The time honored dry aging process has long been considered the best among seasoned steak connoisseurs. Dry aging was big in the 50’s and 60’s, and then the market moved to less-costly boxed beef and vacuum packages. In the 80’s, dry aging regained popularity, but it is only available through niche and upscale markets.
Even though dry aging is more expensive due to storage time, refrigerator space, and labor, beef producers have never strayed from the taste and tenderness of dry-aged beef for their families.
Quality dry aging makes beef not only more tender, but concentrates the beef flavor and produces meat that is superb in taste and texture. It’s been decades since butchers first discovered that beef carcasses, left hanging for 14 to 28 days, produced beef cuts that were more tender and palatable as natural enzymes in the meat broke down proteins and connective tissue in the muscle. Personal preference for the aged beef flavor strongly dictates how long beef should be aged.
A distinct dry age beef flavor is evident after 7 days of aging with a majority of the tenderizing activity and enhancement of beef flavor occurring in the first 14 days. During the process of dry aging meat mellows, and the rich, beefy taste is accentuated. Many describe dry aged beef flavor as rich and nutty, tender, and “beefier” than non-aged beef. Chefs and other food enthusiasts often prefer its flavor intensity and tenderness. For most consumers, aging beef for 14 days will result in a tender product, desirable flavor and modest weight loss of the carcass.
Regardless of aging time, the aging process needs to be performed under the careful supervision of a professional to be flavorful and safe, and should not be tried at home.
While dry aging is the method preferred by beef lovers, wet aging is the predominant method of aging used in the food service and retail markets today. Less expensive and distribution-friendly boxed beef took advantage of wet aging technologies and displaced dry aging except in a few niche markets. Beef that is wet aged is sealed with its juices in a vacuum package, stored under controlled temperatures and approved safety standards in a professional refrigerator to tenderize the meat and prevent moisture loss. Wet aging does little to increase beef flavor intensity.