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There's a new meal kit rolling out at Costco stores in Southern California that sounds like a dream come true for meat lovers: It's a Kobe beef slider pack that retails for just $16.99.
If that price point for primo beef sounds too good to be true, guess what? It is.
Each kit contains six beef patties, organic American cheese, caramelized onions, six pretzel buns with a mustard aioli and pan-fried sweet potato fries. The Hak's sliders are currently available at Los Angeles and Orange County, California-area Costco stores.
But the kits are labeled as "Kobe" beef.
Kobe beef is in high demand across the U.S. because it's prized as an unbelievably tender cut of meat. But real Kobe beef is rare, and very, very expensive, because according to Joe Heitzeberg, co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow, an online marketplace for craft meat that sells beef like A5 Kagoshima Wagyu, that type of beef can only come from Japan's Hyogo Prefecture and must be professionally rated.
At a cost of $16.99 for the Hak's kit, that works out to be less than $3 per burger, which would be an insanely good deal for any gourmet meal.
But is it really Kobe beef?
A spokesperson for Hak's told TODAY Food via email that the beef used in its meal kits is actually 100 percent Wagyu (a type of cow bred to produce highly-prized marbleized meat) from Australia and the U.S. But while all Kobe beef is wagyu, not all wagyu is Kobe.
"The term 'wagyu' doesn't tell you much about the quality of the beef," Heitzeberg told TODAY Food. "Kobe beef is a very rare and special subset of Wagyu with strict qualifications, including that it must come from the kuroge-washu breed, it must be born and raised in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture and the meat must be inspected in Japan by professional raters and achieve the highest levels."
He explained that as of November 2017, there were only 21 restaurants in the U.S. that even serve authentic Kobe beef. Hak's is not listed as a certified retailer of Kobe beef on the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association.
So what's the real deal with the beef in the Costco kits? "There are breeders in the [U.S.] and in Australia, which raise the kuroge washu breed of cattle, though it is extremely rare to have access to this meat from an animal that is 100 percent purebred," said Heitzeberg. "The most common thing sold is 'wagyu,' which is in fact mostly Angus beef with some wagyu crossbred in."
But, Kobe or not, a $3 burger isn't exactly a bad deal. Without the kit, regular ground, frozen sirloin beef patties at Costco come in at around $1.22 per patty without fries, cheese or buns, so to be able to feed six people for less than $20 is a pretty good bargain.
Just don't expect to fool any beef experts at your next cookout.