So at your local butcher or when you’ve got your meat delivery in, you may have seen labels that say the beef has been aged for 14, 28, 45, or even 120 days. Or you may have heard someone talk about eating dry-aged beef. But what exactly does dry-aging beef mean, and how does that impact the quality or flavor of the beef?
In this article, we’ll break down exactly what the process of aging beef is, answer the question of why age beef, and the two different ways it can be done. Let’s take a look:
You may be wondering, what is dry-aged beef and how do you age beef? Essentially the process of dry-aging beef is “controlled rot”. That may sound less than appetizing, but it is entirely safe and the effect it has on the beef is delicious.
During the aging process, large primal cuts of beef hang in a temperature and humidity-controlled room. In this, the cuts are exposed to unimpeded airflow on all sides. As the beef is dry aging, a fine, fluffy blanket of “good” mold covers parts of the exterior of the meat. This is because the meat is exposed to oxygen, causing oxidation to occur, which activates the enzymes in the meat. This mold bacteria that form is similar to what ages blue cheese to a nice savory flavor.
During the aging process, the moisture content of the muscle is significantly reduced through evaporation and the fiber and molecular bonds of the meat are broken down. Some of these molecular bonds are broken down into smaller, more flavorful fragments. For example, some proteins will get broken down into amino acids and some glycogen will get broken down into sugar. This process will also actually result in more tender meat when it is cooked (see below) because the internal structure has been broken down more.
Then, when the meat is done aging before it is sold this mold layer is trimmed off. Revealing the darker, perfectly aged meat. This meat is then cut into smaller pieces and sold. For example, bone-in New York strip and ribeye are two of the most common cuts of dry-aged beef.
Timeframes of dry-aging beef range from 7 all the way up to 120 days. Many times, the number of days the beef is aged depends on the type of cut it is. Many beef experts say that the sweet spot in regards to flavor for aged beef is 30-35 days. Past that and the meat gets significantly funkier in taste and smell, similar to blue cheese.
Source: The Daily Meal
Before any aging, meat is about 75% water. As the mold does its magic it draws the moisture out and some of the moisture content is then evaporated from the meat. During this, it is actually tenderizing the meat and concentrating the flavor. The process of flavor enhancement in aging beef has been compared to reducing stock to a demi-glaze for cooking.
So, aging beef enhances the meat’s flavor and imparts into it an even richer, robust taste that is packed with umami. Some people also describe the taste as having a slight nuttiness to it.
Even though the taste is unmatched, keep in mind, aged beef will be more expensive than fresh beef. It’s not because it simply tastes better. This is mainly because, as the rot is trimmed off before selling, you lose meat that would otherwise be sold if it was being trimmed fresh. 25% to 50% of each primal cut is lost during the aging process, so the butcher or meat supplier has to make up for that and cover the cost of production for aging beef.
You may have also heard the term “wet-aged” and are wondering what is wet aging compared to dry-aging beef. This process of aging meat is often done to try and get the same type of results in flavor enhancement, in less time, and without losing a percentage of the meat as you would in dry aging.
In wet aging, the meat is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and sits in its own juices for several weeks or longer. This does tenderize the meat but it prevents any evaporation from happening. So, you don’t get the same kind of flavor concentration as dry aging. Wet-aged meat will not have the level of richness or nuttiness in the taste or the same mouthfeel as dry-aged meat.
While both have an effect on the tenderness of the meat, wet-aging will not have any significant effect on enhancing flavor like dry-aging does.
So, if you have a choice between dry-aged and wet-aged beef and want a fantastic tasting, tender cut, go for the dry-aged.
Source: Serious Eats
Let’s say you’ve picked up or ordered some dry-aged steaks and are ready to cook them at home. How you cook dry-aged beef will be a little bit different and require extra care not to burn the meat. As you know by now, the longer the steak has aged the dryer and more dense it is when you get it. So, you can’t just throw it on the grill or sear it like you would a fresher cut unless you want a burnt chunk of meat.
To cook a perfect steak that has been dry-aged, you will be searing for less time and cooking over indirect heat longer until you reach the desired temperature. This can be done on the grill using a two-zone method or in a cast-iron/non-stick skillet. Oftentimes, basting the steak with butter while cooking it will help it absorb some more moisture back in and remain extremely tender.
Check out this recipe from Shipley Farms on how to cook a dry-aged ribeye steak in a cast-iron skillet.
Now that you know exactly what dry-aging beef is and why it’s done, you can see how every bite of a dry-aged steak will be rich, tender, and bursting with flavor. If you haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet, get yourself some dry-aged beef today and cook a cut of beef that will have your mouth-watering.
Did you learn something new today about aging beef? Have you already tried dry-aged beef and have a favorite cut? Leave a comment below and let us know. We want to hear from you!
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