Dry Aged Beef: What Is It and How Does It Work?

The best way to build an innovative menu is to feature familiar ingredients with an unexpected twist. Using cool new garnishes or fun plating techniques are great ideas, but we all know the proteins are the stars of the show. Dry-aged beef is the perfect standard-setter if you’re looking to create a menu that caters to the adventurous eater or faithful carnivore. But what is dry-aged beef, and how is it different than a cut of steak? We explain all that and more so you can be confident before perfectly grilling your newest menu addition.

Shop All Dry-Aged Steaks
close up of dry aged beef on board in meat shop

What Is Dry Aged Beef?

Dry-aged beef is meat that has been placed in a controlled, open-air environment for an extended period of time to transform the texture and flavor of the meat. This is not a new trend. Like pickling and fermenting, dry aging is a preserving method that dates back thousands of years. Dry-aged beef tastes nutty and extra "beefy" due to the concentration from moisture loss.

How Does Dry Aging Beef Work?

Dry aging beef is a slow and methodical process that has to be monitored in order for it to work properly. Butchers use primal or sub-primal cuts of meat to lessen excessive trimming of the crust that forms during the aging process, and set the cuts in rooms that are humidity- and airflow-controlled. Primal cuts are initially separated from the animal during butchering, and sub-primal cuts are carved from the primal cuts into more specialty pieces. The butcher either hangs the meat or places it on racks to expose all sides of the meat to the airflow. Oxygen presents itself into the molecular bonds of the meat, allowing the natural enzymes in the meat to slowly break down.

dry aging beef in black metal dry ager

How Does Dry Aging Affect the Texture and Taste?

The enzymatic breakdown from the oxygen and humidity results in beautifully tender meat. The drying process also evaporates moisture from the tissue, creating a very concentrated, meaty flavor. Dry aging is similar to aging blue cheese with “good mold” to make it tastier and drying out firmer types of cheeses to be more concentrated. This is why so many chefs liken the flavor of dry-aged meat to cheese and common cheese tasting notes!

Which Cuts of Meat Are Best for Dry Aging?

The following cuts of meat are best for dry aging beef. These cuts have bones and fat layered throughout, which is optimal to prevent the meat from drying out too much:

  • T-Bones
  • Bone-In Ribeye
  • Sirloin
  • New York Strip/Strip Loin

Why Is Dry Aged Beef More Expensive?

4 week dry aged steak in a butcher shop in borough market

The reason dry-aged beef is more expensive is due to reduced yields after drying time and trimming loss, as well as how time-consuming the process is. After the dry-aging process is over, the beef weighs far less than when it started because of the significant moisture loss and trimming. After the beef has been aged for the desired amount of time, the primal cuts go through an extensive trimming process to remove the pellicle (a natural crust that forms during dry-aging), which is far more trimming than a typical cut of beef.

The longer the beef dries (usually taking weeks or months), the more expensive it will be to make up for the profit loss as opposed to selling the beef right away like in regular butcher shops as soon as the butchering process is over.

Why Is Dry Aged Beef Better?

Dry-aged beef is better than fresh cuts of beef because of its highly concentrated flavor and tender texture. The process of dry-aging beef naturally breaks down any tough muscles, resulting in ultra-tender meat. Plus, as beef dry ages, the cuts will lose around 15%-20% of their moisture, making the beef far more concentrated, creating a bolder, more “meaty” flavor.

Is Dry Aging Beef Safe?

Dry aging beef is safe if you know what you’re doing. Butchers, steakhouses, and the like use entire rooms, walk-ins, or dedicated refrigerators that are specifically air-temperature and moisture-controlled to manage the aging process safely. The humidity and moisture are specially controlled because that is what inhibits bad bacteria growth.

How Does Dry Aged Beef Not Spoil?

dry aged beef with sauteed mushrooms topped with butter on black slate plate

Dry-aged beef does not spoil because of the amount of environmental control it is put under. Moisture levels and bacteria are carefully watched, ensuring that only “good” bacteria is growing and helping the beef to dry age.

Wet Aged vs Dry Aged Beef

The difference between wet-aged beef and dry-aged beef is how they are exposed for aging. The wet aging method wraps the beef in vacuum-sealed packaging and ages it for only about 4-10 days. The dry-aging beef process exposes the beef to open air and usually takes weeks or months to achieve the desired result.

Where Can I Buy Dry Aged Beef?

Dry-aged beef is available for purchase online, in grocery stores, or wholesale from butcheries.

If you're sold on dry-aged beef now, try adding it to your menu by making a steak flatbread recipe, or presenting it on its own with a dollop of compound butter. However you choose to serve it, your standard is elevated in the eyes of your customers and the content of your menu.

By Val Goodrich
Leave a Comment

A WebstaurantStore account is required to comment. Already have an account? Log In Here or Create an account.

Webstaurant TVProduct demonstrations, how-to's, & descriptions ArticlesIn-depth information and tips for running a successful restaurant Buying GuidesTools to help you find the perfect product for your business