The Way Beef Used To Taste: Dry-Aging
A few weeks ago, a customer affectionately described her Honest Beef cuts as tasting "the way beef used to taste." I loved hearing that.
To be fair, the overall quality of U.S. beef has drastically increased over the decades, but still - I knew what she meant, and I attribute it to the fact that every Honest Beef cut is dry-aged.
Dry-aging is a term that you've probably heard, and may even associate with a high-quality product, but may be hard-pressed to describe. And truth be told, why would you know what it is? So few meat purveyors take the time to dry-age their product, that it is no longer easy to come by.
What is dry-aging?
Let's allow a Meat Scientist explain this. Below is an excerpt taken from an Executive Summary on the Dry-Aging of Beef by Dr. Jeff Savell, Ph.D. at Texas A&M University:
"Dry aging beef to enhance its flavor and tenderness is used by a very small number of meat purveyors for upscale hotels and restaurants and by an even smaller number of retailers for the gourmet market. Dry aging is a process whereby beef carcasses, primals, and/or subprimals are stored – without protective packaging – at refrigeration temperatures for one to five weeks to allow the natural enzymatic and biochemical processes that result in improved tenderness and the development of the unique flavor that can only be described as 'dry-aged beef.'"
In one sentence: dry-aging is letting beef cure in a climate-controlled chamber with a temperature between 32 - 39° F and relative humidity at approximately 80% for 7-35+ days. During these days is when all the magic happens...it gets more tender, more flavorful, and even more juicy, as one study found. This is when beef begins to "taste like it used to."
Only a small number of meat purveyors dry-age beef; what do the others do?
We call dry-aging 'dry' because its alternative is wet-aging, or vacuum-sealing cuts shortly after harvest and butchering, and letting them soak in their own juices. According to Savell, this method of aging is relatively recent; vacuum packaging and boxed beef (beef sold to distributors and food service by boxes of the same cut from different animals, instead of nose-to-tail), was only developed in the 1960s. Prior to that, if beef were to be aged, dry-aging would have been the only option. By the 1980s, over 90% of beef sold in the U.S. was vacuum-sealed and wet-aged.
Dry-aged Beef (left) vs. wet-aged beef (right). Photo courtesy of Davey B. Griffin, Ph.D.
Why can't all beef be dry-aged?
In short, because it takes more time and causes poundage loss via the water in the dehydration process, thus, it's more expensive. Wet-aging prevents water loss, so large packers and retailers can sell more total pounds, and profits come a little easier in an industry where profits come by pennies on the dollar.
Dry-aging is not a process that is easily achieved by large companies that buy and sell 'boxed (commodity) beef.'
Honest Beef is not in the boxed beef business on purpose.
Our goal is to provide you with the best steak you've ever eaten from a source you know and trust. The story tastes good, but as you can see, dry-aging doesn't hurt, either.
We invite you to get a few friends together and conduct your own taste test! Most of the cuts that Honest Beef offers are also available in the grocery store (e-mail me if you're not sure if your cuts are commonplace). Purchase the exact same cut in the grocery store as you received from us, prepare them in the exact same manner, and do a blind taste test...but make sure at least one person knows which is which.
The following Honest Beef Shares contain cuts commonly found from your local grocer:
Essential Share - Top Sirloin Steak
New York Strip Share - New York Strip
Ribeye Share - Boneless Ribeye
Tenderloin Filet Share - Tenderloin Filet (Filet Mignon)
Don't take it from us. The proof will be on your plate.
Campbell, R. E., Hunt, M. C., Levis, P., & Chambers, E., IV. (2001). Dry-aging effects on palatability of beef longissimus muscle. Journal of Food Science, 66, 196- 199.