The two types of meat aging methods associated with beef are wet and dry. Both methods yield the same end goal which is to make meat more tender, however, the end result is significantly different. In this post I shed light as to the differences and why one is more expensive than the other, how flavor differs, and why one is marketed more than the other.
All scientific jargon aside, both wet and dry aging, in layman’s terms is…controlled rotting. Rotting you say?!?! Yes!!! A very naturally occurring process… in a positive way.
Most beef sold has typically been wet aged and is really not marketed as much as dry. Wet age is just not as exciting and there is not all that much to it. There is simply nothing sexy about vacuum sealed meat resting in refrigerated temperatures. Bring on the beefcake with dry aging and you now have yourself a sexy hunk of meat!
To simplify some of the basics…
- A piece of meat (most common are whole boneless roasts or individual steak cuts) is vacuum sealed in a bag and kept free from air.
- Kept at 35 – 40 degrees for upwards of 14 days.
- At 14 days tenderizing has reached its peak.
- There is a natural enzymatic softening (tenderizing) of the muscle fibers that takes place, thus making the fresh meat more tender.
- There is minimal, if any, noticeable flavor difference/change.
- There isn’t much, if any loss from moisture or trimming.
- Not much marketing goes into this, as this is how the majority of consumer and wholesale beef is packaged, stored and handled.
- Wet aging is much less expensive to produce (less loss, less time, easier to control).
- Dry aging is applied to larger cuts such as full carcasses or sides of beef, full primal cuts or large whole bone in or boneless roasts. Often times rib roasts (rib-eye steaks), short loins (where t-bones and porterhouse are cut from) and strip loins (KC and NY strip steaks).
- The meat hangs in a temperature controlled room of about 38 degrees F for upwards of 35 days.
- The RH (relative humidity) is between 50 – 60%
- The exterior of the meat surfaces is exposed to air and adequate air flow, no two pieces of meat touch. This is important as if two surfaces touch it creates a moisture pocket which would contribute to really bad bacterial growth.
- What takes place, as in wet aging process, is enzymatic muscular fiber breakdown, thus tenderizing the meat.
- There is a loss of moisture, and with this loss along with the “controlled rotting” a significant deepening of flavors takes place. Beefy, meaty, rich and deep notes takes hold.
- Lastly before the meat is sold to you the consumer, the exterior that has dried (rotted) gets trimmed off as it is too pungent as well not good nor pleasant to eat. This excess trimming and loss also contributes to the much higher cost of the dry aged.
- There is upwards of 21% loss from the original weight of the beef cut that is dry aged.
- A concentration of flavors due to the moisture loss in the dry aging process is what gives it it’s deep, rich and beefy flavor.
Hopefully this simplifies aged beef.
There are many restaurants that practice dry aging in wooden rooms, Himalayan pink salt rock rooms, even so much as airport restaurants and even now some Whole Foods locations.