We get a lot of questions about aged meat — why do we age meat? Is aging the same thing as dry aging? Is there such a thing as wet aging? And so on.
So let us answer some of your questions re why we age meat, specifically beef, and if you have more, just ask us.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
We’re a whole animal butchery. That means we get in whole animals and cut them up. We don’t get boxed parts already cut up. Steers are massive, up to 1,500 pounds. After slaughter, they hang at our slaughter house for 7 days, then get cut into four primal pieces per side (eight total per animal) before we bring them into the shop. The primals are:
1. arm chucks (shoulders/arms)
3. loins (midsection besides the ribs)
After that initial week of hanging at the slaughterhouse, we continue to dry-age loins and ribs up to twenty-eight days and legs for a week. We also offer 45, 60, 90, and 120 day aged. Read the labels when you’re shopping so you know what you’re getting. A 28 day aged steak has quite a different flavor than, say, a 120 day aged one.
WHAT IS DRY AGING?
Dry aging is one of those buzzwords that makes everyone excited. In laymen’s terms it’s “controlled rot.” Sounds disgusting, but what it does to the muscle — softening it and concentrating the flavor — is anything but. A lot of the foods people love best are fermented in some form or another. Think of pickles, wine, cheese. Why not beef?
Only around 25 percent of an animal is dry aged for a full month. These primals line our coolers in various states of decomposition, each covered in a fine, downy blanket of mold. This bacteria — similar to that which makes cheese so delicious or penicillin so powerful — is trimmed off before the steak is sold, leaving only its telltale musky, earthy taste.
WHY IS DRY-AGED BEEF SO EXPENSIVE?
The reason dry-aged beef costs more is that as you trim off the rot, you lose meat you’d otherwise sell. Up to 25 percent of each of these primals ends up in the trash. That’s money out of the butcher’s pocket.
CAN I DRY AGE AT HOME?
No! As we wrote in The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, not unless you want to waste money and wind up with a tacky, moldy, smelly, and dangerous mess. Dry aging is something best left to the professionals with dry-aging coolers. We have constant temperatures, the correct humidity, and circulating air. If you try to DIY your ribeye at home, keep in mind that every time you open your fridge — even quickly for a beer — you’re raising the temperature of your cooler. You have to have a cold, dark place that’s visited infrequently and huge cuts of beef to make this work.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS WET AGING?
Conventional beef producers (i.e. not the local farmers we work with) do “wet age” in vacuum-sealed plastic bags. The meat sits in pools of its own blood which does cause the muscle to break down and become softer, but it does so without the umami flavor that dry aging imparts. Meat can sit in these bags for weeks or even months without spoiling. It won’t taste the same way when cooked for a whole host of reasons, including that dry aging reduces the moisture content of the muscle. This makes it tender and juicy when cooked, and the surface forms a great crust.
DOES DRY-AGED BEEF NEED TO BE COOKED DIFFERENTLY?
Yes. The older it gets, the more dense it becomes, the stronger the beef taste, the dryer it is. When you get that dry of a steak, Josh Applestone says it’s easier to baste in butter and chicken stock. You want it to absorb moisture back in. So for a 90-day, don’t sear it as much as you would when you make a perfect steak. Use stock and butter and baste it in the oven slow and low for a little bit longer.
Any further questions? Get in touch.