You've probably heard the term "dry-aged" beef before, but how is beef aged? Dry-aged meat and wet-aged meat are both delicious cuts of steak, but they have very different flavor profiles. To help you get the best flavor out of your meat, we will explore Dry-Aged vs. Wet-Aged Beef. It helps to understand how these two processes affect your experience with each type of steak, so you get the best value for your money.
We’re going to break down what makes wet-aged and dry-aged beef different so that next time you purchase a pricey cut of meat from your favorite butcher or specialty food market, you’ll have all the information necessary to make an informed decision about which product is best for your needs.
Getting the Best Flavor Out of Your Meat: The Aging Process
The aging process of beef brings intense flavor and richer tenderness that is more enjoyable. Aging is when muscle fibers are broken down into shorter strands making them more tender and distinct.
There are two types of aging: dry-aged and wet-aged. Wet-aged beef is usually ready to eat after just 10-14 days, whereas dry-aging takes 30 days or longer. Dry aging yields a more potent, nutty, roasted flavor with a more intense taste. The main differences between these two options are the length of time they take to prepare and how much moisture they retain in their flesh. Wet-aged beef won't be as bold but is still delicious in flavor and texture and more in line with most packaged meat available.
The aging process has been around for thousands of years, long before technology brought refrigeration and other practices that make it more accessible. In both dry and wet aging processes, the natural enzymes break down the tissue, naturally tenderizing the beef over time.
Getting the Best Flavor Out of Your Meat: Dry-Aging
Superior quality beef is made even better by the process of dry-aging, which has been practiced for thousands of years. It was a primary method to age meat until relatively recently and derived from hanging whole sides of beef or primal cuts in the open air just above freezing for several weeks.
As the days pass, the meat is slowly dehydrated while the enzymes work on the muscle tissues. The resulting beef is tender and intense but smaller due to the loss of moisture and shrinkage of the aging process. Since the volume of meat is decreased over thirty or more days, dry-aged beef is much more expensive per pound. The flavor and essence of the flesh are more concentrated in physical volume and flavor.
Getting the Best Flavor Out of Your Meat: Wet-Aging
In recent years, wet-aging beef has become a popular means of increasing profits by bypassing the need for large aging chambers. After slaughter, meat is cut and portioned before being vacuum-sealed in plastic bags to age along its journey from farm to fork.
During transport and distribution, the natural enzymes break down the tissues, tenderizing and producing increased flavor. Since the meat is vacuum-sealed rather than aging in the open air, there is virtually no shrinkage in volume from moisture loss. Therefore, wet-aging produces higher yields and lower prices per pound.
The difference between wet and dry-aged meat can be found in the flavor. Dry-aged cuts are known for their more intense, beefy taste that is often better suited to higher quality steaks such as ribeyes or porterhouses. On the other hand, experts agree that some leaner and thinner cuts benefit from wet-aging, or they will dry out without the protective layer of fat and bone.
So, what is the best way to get the most flavor out of your beef?
Both dry-aging and wet-aging beef are common, and neither practice is terrible, but there is a consensus that dry-aged meat tastes better and yields a more refined experience. It tends to be a more expensive product because of the time involved and the volume lost through the process, making it reserved for specialty butcher shops and steak houses.
Since wet-aged meat is more accessible and familiar, some would argue it offers the preferred taste that most people recognize and can afford. Either way, the aging process helps yield a much more palatable and enjoyable product at the restaurant or from your own grill.