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

Featuring familiar ingredients with an unexpected twist is the best way to build an innovative menu for your restaurant. Experimenting with new garnishes, attempting unique plating techniques, or putting a new spin on familiar favorites are all excellent ways to elevate your restaurant's service. Whether you're catering to the adventurous eater or faithful carnivore, dry-aged beef is the perfect standard setter for your menu. 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 heating up your grill to prepare your newest menu addition.

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What Is Dry Aged Beef?

close up of dry aged beef on board in meat shop

Dry-aged beef is meat that has been placed in a controlled, open-air environment for an extended period. When beef is dry aged, moisture is slowly drawn out of it, allowing enzymes to break down the muscle fibers and resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak.

Like pickling and fermenting, dry-aging is a preservation method that dates back thousands of years. Dry-aged beef has long been considered a delicacy by food enthusiasts, and its unique and intense flavor profile makes it a favorite among steak connoisseurs and high-end restaurants.

What Does Dry Aged Beef Taste Like?

Most chefs and meat connoisseurs believe dry-aged beef has a more intense, complex flavor than its freshly cut counterpart. When aged properly, dry beef delivers an unforgettable umami flavor. Many people describe the taste of dry-aged beef as nutty and extra beefy.

Why Is Dry Aged Beef Better?

Compared to fresh beef, dry-aged beef has a highly concentrated flavor and tender texture. Dry-aging beef naturally breaks down any tough muscles, resulting in ultra-tender meat. As beef dry ages, the cuts lose around 15%-20% of their moisture, making the beef far more concentrated and creating a bolder, more meaty flavor.

How to Dry Age Beef

dry aging beef in black metal dry ager

Dry aging beef is a slow and methodical process, and you should closely monitor your beef as it ages for the best results. 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. We'll walk you through the process of dry-aging beef below.

  1. Butchers separate primal cuts from the animal during butchering, while sub-primal cuts are carved into more specialty pieces.
  2. The butcher either hangs the meat or places it on racks to expose all sides of the meat to the airflow.
  3. Oxygen presents itself in the molecular bonds of the meat. This allows the natural enzymes in the meat to slowly break down.

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

How Does Dry Aged Beef Not Spoil?

Dry-aged beef doesn't spoil because of environmental controls and consistent monitoring. During the dry-aging process, beef is placed in a specialized room or chamber where temperature and humidity are carefully regulated. This controlled environment helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that could lead to spoilage. Moisture levels also play a crucial role in preserving dry-aged beef and should be monitored to maintain an optimal level while aging.

Is Dry Aged Beef Safe?

Dry-aged beef is safe as long as it is prepared correctly. To ensure the safety of dry-aged beef, butchers, steakhouses, and other professionals use dedicated facilities to control the aging process. It is crucial to source dry-aged beef from reputable suppliers who follow proper food safety protocols, as this ensures that the meat has aged correctly and further reduces potential risks.

Wet Aged vs Dry Aged Beef

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

There are two main methods of aging beef: wet-aging and dry-aging. The key difference between them is how they are exposed during the aging process.

  • Wet aging is the most common method used in the beef industry. Beef is placed in vacuum-sealed packaging, helping to retain moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria. It ages for about 4-10 days, depending on the desired flavor and tenderness.
  • Dry-aged beef is a more traditional and time-consuming process. The beef is exposed to open air, allowing it to naturally dry out. This exposure to air helps to concentrate the flavors and tenderize the meat. Dry aging typically takes weeks or even months to achieve the desired result.

How to Cook Dry Aged Beef

Cooking dry-aged beef may seem intimidating, but with the right techniques, you can achieve a delicious and flavorful steak that will impress your guests. Follow the steps outlined below to cook dry-aged beef to perfection:

  1. Thaw carefully: Dry-aged beef should be thawed carefully to preserve its texture and flavor. Allow yourself up to three days to completely thaw the beef in the refrigerator. Avoid thawing at room temperature to prevent bacterial growth.
  2. Season at the right time: To maximize the flavor of your dry-aged beef, season it just before cooking. Doing so prevents moisture from being drawn out of the meat. Use your favorite blend of seasonings or sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the steak.
  3. Sear the meat: Preheat your grill or stovetop pan to high heat. Searing the dry-aged beef on high heat will help to caramelize the surface, locking in the juices and creating a mouthwatering crust. Place the steak on the hot grill or pan and let it sear for a minute or two.
  4. Transfer to indirect heat: If using a grill, move the steak to the indirect heat zone or reduce the stovetop temperature to medium-low. This will ensure heat is evenly distributed throughout the meat, resulting in a perfectly cooked steak. Continue cooking until the beef reaches your desired doneness. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.

Remember that the cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of the steak and your preferred level of doneness. It's always a good idea to use a meat thermometer to ensure that your dry-aged beef is cooked to your liking.

Why Is Dry Aged Beef More Expensive?

In most cases, dry-aged beef comes with a higher price tag. This price is attributed to two main factors:

  • Reduced yields: Beef undergoes a significant moisture loss during the dry-aging process. As a result, the beef weighs far less than when it first started. Any outer layers or parts that have dried out or become discolored must be trimmed. With large portions of the beef rendered unusable, the overall quantity of meat available for sale decreases.
  • Time-consuming process: Dry aging typically takes weeks or even months, depending on the desired level of flavor and tenderness. This extended period of time requires careful monitoring and precise environmental conditions to ensure the best possible outcome. As a result, labor, utility, and storage costs rise.
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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
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