Dry-aged beef steak is hung in a temperature-controlled environment from a few weeks to a few months or more. However, the most common dry-aging period takes around 30 days.
Dry-aging is an exciting process. During the time when the meat is aging, many chemical changes occur, which cause the meat to lose loads of water, intensify in flavor and tenderize.
Dry-aged meat is superior in flavor and texture to fresh or wet-aged meat. It also cost quite a bit more.
In this article, you’ll learn about the aging process in a timeline from 7 to 120 days, how it affects meat’s flavor, and which cut is best for aging.
What is dry-aging?
Dry-aging involves hanging freshly slaughtered cattle in a temperature-controlled room for an extended period. Usually, meat is dry aged for 30 days; however, aging can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months or more.
During that time, many different chemical changes occur – oxidation, bacterial processes, and enzymatic breakdown that cause the meat to develop a rich flavor profile and become more tender. Meat goes through three different stages during aging.
First, the meat starts to tenderize. The meat’s naturally present enzymes break down the tougher muscle fibers and connective tissue, resulting in a tender piece of steak.
Second, the flavor intensifies. After a few weeks of dry aging, meat’s flavor intensifies. Many enzymatic and bacterial processes develop beefy, nutty, cheese-like aromas in the meat.
Third, moisture loss occurs. During the dry-aging process, meat can lose a third of its weight. As more and more moisture evaporates, flavors become more concentrated, creating a robust beefy flavor. Moisture loss occurs in the outer layer of the steak, which is trimmed before cooking dry aged steak.
Dry aging process breakdown
Let’s take a fresh steak and take a look at what processes occur when the steak is aging in a temperature-controlled environment:
Collagen begins to break down; however, the steak can’t be sold as dry-aged because it doesn’t have properties associated with dry-aged beef. The taste is still mild, and the texture is not as tender.
The meat and the fat (marbling) start to darken and shrink, losing about 10%-12% of its weight. Most of the moisture loss occurs from the front and the back of the meat. The sides are protected from moisture loss by the bone and fat.
After 30 days of aging, steak develops a rich flavor profile and tender texture. It loses about 15%-17% of its weight, and at this point, it has the true qualities of dry-aged beef. Steak aged for 30 days is most commonly requested by clients and restaurant chefs. At this point, it is a well-aged steak.
After 45 days of aging, steak loses only a few percent more of its total weight, and the fat develops new flavors. Mold with a mixture of salt begins to form on the surface of the meat.
After 90 days, the steak loses over 20% of its total weight, and the white crust gets thicker. The crust is shaved off before cooking because, at this point, it’s there to protect the meat.
After dry aging beef for 120 or more, steak has lost 35% of its original weight. It has an intense beef flavor that resembles blue cheese.
How long to dry age meat?
Beef can be dry-aged from a few weeks to 2 or more months. The longer it sits in a temperature-controlled environment, the more flavorful it’ll get. However, most people enjoy a steak aged 30-35 days. At this point, the meat has developed an excellent beefy flavor and tender texture. Beyond 35 days, steak starts to develop a funky flavor that most people find unpleasant. However, keep in mind it all comes down to an individual taste.
To sum it up in a few words, steak aged for 30 days is a sweet spot for most people. It has a rich flavor and tender texture. Beyond 45 days, it has a unique flavor that can be described as funky.
How does dry aging change the flavor and texture of the meat?
During the aging process, enzymes break down the muscle fibers and connective tissue making the meat incredibly tender. The more the beef sits in a temperature-controlled environment, the more flavors it develops. Meat aged for 30 days has a rich flavor, while steak aged for 60 days or more produces a blue cheese-like aroma which might be unpleasant to most people.
What are the right conditions for dry-aging meat?
Properly dry-aged meat requires particular temperature, humidity, and air-flow-controlled refrigerators. The temperature should be around 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too high or too low, the meat will spoil or will not undergo the dry-aging process as it should.
What are the best beef cuts for dry aging?
The best primal cuts for dry aging are those with enough fat and bone. Dry aging can be described as a destructive process. Parts of the meat exposed to the air are trimmed off after the aging process is complete, but those areas around the bone and fat are protected, meaning there’s no wastage.
Bone-in ribeye or New York strip steaks are perfect candidates for dry aging.
If you wonder if you can dry age beef at home, here’s an excellent article.
How does dry-aged meat not spoil?
Dry-aged beef doesn’t spoil because it’s held in a sterile environment where temperature, humidity, and airflow are tightly controlled to prevent unwanted bacteria growth.
Does dry-aged beef taste different?
The beef taste will change significantly depending on how much time it spends in a temperature-controlled environment. While steak aged for 30 days will have a strong beefy flavor, steak aged for 45 days will have a hint of blue cheese-like aromas.
Can I dry-age beef at home?
It’s possible to dry-age beef at home; however, it takes a lot of work. You should have a separate refrigerator with features to read and control internal temperature and humidity.
Why is dry-aged beef more expensive?
Dry-aging requires special equipment, it’s time-consuming, and there’s a lot of waste when dry aging the beef; therefore, the meat is more expensive. On average, the beef will lose about 15% of its original weight making it more costly for the consumers.
Dry-aging vs. wet-aging?
Dry aging is a process where meat is aged in a temperature-controlled environment, while wet-aging is a process when meat is aged in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. Dry-aging produces a much better flavor and texture.