Does the idea of eating old beef disgust you? Well, it shouldn’t, because it’s actually a good thing. Here’s everything you need to know about dry aging beef.

Source : George Motz

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, why do we age beef in the first place?

Aging is a common technique used to improve two major characteristics; taste and tenderness. As nasty as it sounds, the process of aging meat is essentially a decomposition process that is carefully controlled so meat doesn’t spoil.

Technically speaking, there’s a lot of methods of aging ranging from dry-aging, wet-aging, butter-aging…with varying results.

For the sake of completion, we are going to talk about, wet, dry and butter-aging.

Dry aging 

Why we go through the trouble?

Dry aging used to be what we always did, prior to refrigeration meat was always hang in an open air environment. Nowadays, we are having a resurgence in the meat community, Those who enjoy meat are starting to better understand the benefits of dry aging. People are looking for this next level of eating experience and that’s what dry aging can bring; it is all about the complexity of the flavors.

Dry-aging beef
“Dry-aging beef” by fortes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How Dry-Aging Works?

Dry aging works by exposing beef to a carefully controlled environment with specific temperature and humidity levels. In addition to an increase in tenderness, bacteria activity, enzymes oxidation and water loss tend to concentrate the flavor of the beef during this process. 

During the dry-aging process, the natural enzymes in the meat break down the muscle tissue rendering the meat more tender. Yet the real fun part is that you are allowing other environmental elements to have an impact on the meat.

Why Dry Aged Beef is So Special?

The flavor notes are likely going to be imported by the different molds and yeasts that are going to land on the meat and start populating it. Molds like Penicillium nalgiovense and Penicillium roqueforti are likely to be found.

Dry aging requires strict control over the temperature because freezing will stop all the bacterial activity, while high temperature causes spoilage. Humidity and air movement are factor key as well to get a uniform migration of the moisture out of the meat.

Collection of Dry Aged Beef at Alexander's Cupertino
“Collection of Dry Aged Beef at Alexander’s Cupertino” by Jun Seita is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why Dry-Aged Beef is Expensive?

The necessity of expensive refrigeration equipment to control the temperature and the humidity levels and the tendency of dry-aged meat to shrink and form a dark surface that needs to be trimmed away before cooking makes dry age beef expensive.

Other than the laborious and constant control over the aging meat, it is a financial risk/reward game that drives prices up high.

Dry aged beef 'EYE OF THE RIB
“Dry aged beef ‘EYE OF THE RIB'” by rhosoi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How Long To Age?

Our friends over at the artofmanliness did an amazing article on the subject. While the most common timeframe for a steak to be dry-aged is 30 days, a handful of very high-end restaurants can age up to 240 days. A steak aged this long is not for everyone since it has a very funky flavor and it’s also very expensive, so it is for someone who enjoys the intense beef flavor. For that, we recommend sticking to 30 days aged beef because it is the most commonly requested age in steak.

“Dry aging Ribeye” by The Meat Case is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Which Cuts to Age?

Typically, amply marbled steaks such as T-Bones, Porterhouses, or Bone-In Ribeye steaks are the best choices for dry aging. Bones and fat layers are the best when it comes to protecting the meat from drying out too much. For wet aging, leaner cuts such as Filet Mignon, are solid choices.

Can I Dry-Age Beef at Home?

Yes, but that requires three things: patience, space and a quality cut, if you do it well you will earn the bragging rights. How awesome is that dinner party gonna be where you tell your friends, “Like this beef? I aged it myself”?
Feel free to check this extensive guide by the folks over at Sterling Pacific Meat

Wet aging 

Wet aging is more commonly used and it simply refers to vacuum packing meat. It’s a faster process than dry-aging. It is also a lot cheaper since all you need is a vacuum-sealable bag and a vacuum-sealing machine. The enzymes have all the time in the world to tenderize the meat. Wet-aging also costs less since the meat doesn’t need to be stored or monitored. Furthermore, it doesn’t require any special humidity and temperature level control equipment.

Butter-aging

Butter-aging, however, is an exciting alternative trying to merge the benefits of both worlds: wet aging and dry aging. It aims to intensify the flavor without losing too much moisture.

After a couple of days in the refrigerator, a cut of beef is completely enveloped in unsalted butter and let to age. During this time, some of the butter’s flavor slips into the fibers, while chemical reactions slowly soften the flesh. And unlike typical dry-aging, the edges are not affected, so costs are more reasonable for the manufacturer and the consumer because none of the meat needs to be thrown away.

Which is Better?

Honestly, it boils down to personal preferences. The most notable difference between wet-aged an dry-aged meat is the intensity of the flavors. Dry-aged beef has an intense flavor, while wet-aged beef can taste slightly metallic and lacks the same depth. We recommend to try and taste each type and see which one you prefer the most.

“Grilled dry-aged beef, Carneya Antica Osteria, Tokyo” by Jun Seita is licensed under CC BY 2.0