The different types of dry aged beef

Many restaurants and steakhouses offer steaks with incredibly complex flavours and a tenderness that simply can’t be touched, all because of the long dry aging process that the beef undergoes. That being said, there are those who prefer the other type of aging, which is wet aged beef. If you’re wondering what the arguments are for each, read on and decide for yourself!

Why Aging?

The end goal of aging beef is the same for both techniques: tenderizing the meat. During the process of aging, enzymes and microbes act upon the beef to break down muscle tissue, which produces the desired tenderness and flavour. However, the difference lies in the method, which looks very different for dry aged and wet aged beef.

The Dry Aging Process

Dry aged beef is hung in whole sides of beef or in primal cuts in the open air at low temperatures – just below freezing – for several weeks. During this time, not only are the enzymes working on the connective tissue to soften it, but the meat is dehydrating. It slowly loses all the water present in the cut so that only the intense flavours of the meat are left. Actually, these are not the only things going on in the dry aging process. The practice promotes the growth of certain fungal species on the outside of the slab of meat that forms a sort of hard crust. Rather than spoiling the beef, the fungus actually helps the enzymes tenderize and add flavour. This crust is trimmed off when the meat is ready for cooking, so all that’s left is the exceptionally delicious and unique flavour of dry aged beef.

What’s Involved in Wet Aging?

Wet aged beef is a more recent innovation that coincided with the advances in refrigeration and plastic. Rather than hanging the beef in the open air, it was discovered that placing cuts in vacuum-packed bags produces a similar effect more quickly – around 4 to 10 days, depending on the type. Nowadays, this means that meat can be aged during transit between slaughter and sale, saving the hassle of storing it somewhere for weeks.

A Different Experience

Although you might not know it, wet aged beef is immensely more common – the meat you buy in the store has most likely been wet aged. Manufacturers choose this route because it is easier and cheaper. Some of the cost savings come from the fact that wet aged beef loses next to no moisture, but the dehydration involved in dry aging means that the piece of meat shrinks considerably – up to a third or more of its weight is lost.

 

So what is the flavour difference like? Wet aged beef retains a strong mineral or metallic taste from sitting in its own juices, and lacks a depth of flavour. Dry aged beef, on the other hand, actually gains flavour from the aging process instead of just tenderizing. It is often described as having a roasted, nutty taste, or simply an increased ‘beefiness’ because of the lack of water. You will mostly find dry aged beef in high-end steakhouses and restaurants, rather than in the meat aisle of the grocery store.

 

In the end, dry aged beef is a much more complex experience, both in preparation and in taste. However, we believe that the exceptional tenderness and eye-popping flavour is worth the hassle.

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