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How Wagyu beef makes The Wilder’s Iowa Gold burger special


The Wilder’s Iowa Gold burger is a product of time management and collaboration.

Almost a year ago, Chef Mike Bolin started making a great burger. He contacted local farmer Sarah Bailey of Jiyu Wagyu to make this happen.

The Iowa Beef Industry Council has been hosting the best burger competition for the past 15 years. While JJ’s Tavern and Grill in Ankeny led the charge for the 2024 competition,

The Wilder at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City was chosen as one of Iowa’s 10 best.

A complicated process created a great burger

The Iowa Gold burger took four months to make, Wilder pastry chef Bradley Kastantin said.

The path to the award-winning meal is painstaking, from sourcing high-quality local meat to the precise preparation before cooking.

“From the proofing process to the moment it comes through the back doors, the moment we prepare it to get it in the skillet, to put it on the plate and sit it on the table,” Kastantin said. “So much love, care and detail goes into every last second of that particular nine ounces of beef that it is noticeable,”

While the burger may seem simple at first glance, this is intentional, and the quality of the ingredients makes it stand out.

The Iowa Gold burger is made with nine ounces of Jiyū Wagyu beef, topped with Gruyère cheese, caramelized onions and grain mustard aioli. Its richness and tenderness often fascinate guests, with many calling it the best they have ever had.

The Wagyu beef comes from a nearby farm.

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Tapping into an expert in beef

Bailey approaches her Wagyu beef farm the same way the chefs at The Wilder prepare their burgers – with precision and patience.

Bailey, who has been raising cows for more than 40 years, initially started with show cows, which are not known for their meat.

In 2006 she switched to Wagyu.

Wagyu beef comes from a Japanese horned breed of cattle. Due to their physical endurance, they were originally draft animals used in agriculture. They eventually became known for their highly marbled cut and were bred for meat as early as 35,000 years ago in Japan.

The first Wagyu came to the US in 1972, but Bailey didn’t breed her first Waygu until 2006. Her goal was simple: she didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, but embraced it.

“The Japanese have been doing this for a long time. I think one of the problems that people have in the United States is that when they raise their Wagyu, they try to find ways to make it better. How do you make what they do ?” better,” Bailey said. “I paid attention. It’s a work of art.”

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Now, 18 years after strictly raising Wagyu, Bailey and her farm, Jiyū American Wagyu, which translates to “Freedom” in English, have won many awards.

She was named the 2023 grand champion of the Triple Crown Steak Challenge, an event hosted by Auburn University aimed at assessing the quality of beef carcasses, particularly those from Wagyu and Wagyu-influenced cattle. The Jiyū-American Wagyu won the F1 category, for a half Wagyu and half Angus cow.

“The competition is looking at 14 different features,” Bailey said. “The only tests that are subjective are the taste test and the cooking.”

That award-winning cow is the basis of Wilder’s Iowa Gold burger.

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Simplicity is the best

Wilder’s philosophy mirrors Bailey’s approach to Wagyu farming: they don’t exaggerate anything. Instead, they focus on the essence of the ingredients (meat, cheese, onions, mustard aioli) and use only the best quality.

“It’s so satisfying, and I know I sound biased because I work here, but the first time I had it I went into a little bit of a buzz,” Kastantin said.

Bailey adds, “Wagyu is really at its best when it’s not overdone.”

The Wilder is located at 210 S Dubuque St., Iowa City, in the Graduate Hotel. It is open from Sunday to Wednesday from 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM, on Thursday from 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM and on Friday and Saturday from 4:00 PM to 12:00 AM.

Jiyū American Wagyu is located at 5224 280th St NE., Iowa City and is open for meat pickup by appointment.

Jessica Rish is an entertainment, food and business reporter for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. She can be reached at [email protected] or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @rishjessica_