Dry aged, Wet aged, what’s the difference? Does it really matter?
Well yes and no. But before we delve into the specifics of it all, let’s get a quick overview of what aging really means and what it does in beef.
Fun Meat Fact #1: Meat is aged by holding either carcasses or primal cuts at refrigeration temperatures for extended periods of time after slaughter and initial chill and sometimes even after packaging.
Fun Meat Fact #2: What this aging process does is improves the tenderness and flavor of meat. There are two methods for aging meat: wet aging and dry aging. A more scientific explanation of what’s going on here involves two things: First, moisture is evaporated from the muscle. And second, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which (what we learned in the Marinating blog) leads to improved tenderness.
Ever wonder why dry aged steaks cost so much more? It’s because dry aging is much more expensive and takes longer than wet aging. Fun Meat Fact #3: Meat which is dry aged is hung in a very clean, temperature and humidity controlled cooler for a period of two to four weeks. An inedible crust forms on the outside from moisture being lost and it often includes mold which must be trimmed off and discarded. Think like aging cheese, kind of the same idea. The carefully controlled environment, the time involved, and the loss of outer portions from trimming that inedible crust of the carcass make dry aging more expensive and exclusive.
In fact it is very rare outside of hotels, restaurants, and specialty shops to find retail meat that has been dry aged. We dry age our custom beef carcasses a minimum of 14 days. A lot of how long we hang the beef we kill depends on a few factors. First being how large the carcass is, a beef weighing 400 lbs. hanging will not be able to hang as long as a beef weighing 800 lbs. hanging. Another factor in how long we can let beef hang is how fat they are (or how much “cover” they have). The more fat a beef has on it, the longer it can hang because there is more to trim off. Remember that outer crust that forms? A beef with little to no fat must be trimmed way more close and will experience more loss if left to hang too long than a beef which has adequate fat (or cover). We have hung an average size carcass (750 lbs or so.) with adequate cover for over 30 days without an extreme amount of loss.
Fun Meat Fact #4: Wet aging is when meat and its own juices are vacuum packed in plastic and boxed for distribution much like most of our commercial, retail beef. Unlike dry aging, the plastic packaging does not allow loss of moisture, leaving little to no loss. Wet aging is much less costly and allows for a quicker entry to into the retail market and therefore a much longer shelf-life all of which are selling points for a retail market.
So there you have it. The basics of aging beef. So the next time you and your sweetie head to Fifth Street Steakhouse and wonder why their steaks cost so much, you will know that it is because they dry age their meat and that the process is not only time consuming, but also costly. Some goes with why your local supermarket or butcher shop doesn’t carry dry aged steaks, it simply isn’t cost effective as well as requiring the essentials needed to dry age.
Happy Friday everyone! And go eat a steak, will ya!?
For more in depth information about dry aging, check out this awesome article: HERE