You’ve probably visited a classy steakhouse where the menu included dry-aged steaks. However, if you’re anything like me, you probably passed on them because: 1) dry-aged beef is a little more expensive; and 2) you weren’t exactly sure what it meant for a steak to be “dry-aged” in the first place.
After today, you’ll know what a steak goes through during the dry-aging process (and why an aged steak costs more).
Effect of aging on beef flavor and tenderness
Holding a carcass or large cuts of beef at cold temperatures to allow “natural processes” to enhance flavor and tenderness is what is meant by “aging” or “ripening” the meat.
After slaughter, the muscle in beef and other meat animals goes through gradual changes that affect how tender the cooked product is. First, muscle goes into rigor, a shortening and stiffening process. Typically, rigor lasts from a few hours to one or two days. If cooked during this time, the meat will be the least tender. Following the rigor process, muscle goes through changes that gradually increase tenderness.
Chemical breakdown of specific muscle and fat components occurs while muscle is going through tenderness-related changes, giving food a stronger flavor and aroma. Most consumers generally find these flavor and aroma changes to be appealing. But during aging, unfavorable tastes and smells can emerge primarily as a result of microbial growth, rancidity of the fat, and adsorption of foul odors if they are present in the chill room.
Successfully aging beef requires careful attention to the following factors: temperature, relative humidity, airflow, and overall cleanliness of the aging room. The aging room’s temperature should be kept between 34 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, the relative humidity should be between 85 and 90 percent, and the airflow at the surface of the product should be between 15 and 20 linear feet per minute.
The aging room should always be spotless and smell-free. The aging room’s walls and floors should be thoroughly cleaned with an alkaline cleaning solution, and a sanitizer should be applied once a week, or more frequently if necessary. Because it contaminates the air, sawdust shouldn’t be used on floors.
Because the odor produced by such items will be absorbed by the meat, it is not recommended to store cured and smoked meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits, or shipping cartons in the aging room. The aging room’s walls, floors, and ceiling should all be kept as dry as possible, aside from when cleaning is being done.
In order to allow for complete air circulation around the product, carcasses and wholesale cuts should be properly spaced on trolleys or hooks.
Problems associated with aging
Because beef carcasses and wholesale cuts are quite perishable, a number of issues or circumstances may cause the product to spoil or become unacceptably bad during the aging process. One or more of the following factors is usually to blame for beef spoilage, off flavors, and odors:
- Improper chilling of the carcass. Within 24 hours of slaughter, the internal temperature of the round and other thick parts should be lowered to 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Failure to do so may result in bone sour.
- The carcass will absorb the odor if it is chilled and aged in a chill room with an unpleasant odor. The most prevalent odor comes from overgrowth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds on the walls and floor of the meat and chill rooms. Additionally, keeping any other odor-producing items in the space will make the issue worse.
- Poor sanitation during slaughter, chilling and processing. This contamination with microorganisms causes off-odors, off-flavors and spoilage.
- Excessive aging will result in an accumulation of microorganisms. Microorganisms produce an unpleasant odor in addition to causing a surface on a carcass or cut to appear slimy when they are present in large numbers. The moist, lean surfaces of the carcass, such as the neck, flank, and round, are the most likely places for microorganisms to grow. If these areas of microbial growth are not completely removed and thrown away during processing, the finished product, particularly the ground beef, will have an unfavorable flavor and odor.
- Shrinkage will occur during the aging period. The total weight loss is greater the older the object is, and the need for trimming lean and fat surfaces that have overdried or have visible microbial growth is greater the older the object is.
- An excessive amount of shrinkage, surface drying, and discoloration will occur as underfinished carcasses age. Dried and discolored surface areas should be trimmed and discarded. This trimming can amount to a considerable loss in product.
Practically speaking, by the end of seven to ten days at 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, the majority of the benefits of aging well-finished beef will have been realized. The fat cover on well-finished beef minimizes drying and discoloration. A carcass should typically be Good, Choice, or Prime grade. The recommended maximum age for carcasses with little to no fat cover is three to five days.
Aging in vacuum packages
Ageing beef in vacuum bags has become popular with the introduction of “boxed beef” and more centralized processing of beef into primal cuts by packers. Beef can be successfully aged in a vacuum bag. However, a crucial safety measure must be followed to make sure the bag’s vacuum has not been lost. Loss of vacuum will result in air being present in the bag enclosing the meat, where aerobic microorganisms will grow and quickly deteriorate the meat.
The aging of beef requires refrigerated storage space. It is costly to provide and maintain this space. As a result, it is typically in the processor’s best interest to move products through the facility as quickly as possible. It is expensive to keep beef for more than seven to ten days.
Consumers who may have beef custom processed should be aware that aging, especially excessive aging, causes significant shrinkage and trim loss. This means considerable loss of otherwise edible product.
Certain precautions should be taken to ensure customer satisfaction when processing aged beef quarters or wholesale cuts into retail cuts or for home freezer. Dried or discolored surface areas should be carefully trimmed off. Additionally, any surface areas where microorganism growth can be detected should be carefully trimmed off as shown by the development of slime or an unpleasant odor. All of these trimmings should be placed in the inedible fat and bone container rather than being combined with the trimmings for ground beef.
Aging cannot always address issues with beef tenderness, which must be understood by both processors and consumers. By pulverizing into ground beef, less tender cuts like shank, neck, and plate cuts can be made to be acceptable tender. The right cooking method can improve tenderness more than aging can. As a result, during processing, beef cuts should be accurately identified and labeled, and the appropriate cooking method should be used for each cut.
Recommendations for Aging Beef
To ask questions or leave comments about this publication, use our feedback form.
How long should you dry age a steak? 7 RIBEYES go head to head
How long is grocery store beef aged?
Every beef item in the supermarket is at least seven to ten days old. Without at least this much time, meat has a distinctly bland and metallic flavor. Dry-aged steaks, when done properly, produce an indescribable flavor.
How is beef aged without spoiling?
When aging beef, the meat must be kept in a dry-aging chamber with a special air flow, temperature, and humidity levels. The beef can be aged in one of these chambers for seven to twenty-one or even up to 120 days without going bad during that time.
How long can beef be aged?
There are steaks available that have been dry-aged for seven to 120 days. The most typical dry-aging period for a steak is 30 days. Because you age the meat in environments that tightly regulate the levels of moisture and bacteria, the meat doesn’t go bad during this time.
How long is beef aged before sale?
The majority of the beef sold in retail cuts at supermarkets is aged between 5 and 7 days, which is referred to as moderately aged beef. For some restaurants, beef is aged for 14 to 21 days in order to achieve the robust aged beef flavor.