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Angus vs Wagyu Beef & Cattle (Differences Explained)

Angus and Wagyu are two titans of the steak world. Both names carry a certain expectation of quality and prestige, but there are some important differences between the breeds and the beef they produce that you should know about.

The biggest difference between Angus and Wagyu is the volume of intramuscular fat found in Wagyu beef, which makes the beef tastier and more tender than the equivalent cut from Angus. There are also differences in the cattle breeds and in the way the cows are raised that contribute to the differences we see in their beef.

wagyu steak
Wagyu Beef

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between angus and wagyu beef, and look at the differences between the breeds themselves.

Angus vs Wagyu Breed Characteristics

In Japan, Wagyu is a broad term meaning “Japanese cattle”, and refers to any native Japanese breed regardless of the quality of their meat, however, when we talk about “Wagyu” in the west, we’re usually talking about the highly marbled, expensive beef.

There are four separate breeds from Japan that are classed as Wagyu:

English NameJapanese NameDescription
Japanese BlackKuroge WashuThis breed makes up over 90% of all Japanese cattle. Japanese Black are smaller than typical European breeds like the Black Angus.
Japanese BrownAkage WashuSimilar small frame to the Japanese Black, but with red/brown fur.
Japanese PolledMukaku WashuJapanese Polled cattle are a rare polled variation of the Japanese Black. As of 2021 the breed is considered endangered.
Japanese ShorthornNihon Tankaku WashuThe Japanese Shorthorn is only bred inside Japan. It’s light brown in color with sharp horns and a small, European frame.

1. Cow Color Comparison

angus cattle
Angus Cattle

Both Angus and Japanese Wagyu share the same color variations of black and brown/red.

The two Angus colors (Red and Black) are recognized as separate breeds in the United States, but both are simply considered the Aberdeen Angus breed in the United Kingdom where they originate.

Similarly, Wagyu breeds have two different color varieties.

The main Wagyu breed (Japanese Black) and the Japanese Polled are both solid black in color, similar to the Black Angus breed, and the Japanese Brown and Japanese Shorthorn Wagyu breeds are both brown or red.

Related Article: What is a head of cattle?

2. Diet Comparison

Angus cattle get the majority of their nutrients and energy from the grass they consume while grazing, although their diets are often supplemented with grains and cereals like oats, corn, or soy.

There are many incorrect stereotypes floating around concerning the diet of Wagyu breeds. Once you start exploring the topic, you can find seemingly credible sources stating that Wagyu are fed beer, that they are only grass-fed, or that they are serenaded with classical music or given daily massages… the list goes on.

In truth, Wagyu are fed on a diet very similar to Angus. Wagyu are allowed to graze freely when the climate permits, and fed on a diet of grain and hay when they are indoors.

3. Horns Comparison

wagyu cow
A Wagyu Cow with its Characteristic Horns

All Angus cattle are naturally polled. The Angus’ lack of horn is a defining characteristic of the breed and helped the breed become popular among farmers in the first place.

Wagyu breeds all have horns apart from the endangered Japanese Polled breed, which is naturally polled.

Read More: Do All Cows Have Horns?

4. Size Comparison

Angus are typically larger and heavier than Wagyu breeds, although as time passes both breeds are increasing in average weight due to artificial selection and advances in food science.

According to a study by Kyoto University, the average final weight of a male Japanese Black Cattle at slaughter was between 594 and 648 kg (1309-1429lbs).

According to American Aberdeen Angus Association, an average Angus male weighs between 1300 and 1600lbs.

Read More: Average Size of Cows

Angus vs Wagyu Beef Characteristics

angus beef
Angus Beef in a Pan

The biggest difference between Wagyu and Angus meat is the intramuscular fat present in Wagyu beef, caused by a genetic abnormality in Japanese cattle.

The level of marbling present in meat from any of the four wagyu breeds vastly exceeds the marbling in even the highest quality prime grade Angus steaks.

In a 2018 study in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Science, it was found that Japanese Wagyu had more fat as a percentage of their total bodyweight than every European breed, including double-muscled breeds like the Belgian Blue.

Marbling is highly desirable in beef because as the steak is cooked, the fat melts and adds flavor to the beef, and the fat prevents the meat from drying out during the cooking process, making for a more tender steak.

Similar to the US, Japanese Wagyu are graded according to their marbling. The Japanese grading system ranges from A5 at the low end to A1 at the high end.

Read More: Wagyu Beef Grading System Explained

Wagyu Beef is More Expensive

Owing to the superior flavor and texture of Wagyu beef, it should come as no surprise that it’s highly sought after and very expensive to buy.

In recent years, there has been an attempt to raise Wagyu cattle outside of Japan, both in the US and in Europe. This has helped drive the price down for generic Wagyu beef, however the most desirable Wagyu (Kobe beef) can only be designated as such if it’s raised in Japan from a specific lineage of Japanese Black cattle endemic to the area.

A single Kobe steak can cost over $400 USD.

Conclusion

To sum up, the main difference between Angus and Wagyu breeds are the size, the horns, and the intramuscular fat that gives the meat its unique marbling. Angus cattle are larger and have no horns, whereas wagyu cattle are smaller and usually have horns.

Beef from Wagyu cattle is instantly recognizable because of the high level of marbling that exceeds even the highest prime cuts of Angus beef.

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