Dry-Aged vs. Wet-Aged Steaks
Steak, like a fine wine or cheese, should be allowed to age for best results. When beef ages, its enzymes have time to break down the muscle tissues and create an extremely tender and flavorful cut of steak. There are, however, 2 different methods of aging steaks that have given rise to a bit of a debate in food circles.
Dry-aging vs. wet-aging is a matter of personal preference, but it’s still important to know the differences so you’re well-informed the next time you visit your butcher or have a nice steakhouse dinner.
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 30 days is usually the ideal amount of time. By controlling the temperature at such a level, the beef has enough time to become extremely tender and develop concentrated, nutty flavors without spoiling.
But dry-aging 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. Then there’s the issue of time — while we believe good things are worth waiting for, not everyone wants to go a whole month without a new shipment of steaks.
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. In fact, this method leads to a juicier, more tender steak when compared with wet-aging because tenderizing enzymes have more time to work their magic on the muscle tissues.
As great as this process is, 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 anyway.
That being said, you can bring this technique to your home with the Steak Locker dry-aging refrigerator. Whether you go that route or let your butcher do the dry-aging for you, remember that thicker steaks with more marbling are best suited for this aging method. Most fine butcher shops offer dry-aged meat, but be aware that you may have to ask for it at certain stores.
What is Wet-Aged Beef?
Recent advancements in refrigeration and plastics have given rise to wet-aging, a much shorter process that capitalizes on our ability to vacuum-seal meat. The aging occurs over just 4–10 days, or the amount of time it generally takes for the beef to move from slaughterhouse to store. Less aging means more reserved flavors, but some people prefer the freshness of a wet-aged steak.
This method is best for thin, lean cuts of meat and produces a greater relative yield because vacuum-sealing locks in moisture to prevent dehydration. Because of the desirable yield and quick turnaround times, the vast majority of steaks sold in stores is wet-aged. That efficiency is among the reasons why the beef industry relies largely on the wet-aging method.
In a perfect world, we’d love for all our steaks to be dry-aged, but we appreciate how quickly you can get your hands on a good cut of wet-aged beef these days. The decision really comes down to which method you prefer, so we encourage you to try both. If anything, it’s a good excuse to eat more steak!