heat until rare. Once the meat is cooked, let it rest about the same time it took to cook to achieve the perfect level of doneness. To savor the delicate umami, it should only be seasoned with a little salt and pepper.
7. Ran Ichi (D Rump)
The D rump is the area around the hip, butt, and thigh. Out of all the cuts that make up the entire hindquarter section – D rump, gooseneck round, top round, and knuckle – the D rump is considered to be the most flavorsome.
Rump (Top Sirloin Butt)
This part of the rump section is finely textured and tender. It has a pure beefy flavor with light-tasting fat that’s not too overwhelming, which is why its popularity has recently been on the rise.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
It is recommended to have this rare. Searing the surface will do for thin slices, while a bit longer is necessary for thicker cuts. If you want to savor the full beefiness of the meat, a salt-based sauce or soy sauce with wasabi will do wonders. Eating it with a sweet sauce not only adds a bit of texture, but makes it taste great, too!
Ichibo (Top Sirloin Cap)
This is the portion of meat surrounding the aitchbone, located adjacent to the top sirloin butt. It is tougher than top sirloin butt and is distinguished by its quality marbling. Its intense and flavorful umami is perfect for yakiniku. This cut is sometimes offered as the rump without differentiating the sirloin butt from the cap.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Do try this cut rare. It is most palatable when the surface is browned while the core remains tender. Simple salt and pepper is the best to eat it with, but because it has a uniquely deep flavor, those who are new to the acquired taste might enjoy it better with a sweet sauce.
8. Sotomomo / Sotohira (Gooseneck Round)
This cut of meat comes from the outer thigh of the cow. It is a well-muscled cut with very little fat.
Makura / Shikinbo (Eye of Round)
This is the innermost cut of the gooseneck round. The texture of the meat is relatively coarse and stringy. You’ll have to work your jaws a little more, but this cut is filling and you’ll definitely feel a sense of satisfaction after eating it.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
This tastes best rare or well-done. If you prefer to relish it tender, it’s best to grill the surface just until browned and crispy. If you’d like a crispier texture overall, cook it more thoroughly. A mild salt-based sauce will bring out the best of the umami, but soy sauce with wasabi will match with the deep meaty flavor of the cut.
This cut is from the area surrounding the joints of the thigh bone and shin bone. The texture is a bit stringy, but relatively tender compared to the other cuts of the gooseneck round. It is popular for its tenderness in the mouth, as well as for its strong beefy flavor. This cut is especially recommended for those who prefer to enjoy the meaty qualities over the umami of the fat.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
The meat will get tough if overcooked, so always cook until rare. Searing the surface will suffice – give or take 1 minute of grilling on each side depending on the power of the heat. Soy sauce with wasabi is a great seasoning to bring out the rich flavor. Salt and pepper or a salt-based sauce are also good if you like something mild to accentuate the umami.
Nakaniku (Outside Round)
This is the outermost cut of the gooseneck round. It is lean and low in fat, which makes it a healthy option. It is rather chewy with an intense meaty flavor. Some may dislike its unique flavor, so it’s not recommended for everyone.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Be careful not to overcook it, because this cut of meat can get very tough. Sear the surface and enjoy it rare. Soy sauce with wasabi is recommended to savor the intense flavor, but a sweet sauce or salt-based sauce go well, too.
Senbon / Senbon Suji (Super Digital Flexor Muscle)
This extremely rare cut is located at the center of the heel, with a yield of only 500 – 600 grams per cow. It is surprisingly tender and the muscles will burst with rich flavor at every bite. Its highly gelatinous texture is suited for braising and stews, so it is rarely seen in yakiniku eateries. If you’re lucky enough to come across this at a yakiniku restaurant, don’t hesitate to order it![Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Heat thoroughly to melt the gelatinous mass. This will let you savor the umami of the juices and the glutinous, chewy texture. Make sure that it is not overcooked. A salt-based sauce is a wonderful choice to relish the umami, while a sweet sauce is best to enjoy the texture.
9. Uchimomo / Uchihira (Top Round)
This cut of meat is taken from the inner joints, where the hind legs connect to the hips. It is a large portion of lean, muscled. It is sometimes divided into three parts: omomo (the larger muscles), komomo (the smaller muscles), and uchimomo kaburi (a layer of fat and tissue covering the top round).
Uchimomo / Uchihira
This particular cut of meat is known to have the least amount of fat in comparison to everything else. The lack of fat gives the meat a mild and simple flavor. It is surprisingly tender and recommended for those who want to enjoy the beefy taste of the lean cut.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
Thin slices should be grilled to medium-rare in order to appreciate its tenderness. Thicker slices may require additional cooking time. One simple method to enjoy the flavor is to season the meat with soy sauce and a little bit of garlic. If you prefer a richer taste, eating it with a sweet sauce will add more zest.
10. Shintama (Knuckle)
This refers to the sphere-shaped block of meat located below the top round.
Marushin / Shinshin (Knuckle Main Muscle)
This cut of meat runs down the center of the shintama. It is a relatively low-fat cut and is quite tender despite the presence of tendons. The meat is not at all fatty and has a pleasantly mild flavor.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
This is best enjoyed by searing the surface and cooking it until rare. Even if you prefer the meat more done, it shouldn’t be grilled any more than medium-rare. A sweet sauce will give the meat a savory taste, while salt and pepper will season it just enough to enjoy its inherent flavor.
Marukawa (Knuckle Inside Muscle)
This cut is taken from the meat that surrounds the marushin. It has the lowest yield out of all the cuts of the knuckle, but is comparatively cheaper than the other cuts, so you’ll get more for your money. It is tender with a mild taste due to the scarce marbling.[Recommended Cooking & Eating Methods]
It is best enjoyed rare with just enough heat to caramelize the surface. Overcooking will cause the meat to lose its flavor, so do be careful. A salt-based sauce will give the meat just enough flavor to infuse with the meaty aroma. A sweet sauce can boost the tenderness of the meat.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.