The older the grapes, the sweeter the wine: I always thought this old saying would only apply to wine-making. This means a little aging never hurts. This is true in the culinary world and for culinary treats like cheese, wine, and meat. When processed appropriately, age enhances the flavor of food.
Fast-forward to beef. What does it mean when we say a cut of beef is dry aged? To dry-age beef basically means the meat has gone through several weeks or months of fermentation in controlled humidity, low temperature, and open-air environment.
Having been trained in the fermentation and dry aging process of meat, I’ll be unlocking the secrets of dry-aging beef. So, keep reading, and together we’ll take a deep dive into the science, process, and flavor too! I’ll also show you how to dry age beef.
Beef dry-aging removes moisture from the product and allows the lipids and tissues within the muscle to break down slowly over time. Done under humidity control, it’s a deterioration of the muscle to get something that’s more tender.
During this process, your beef goes through a flavor transformation and doesn’t get spoiled. This is because the whole process is done under low temperature but, of course, with a dry air flow. The connective tissues are tenderized, moisture loss occurs, but the natural juices are dried with the flavor left in the meat. That’s why a steak aged in dry air is currently the hottest among meat fans in the world.
When beef is aged for at least 28 days and up to 70 days, it opens up a new dimension of taste. Aging guarantees perfect meat because under the initially unsightly exterior lies a culinary treasure.
First, aging takes time, and as you know, time is money! Secondly, the beef used is usually of the highest quality. I’m talking about USDA-grade Prime and Angus beef. I bet you know how much they cost ordinarily without having undergone aging. So, there you have it. The keywords are time and quality! I must tell you, these are rare in the commercial meat-producing world.
This is why many supermarkets rarely sell it. Instead, aged steaks are only found in 5-star restaurants, experienced butcher shops, and premium steak houses that have custom-built dry aging chambers.
Freshly-slaughtered beef needs to hang out well. Otherwise, it becomes tough as leather! In addition, the long storage and the weight loss of up to 30 percent are time-consuming and tedious.
Storage, in particular, is technically complex and expensive. For example, in the aging chambers, there must be a reliable 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 60 to 80 percent.
From the meat science perspective, I get a lot of questions like, “tell me the science of dry-aging beef.” While I can describe what has happened in a piece of beef, unfortunately, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.
That’s what’s cool about meats aged in dry air. It will be DIFFERENT no matter where you go, what you do, and the meat you use.
However, during the aging process, you’re taking the meat and putting it into an open-air environment. So, the natural enzymes break down the muscle tissue, making it more tender.
If you look at a majestic aged loin or rib of beef, you will see those veins working their way through such as in blue cheese. And, yes, that is the same mold, and it does indeed have the same flavor profile as blue cheese.
The flavor notes and aromatics are imparted by the molds and yeasts that get on the piece of beef and start populating it.
So how is the dry aging process done and how do you make great dry-aged steaks? Here you go:
To begin with, it’s better to use high-quality beef of USDA grade. Talking about USDA-quality beef, USDA usually has three top grades – select, choice, and prime. So if you like a genuinely steakhouse-quality steak, go for the USDA prime meat. This has the best marbling and tenderness of any USDA grade.
After the meat has been cleaned and trimmed, next comes the dry aging process. This is done in special refrigerators, known as aging lockers or steak lockers. These lockers are conditioned to have precise humidity and temperature-controlled environment.
Butchers use hangers and racks in the refrigerator for air to flow over the meat surface, which is essential for aging. The beef is then left to age/hang for multiple weeks, usually 28 to 30 or more days.
The smell and taste of aged meat is nutty, slightly buttery, and intensely flavored, unlike the metallic taste of beef aged in a vacuum pack.
Compared to vacuum-aged meat, it comes across as an explosive taste experience with a very original meat flavor.
If the quality and marbling are right, nothing is left to be desired.
The opposite of “dry aging” is “wet aging.” The main difference is wet aging is done in a vacuum bag, unlike dry aging, which is done in open air. There’s nothing wrong with wet aging. Another thing that sets dry-aged beef apart is in the flavor. Dry aged beef has a kind of roasted and nutty flavor. Meanwhile, wet-aged beef tastes a bit metallic and doesn’t have that flavor depth of a dry-aged piece.
So, if I were you, I would choose the dry-aged any day! However, a rib-eye steak, for instance, seasoned in any of these ways tastes great when properly prepared, especially when it comes from a higher-grade beef such as a Black Angus, Nebraska Angus, or even a Wagyu. The steaks do not need any other preparation.
They say the best things take time. When eating dry-aged beef, you’ll see that it tastes better. This is because it takes a lot of time, care, and craft. A lot of good micro-organisms are involved in the process. Molds and enzymes tenderize and create new, richer flavors.
Meat doesn’t spoil during aging because it is kept cold at around 34 to 36 Fahrenheit. If you can imagine how it was possible for Ötzi the Iceman to remain intact for 5,200 years in the Alps, then you’d probably understand why aged beef never spoils. At cold temperatures, bacteria that eat food to spoilage are kept at bay.
Because the process is controlled, beef that has been dried and aged is safe. The process is done in a chamber free of harmful bacteria, in an area filled with cold, dry air.
Because of their superior tenderness and flavor, beef steaks dried in cool air have become a luxury item amongst steak lovers and gourmet food fans around the world.
When it comes to flavor, the aging time of beef is crucial. The dry-aged steak needs to be cured for at least 28 to 30 days.
That’s all there is to know about beef aging. You will now be able to make the right choice when you see it at the butcher’s shop.