How is Beef Aged? A Guide to the Art of Dry Aging Beef

Aging is a process that improves the tenderness and enhances the flavor of beef. It typically involves storing large cuts of beef in controlled environments for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. During aging, natural enzymatic and biochemical changes break down the meat’s tough connective tissues and concentrate its flavor. When done properly, aging transforms the beef into something uniquely tender and flavory.

There are two main methods of aging beef: wet aging and dry aging. Here is an overview of how each process works to create beautifully aged cuts of beef.

What is Wet Aging Beef?

With wet aging, large primal cuts of beef are vacuum sealed in plastic bags to remove air exposure. The beef is then stored refrigerated at temperatures around 34-38°F for a specified period of time.

During wet aging:

  • Enzymes naturally present in the meat help break down tough muscle fibers and connective tissue. This leads to increased tenderness.

  • Flavor compounds become more concentrated as the meat loses moisture, creating a richer taste.

  • The vacuum sealing prevents spoilage during the process.

Wet aged beef is typically aged for 1-5 weeks. It results in tender, flavorful beef that most people are familiar with from standard supermarket steaks. The beef loses 15-20% of its weight during wet aging.

What is Dry Aging Beef?

Dry aging involves storing large cuts of beef unpacked in a refrigerated, humidity-controlled room or chamber. A dry aged room allows air circulation while maintaining the ideal temperature, humidity and air flow.

During dry aging:

  • The meat surface dries out forming a protective crust, which prevents spoilage.

  • Moisture evaporates from the meat concentrating the flavor.

  • Natural enzymes break down connective tissue resulting in exceptional tenderness.

  • Unique flavors develop through enzymatic and bacterial processes.

Dry aged beef typically ages for 21-60 days, though some cuts age for well over 100 days. The beef can lose up to 30% of its weight during dry aging.

The Dry Aging Process Explained

Here is a more in-depth look at what happens during dry aging:

  • Beef is stored unpackaged on racks inside an aging chamber. Temperature is kept at 34-36°F and humidity ranges from 75-85%.

  • The meat surface dries out forming a hard, protective crust. This inhibits mold growth and oxidation.

  • Moisture evaporates from the meat concentrating its natural flavors.

  • Enzymes naturally present in the beef act to break down tough connective tissues and muscle fibers.

  • Beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus create lactic acid that further tenderizes the meat.

-Complex flavors develop through enzymatic and bacterial processes. Umami flavors become more pronounced.

  • Aged beef can lose up to 30% of its original weight. This weight loss is primarily water.

  • The resulting beef is incredibly tender, moist, and packed with concentrated flavors.

Dry Aged vs. Wet Aged: Comparison

Here is how dry aged beef differs from wet aged:

  • Method – Dry aged unpackaged in an aging room. Wet aged sealed in vacuum bags.

  • Typical Aging Time – 21-60+ days. 1-5 weeks.

  • Weight Loss – Up to 30% loss. 15-20% loss.

  • Flavor – More complex with pronounced umami flavors. Still concentrated but more subtle.

  • Tenderness – Tremendously tender from enzyme breakdown. Improved tenderness from aging.

  • Cost – More expensive due to greater losses, time, etc. More affordable.

While wet aging improves flavor and tenderness, dry aging takes it a step further for the ultimate eating experience. The longer time and drying process creates incredibly tender, flavorful beef worthy of its higher cost.

Dry Aged Beef Flavor

So what does dry aged beef actually taste like? During aging, enzymes and bacteria produce new complex flavors. Dry aged beef is described as having these distinctive characteristics:

  • An ultra beefy, rich “meaty” flavor from flavor concentration

  • Slightly tangy, fermented notes

  • Increased umami qualities like savory and sweet

  • Nutty, roasted aromas

  • Full, round mouthfeel

It’s the ideal balance of beefy intensity and complex nuanced flavors that make properly dry aged beef such a unique treat for any meat lover.

Things to Know About Dry Aged Beef

Here are some other key things to understand about dry aged beef:

  • It requires large primal cuts with lots of fat marbling and thick fat cap – loin and rib primals like ribeyes are ideal.

  • The drying process results in a very dark, dried crust on the meat exterior that is trimmed off before cutting steaks. Don’t eat the crust.

  • Aging for 60, 90 or 120+ days creates even more concentrated flavor.

  • Steak Cut Matters – Dry aged beef deserves to be hand cut. Look for 1 – 2 inch thick steak cuts.

  • Always cook dry aged steaks medium rare or less to prevent drying out from prolonged cooking. Eat them while hot!

  • The buttery ribeye is considered the holy grail of dry aged steaks for its rich marbling that remains lusciously moist.

Tips for Purchasing Dry Aged Beef

Because dry aging beef is costly for suppliers, you’ll mainly find it at high-end butcher shops, steak houses, and specialty grocery stores. Here are tips for buying quality dry aged beef:

  • Look at the label to see the number of days it was aged for – aim for 21+ days for optimal flavor.

  • Seek reputable suppliers dedicated to proper dry aging – many grocery steaks are shortcut “faux” aged.

  • Expect to pay $1 – $4+ more per pound versus the same steak wet aged.

  • Choose beef with ample fat marbling – dry aging won’t compensate for poor quality beef.

  • For steak, splurge for hand cut 1-2 inch thick steaks to get the most out of your investment.

Real dry aged beef is a prized indulgence. While not cheap, it delivers a transcendent eating experience worth the splurge for special occasions and gifts.

Enjoying Dry Aged Beef at Home

With some preparation, dry aged beef can shine at home:

  • Allow the thick steaks to come to room temp before cooking for even cooking.

  • Heat a cast iron skillet or grill as hot as possible. The exterior will quickly sear while the interior stays perfectly medium rare.

  • Resist poking or prodding the meat while cooking – let the sear develop undisturbed. Flip only once.

  • Sprinkle just with coarse sea salt before serving. The flavorful beef needs little adornment.

  • Let rest 5 minutes before slicing across the grain into strips for service.

Savor those sublime flavors and textures of your dry aged masterpiece!

The Final Word on Aged Beef

Aging is a time-honored process that makes beef more tender, moist and flavorful. While wet aging creates excellent, everyday-eating steaks, true dry aging transforms great cuts into the ultimate steak experience. From complex flavors to butter-knife tenderness, real dry aged beef represents the pinnacle for steak connoisseurs. Though it demands a high price tag, steak lovers agree: properly dry aged beef is worth every penny to enjoy beef at its absolute best.

What is dry aged beef? Since when is drier meat good?


How is beef aged without spoiling?

Using a dry-aging chamber, butchers and steakhouses can keep the beef free of harmful bacteria with cold, dry air circulation. Hanging the beef within the chamber, the entire surface of the meat is exposed to dry air that forms a protective crust. The lack of moisture makes it difficult for the beef to spoil.

How long is beef aged after slaughter?

Typically by 7 to 10 days, most of the advantages of aging has been achieved. There is a consumer trend for beef that has been aged longer, usually 14 to 21 days, but could be as long as 35 days. Beef that has been aged longer is often called dry-aged beef.

Is beef better fresh or aged?

The idea that fresh meat could be less appetizing than meat that’s been waiting around for weeks or even months is kind of mind-blowing, but there’s science at work here. Aging beef helps meat develop a deeper, more intense flavor. It also tenderizes the meat by breaking down the muscle fibers.

Why is dry-aged beef better?

Simply put, dry-aging improves steak in two ways. During the dry-aging process, some moisture is expelled and redistributed in the steak, enhancing the flavor and tenderizing the steaks. Dry-aging steak results in a distinctive flavor that have been described as a rich and dense beefy flavor.

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