Restaurants

Texas’ Japanese Wagyu Experts Turned the State Into an Unlikely Haven for the Most Coveted Cattle in the World

Now Top Restaurants Cannot Get Enough of This Texas-Raised Beef

BY // 02.18.19

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a new series on the local producers that keep Houston’s restaurant scene — and your kitchen — fresh.

There are few things Houston takes as seriously as its meat — its steak, in particular. It’s no wonder, since we’ve gotten tons of acclaim for it. Texas just recently dominated Thrillist’s rankings of the 31 Best Steakhouses in America.

That’s just one of Space City’s many, many meat accolades.

Houstonians are lucky that they can get such top-quality meat so close to home. Chefs and meat maestros know that only the best of the best local meat will do for Bayou City diners. And they know just what to serve.

Discerning carnivores will tell you there’s nothing quite like Japanese Wagyu when they sink their teeth into the juicy, juicy meat. And discerning Texan carnivores will tell you that’s definitely true — and they’ve got Akaushi on their side.

This time, local means international. Texas ranchers have the world in the palm of their hand. Or at least, on their land.

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Akaushi, or the Japanese Brown, are one of the country’s six native cattle breeds, and one of the four Japanese Wagyu breeds. Thanks to savvy Lone Star State ranchers leaping onto a loophole in the early 1990s, Texans don’t have to voyage abroad to enjoy this mighty meat.

Bear with us for this brief history lesson: Texas ranchers revolutionized the beef industry years ago, discovering that, thanks to a small area of ambiguity in the Trade Act of 1992 between the United States and Japan, they could import a small group of Akaushi on an specially equipped Boeing 747.

Fast forward to 1998, when the Beeman family got heavily invested in Akaushi meat sales and cattle ranching. Then, in 2006, they launched HeartBrand Beef. Through preserving pure Akaushi bloodlines, HeartBrand boasts the largest herd of Akaushi in America.

HeartBrand has 14,000 to 15,000 head, and 3,000 are breeding age full blood Akaushi. Its primary ranch is in the rolling hills of Harwood, Texas.

And Vic & Anthony’s, La Table, Pappa’s Steakhouse, Tris, Corky’s BBQ, Calle Onze and Shabu Zone are all the better for it. They’re all loyal customers of HeartBrand, backing the family-run ranch committed to that rare, exceptional beef.

“We’re fortunate to have gotten to find this herd and shepherd the project along the way. Producing the best-quality beef possible —that’s our main mission. That’s what drives all of our philosophies,” Jordan Beeman, HeartBrand Beef president and fifth-generation rancher, tells PaperCity.

“Ribeye is typically extremely popular for us, outside skirts and short ribs.” Their strip steak and brisket are celebrated, too.

But you’ll also find top notch brisket, flank steak, perfectly seasoned beef skirt for fajitas, beef stew meat, beef jerky, Kobe beef sausage and more. HeartBrand has also curated a couple recipes, like Akaushi chili and Cola-marinated flank steak.

Beeman loves what he does, but a little compliment never hurts.

“The best feedback we get is when someone tells us ‘That’s the best steak I’ve ever had in my life,’ ” he says. “We’re very fortunate to get that a lot.”

The reason for Akaushi’s appeal is no secret. “It’s highly marbled, greater than any other breed I’ve been a part of. The product has more flavor, more tenderness, more consistency than what your average beef is going to have,” Beeman says.

“The Japanese put that marble in them, they had to adapt to have this unique fatty acid profile. We’ve been fortunate to bring this to America.”

To the unitiated, the high level of marbling means that there’s good dispersion of fat within the lean, leading to remarkably tasty meat.

DNA Tested Cattle

HeartBrand isn’t willing to sacrifice any of what makes their cattle so special. They maintain the purity of the beef through strict means, using DNA tests to ensure that all the cattle is indeed Akaushi.

“No doubt, industrywide DNA is the best way to ensure. Not enough beef companies do that,” Beeman says.

It’s not just the full, satisfying flavor that makes Akaushi a winner.

“We have a positive ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids,” Beeman says. “Ratio of about 1.28. Fat from our beef will be more soluble, more liquid.”

That means unique health benefits: Akaushi can lead to lowered cholesterol, compared to other beef, which can help prevent coronary heart disease and encourage weight loss. Akaushi is also a natural source of oleic acid, the compound in olive oil that’s considered good for the heart. It gives HeartBrand’s Akaushi beef that distinctive buttery taste.

Of course, those are just bonuses, not the focus. Those details aren’t the initial selling point, just great pros.

“If we don’t have a tender, tasty product the health benefits might not matter as much,” Beeman chuckles.

“Our mission is, how do we make people have this steak that makes them look up and say ‘Wow’? That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Beeman doesn’t waver on his mission of sharing local Akaushi beef with Texas communities. “If I go into a grocery store and do a demo, I go up there and say if my steak is not better than what you’re currently using, I’ll leave,” he says. “I haven’t had to leave yet.”

For HeartBrand Beef, serving Texas the finest Texan cattle comes second nature.

“I’ve very fortunate to be from Texas,” Beeman says. “This isn’t what we have to do — this is what we get to do. It’s not really our job, it’s our passion.”

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