If you’ve heard of “dry-aged beef,” you probably think of a pricey item on a steakhouse menu. Unfortunately, it’s not as cut and dry as that; dry-aged steaks taste different, but whether they’re worth the hefty price tag depends on your taste buds. Dry-aged steaks are always more expensive than the other steaks, so it stands to reason they must taste better, right?
What is dry aging?
For lack of a better term, dry-aging is essentially a controlled decay process, according to Katie Flannery, butcher and COO at Flannery Beef. She explains, “You’re exposing the subprimals to oxygen, allowing the natural enzymes in the meat to work.” “They’re aerobic bacteria, so they need oxygen to survive. They come to life and begin dissolving the molecules of meat. This ultimately modifies the cut’s flavor and texture.
It literally looks like a room full of moldy corpses when something is dry aging. In the dry-aging process, meat is hung in a humidity-controlled environment so that all of its sides are exposed and there is free airflow all around the cut. According to Chris Pandel, executive chef at Swift and Sons in Chicago, “there is also the good mold that finds its way onto steaks, which will slowly start to break down and increase the amount of evaporation.” “You’re puling moisture from the meats over time. As a result, the mold will live longer and spread. Similar to the mold on blue cheese, this mold is good and not bad. ”.
Naturally, before that beef slab reaches your plate, all of the mold will be removed, leaving only “tenderized, funky, delicious meat,” according to Pandel. He claims that the flavor of dry-aged meat has a nuttiness to it that wet-aged steaks lack. Likewise, it’ll be more tender and have a different mouthfeel.
How does dry-aging change the taste and texture of meat?
Moisture loss is one aspect that changes the flavor of dry-aged meat. “What that does is essentially concentrate the remainder of the tissue,” says Harold McGee, food scientist and author of Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. “Meat is about 75 percent water. If you lose a few percent to evaporation … what’s left will be more concentrated, so the flavor will be more concentrated.”
Flannery compares the procedure to reducing a stock to a demi-glace for those who are familiar with the kitchen. “You have that pot on your stovetop. The flavor of the liquid becomes more and more concentrated as more moisture evaporates. As water evaporates from beef, the natural beef flavor intensifies, she explains.
But chemical changes also affect the flavor. According to Joe Regenstein, professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “some of the flavor compounds and other molecules in the meat undergo chemical change during the aging period, which will increase some flavor components while reducing others.”
The proteins that allow muscles to contract and the molecules that fuel this process, such as glycogen, DNA, and RNA, are among the many components that make up muscle cells. According to McGee, the process of dry-aging results in the fragmentation of these large, flavorless molecules into smaller, more flavorful parts.
All of those molecules are fairly large, and when the enzyme activity breaks them down, it produces flavorful fragments that are more potent than the original large molecules, he claims. “Some proteins get broken down into amino acids. They can be slightly bitter and savory, like in MSG, and the DNA/RNA material can break down into other savory molecules that heighten the flavor of MSG. And glycogen broken into sugars which are sweet. ”.
Dry aging transforms the texture of meat as well. Because of its intricate internal structure, meat can be challenging to bite through. The teeth can now more easily cut through the meat because some of these proteins have been broken down, according to Regenstein.
What are the best cuts of dry-aged meats?
Whole primals are dry-aged as opposed to individual steaks, but a good protective layer of bone or fat is necessary to make a good candidate for dry-aging. Less surface area will need to be removed later as a result. “Filets tend not to age because they are not protected by bone or fat, according to Flannery. Because every surface of the meat that is exposed to air will degrade more quickly than the interior, dry-aging is wasteful. Bone-in New York strip or ribeye are excellent candidates for dry-aging, according to Pandel
What’s the ideal time to dry-age meat?
Individual preference ultimately determines the ideal time for dry-aging meat. The ideal period for Flannery is between 30 and 35 days. “For restaurant customers, we go 18 to 20 days, but we go 35 days for retail customers,” she explains. “That’s because in the restaurant business, a diner who isn’t familiar with dry-aged beef might think something is off at first. ”.
Pandel claims that he enjoys meat that has been aged for about 45 days. He says, “You can tell it’s aged, but it’s not unpleasant.” “We’ve gone further. In running a steakhouse it’s personal preference. Some people find it to be very funky, while others find it to be too gnarly. ”.
Additionally, the flavor will become funkier as you continue. “Dry-aged meat does have a unique smell and flavor. Funky is a good way to describe it,” she says. “It’s a more rich flavor up until the 30-day point. Going beyond that and really far out, like 60 to 90 days, causes it to take on a strong blue cheese funk. It will smell remarkably like blue cheese. ”.
Why Is Dry-Aged Meat More Expensive?
A dry-aged descriptor carries a higher price, but it’s not just for the fancy name. According to Flannery, “there is a response to higher prices without fully understanding why dry-aged meat is more expensive.” “We’re not adding another 50% to the price just because we want to,” It’s a more costly product to produce. ”.
According to Flannery, the weight of the primal can be reduced by up to 50% by removing the moldy parts and letting the moisture evaporate. This implies that if your butcher purchased 10 pounds of meat, she may only have five pounds left to sell after the meat has aged, effectively costing her twice as much.
On rare occasions, a piece of meat may also be described as “wet-aged.” Meat that has been aged in a plastic bag that has been vacuum-sealed is known as wet-aging. The meat is kept for weeks or months in a plastic bag that stops evaporation from happening, so there isn’t the same loss of water and flavor concentration, according to McGee.
“I’ll just say it: Wet-aging is bullshit. It basically involves adding the word “aging” to a product without suffering the severe loss associated with dry-aging, according to Flannery. “Because dry-aging so expensive is one reason people push wet-aging. There’s no trim loss and no moisture loss. But you have that cool cache of it being aged. ”.
Wet-aging won’t produce a steak with the same mouthfeel or nutty flavor as a dry-aged steak. “You can’t fake dry-aged. You can’t condense time. It’s a really unique product,” Flannery says.
Dry aging at home
However, they make a very compelling case when it comes to flavor and even safety. Most professionals will advise you not to dry age at home, but what else would professionals say? Dry aging is a controlled fermentation that René Redzepi and David Zilber of Noma demonstrated can be performed at home with the proper safety measures and tools. People often have trouble dry-aging steak because they are unaware that their home refrigerator doesn’t actually function for a few different reasons. You desire a dry-aging refrigerator with a temperature and air flow that are more consistent than what your home fridge provides. Additionally, you shouldn’t keep anything else in the refrigerator because the steak will eventually start absorbing the flavors of the other foods in the old icebox. Because of what it has absorbed in the refrigerator, the steak will begin to have a muddled, stale flavor when it actually has time to go through the enzymatic reaction that makes dry-aged steak so delicious. That doesn’t mean you can’t dry age at home. The solution is to purchase a special dry-aging refrigerator that will solve all of the aforementioned problems. And rather than purchasing individual cuts, purchase a large slab so that you can trim the meat before slicing it into steaks. However, you could always order beef that has already been aged from a supplier online to save time.
Top 5 Dry Age Questions
Is dry aged beef worth it?
Even though dry aged beef has a higher price tag, the flavor and texture are unmistakably superior to those of wet aged beef. The benefits far outweigh the costs.
Is dry aged beef still juicy?
Although beef cut for dry aging begins much thicker than wet aged meat, it will lose a significant amount of mass as it ages. In the end, they both produce a fantastic steak that is tender and juicy.
Why does dry aged taste so good?
The meat is also reduced in size and darkened in color as a result of the dry-aging process, which also removes moisture. The meat’s flavor is concentrated as it loses water, making it taste more beefy and nutty.