Steak, like a fine wine or cheese, should be allowed to age for best results. When beef ages, its natural enzymes continue to break down the muscle tissues and create an extremely tender and flavorful cut of steak. It’s been scientifically proven that an aged steak tastes better than cuts quickly harvested and packaged, but there’s more than one way to carry out the aging process. Beef can be either dry aged or wet aged, with negligible difference between the two methods in terms of tenderness and texture. Which aging technique works “best” is a matter of personal preference, but it’s still worth knowing how each process is carried out. Let’s take a dive into the differences between dry aged steak and wet aged steak, how long the aging process usually takes, and more courtesy of our friends at BBQGuys.
What is Dry Aged Beef?
For almost the entire history of man consuming meat (and what a great history it is, by the way), dry aging was the only available option. This method requires large cuts of beef to be hung at temperatures just above freezing for at least a few weeks, though roughly 30 days is the ideal amount of time. Thanks to temperatures controlled at such a level, beef has enough time to become extremely tender and develop concentrated, nutty flavors without spoiling. That distinct flavor is the most notable difference between dry aged and wet aged beef, which otherwise have very similar texture and tenderness when aged appropriately.
Dry aging steak does have a few drawbacks, most notably that it produces a smaller yield per cut of beef because the meat shrinks as it slightly dehydrates over time. Additionally, the steak will form a thin layer of mold that gets trimmed away before it’s processed for sale. It’s worth noting that, while dry-aged meat is subjected to some dehydration, it doesn’t completely dehydrate to the point where it becomes dry or tough — instead, the moisture reduction changes the flavor composition of the meat, as noted above.
Can I Dry Age Steaks at Home?
Despite what you may have heard, we strongly advise against attempting to dry age beef in any home refrigerator. The whole procedure involves storing huge cuts of raw, molding meat for long periods of time, so it’s not hard to see why that’d be a safety issue. Standard residential refrigerators just aren’t equipped for the kind of work or precise temperature maintenance, which will be thrown off every time you open your fridge. That being said, it’s safe to bring this technique to your home with a dry aging refrigerator, an impressive machine specifically designed to create and maintain ideal dry aging conditions.
What is Wet Aged Beef?
Recent advancements in refrigeration and plastics have given rise to wet aging, an efficient process that capitalizes on our ability to vacuum-seal meat. This method locks in moisture thanks to the vacuum-seal, resulting in a greater yield and fresher-tasting beef than what you get from dry aging. Because of the desirable yield, wet aging is the industry standard among beef distributors and retail stores.
Not all wet aged steaks are given the same time for enzymes to work their magic, though. Many grocery stores wet age for a week or less because of rapid inventory turnover, leading to a less tender cut of meat. While many specialty meat retailers wet-age their steak for 28 days to guarantee the most tender product possible.
So, what’s better: the nuttier flavor of dry aged steak, or the freshness of wet aged steak? It’s entirely up to you, and truly the only difference between properly wet aged and dry aged beef. We encourage you to try both if you can — if anything, it’s a good excuse to eat more steak!