What Does it Mean to Age Beef?

November 21, 2014

What does it mean to age beef

Aging beef is the process of letting meat fibers break down into a more tender state. This also gives the meat a chance to develop a more flavorful profile.

There are two different ways to age your meat:

Dry Aging – Dry aging is the process of letting meat hang in the open air of a climate controlled cooler.

Wet Aging – Wet aging is the process of taking a cut of meat, vacuum sealing it in a plastic bag and keeping it in a refrigerator or cooler for the aging process.

Of course, dry aging, the exotic ritual we make it out to be today, is what pretty much all beef that wasn't cured or canned used to be 40 years ago. What happened? Why is properly hung beef such an oddity today if it was the standard such a short time ago? Plastic bags, unfortunately, are the answer. Basically, we figured out that if you stick a piece of meat in a vacuum-sealed bag it not only cuts the amount that is lost in water weight and trimmings but it also "ages" faster. And then the age-old Wet vs. Dry Aging Controversy began.

Okay, so what is aging and what are the differences between wet and dry aging exactly? Aging is the process during which microbes and enzymes in the meat to help break down the connective tissue, for the sake of making the meat more tender. Whether it happens in a bag or out in the air as a big swinging side of beef, that element of the process is the same

During wet aging, the plastic doesn't let the meat breath so it ages in contact with its own blood.. This sounds negative when you're talking about the flavor of a steak, but the fact that upwards of 90 percent of the beef taken home by American grocery store shoppers in plastic-wrapped foam trays is wet-aged seems to suggest that it can't be all bad.

Dry aging allows the meat to breathe, lose water, and begin to breakdown by other microbes beside those in the muscle itself. So dry aging wins, right? It's complicated: while most meat snobs prefer dry-aged beef, the American public actually prefers bagged beef according to a number of very expensive meat studies. Certainly you could chalk those results up to Americans preferring what they have become used to and choosing bagged meat over the more destinct flavor of dry-aged beef.

So as you can see both methods have their place, it depends on the cut of meat and the preference of the person eating it. But, I think we can all agree that an aged piece of meat wins every time.


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