What Is Karubi Beef? A Guide to This Tasty Japanese Grilling Cut

If you love Japanese cuisine, especially yakiniku-style grilled meats, you’ve probably heard of karubi beef But what exactly is this cut of meat that’s so popular in Japan?

In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about karubi beef – from its origins to how to cook it and pair it with sauces. Read on to become a karubi expert!

What Is Karubi Beef?

Karubi beef also known as boneless short rib or flanken-cut rib, refers to a specific cut of beef taken from the cow’s abdominal area near the bottom of the ribcage.

It’s a very marbled, tender, and flavorful cut that works perfectly for quick cooking over high heat. In Japan, karubi beef is considered a premium ingredient and is treasured for yakiniku (Japanese grilled meat).

The literal translation of “karubi” is “sweet meat.” This refers to the naturally sweet, rich flavor that comes through when the meat is grilled.

Karubi beef comes from an area of the cow right above the belly where there are many short rib bones. It is prepared by cutting the ribs horizontally across the bone into thin slices. This leaves the signature short rib bone on one side of the steak.

Origins of Karubi Beef

While karubi has become an iconic part of Japanese cuisine, its origins can actually be traced back to Korea.

In Korean barbecue, a similar cut of meat called “galbi” is highly popular. The Koreans have a long tradition of marinating these boneless short ribs in a sweet and savory sauce before throwing them on the grill.

After World War II, many Japanese people traveled to Korea and brought back a love for grilled short ribs. They adapted the preparation method to suit Japanese tastes, creating what we now know as karubi beef.

Over the years, karubi became a staple in Japan, showing up on restaurant menus and even being featured in specialty butcher shops. Top-notch karubi is now sourced from prime beef cattle breeds like Japanese Wagyu or American Angus.

Key Characteristics of Karubi Beef

So what makes karubi beef stand out from other cuts? Here are its defining characteristics:

  • Rich, sweet flavor with a noticeable umami taste
  • Very high marbling content, making it tender and juicy
  • Cut extremely thin across the bone
  • Tender enough to eat rare without chewiness
  • Caramelizes beautifully when grilled over high heat
  • Perfect for fast cooking methods like grilling or searing

The abundant marbling is key to karubi’s succulent texture. And when cooked quickly over fire or on a skillet, it develops an absolutely mouthwatering charred crust.

Different Cuts of Karubi Beef

Not all karubi beef is created equal. Here are the main cuts you’ll encounter:

  • Nami/Tatebara: This comes from the upper ribs and has the most richness and sweetness. It’s the highest grade of karubi.

  • Nakaochi: Cut from between the ribs, nakaochi karubi is loaded with umami flavor. The rib bone is left in the center.

  • Kainomi: A rare cut from the back rib near the tenderloin. Extremely tender, marbled, and flavorful.

  • Harami: Skirt steak cut with intense umami. Best served rare.

  • Sankaku: Triangular flank cut near the rear leg. Very rich in flavor.

  • Mizusankaku: Flank meat cut near the belly with a finer grain. More tender than sankaku.

Understanding the differences between cuts allows you to select the right karubi for your dish. Nami, nakaochi and kainomi are considered the highest quality.

How to Cook Karubi Beef

Thanks to its thin slicing and tender texture, karubi beef cooks up quickly and can be prepared in several ways:

  • Grilling: The traditional preparation. Cook over high direct heat just until browned and caramelized.

  • Pan-searing: Cook in a hot pan with oil for 1-2 minutes per side.

  • Stir-frying: Cut into small pieces and stir-fry in a wok or pan.

  • Hot pot: Add thin slices to a simmering broth and cook briefly.

No matter how it’s prepared, karubi should be cooked rare to medium-rare so it stays nice and tender. Don’t overcook it!

For maximum flavor, I recommend marinating the meat for 1-2 hours before cooking. A simple marinade of soy sauce, sake, sugar, and garlic does the trick.

And be sure to let the meat rest for 5 minutes after cooking – this allows the juices to redistribute so each bite is moist and tender.

Sauces and Condiments for Karubi

A well-cooked piece of karubi beef doesn’t need much to make it tasty. But the right sauce or condiment can take it to the next level. Here are some excellent pairings:

  • Yakiniku sauce – The sweet and salty Japanese barbecue sauce is purpose-made for karubi. Brush it on during grilling or serve it on the side for dipping.

  • Ponzu – The zesty citrus flavor of ponzu sauce accentuates karubi’s natural flavors.

  • Spicy mayo – For a creamy, spicy contrast, try Kewpie mayo mixed with sriracha.

  • Scallions and sesame seeds – Simple garnishes like these add texture and flavor.

  • Lemon – A squeeze of lemon brightens up the meat’s fattiness.

  • Karashi and shio – Japanese mustard and salt are perfect traditional seasonings.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your own signature sauce either. Sweet fruit-based sauces like peach or cherry work surprisingly well with karubi.

Pairing Karubi Beef With Other Dishes

Now that you know all about this amazing cut of meat, let’s talk about the best things to pair it with in a meal:

Rice and Noodles

A bowl of steamy white rice or chewy udon noodles makes the perfect base for slices of karubi. The mild carbs contrast nicely with the savory meat. Add karubi on top or mix it in.


Grilled veggies like zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and onions complement karubi’s char. A side salad or kimchi also balances the richness.

Soup or Broth

Enjoy karubi hot pot style by cooking it in a flavorful broth. Japanese sukiyaki and Korean gamjatang soups are tailor-made for thin slices of karubi beef.

Lettuce Wraps

Use large crisp lettuce leaves like romaine or iceberg to wrap up flavorful bites of karubi. The crunch makes a refreshing contrast.


A Japanese-style egg custard known as chawanmushi makes an ideal appetizer before karubi. Or top your rice bowl with a sunny-side up egg.

Mix and match karubi beef with these accompaniments for the ultimate Japanese feast. Now get grilling!

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some questions about karubi? Here are answers to some common queries:

Is karubi beef expensive?

As a highly prized cut, karubi is more expensive than regular ground beef or stew cuts. But it costs less than premium steaks like ribeye or tenderloin. Expect to pay $15-25 per pound.

Where can I buy karubi beef?

Check Japanese or Korean grocery stores and butcher shops. Some regular grocers may carry it too, either in the meat case or freezer section. You can also order online.

Can I substitute flank steak?

Flank steak is cut from a similar part of the cow. While not exactly the same, it makes an acceptable stand-in if you can’t find karubi.

What’s the best karubi beef breed?

Wagyu and Angus produce optimal marbling and rich flavor. Australian Angus is a reasonably priced option. Authentic Japanese Wagyu like Kobe will be quite expensive.

How long does karubi beef last?

Store fresh karubi tightly wrapped for 2-3 days in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer. Thawed karubi should be cooked immediately.

Let’s Fire Up the Grill for Karubi

From its Korean roots to modern Japanese cuisine, karubi beef has become a global sensation among meat lovers. With its rich marbling, succulent texture, and incredibly beefy flavor, it’s easy to see why karubi is so highly coveted.

Karubi! The king of yakiniku that everyone loves!

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