The Cut and Dry About Dry Aged Steak
Despite already high beef prices, the more expensive dry aged steak has seen a spike in popularity lately. A process that was typically reserved for delis, specialty shops, and high end steak houses can now be found on the shelves of your local grocery store. If it’s a trend, it’s currently at its peak, and we’ve done some poking and prodding so you know what to expect before you shell out the cash for one.
Before we address the dry aging process it’s important to note that all steaks are aged, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. This is done by vacuum sealing the beef, trapping its juices in, giving it the name Wet Aging. This lets the steak break down, making it more tender than if you ate it without aging, and is a critical difference between a cheap cut and a more expensive cut.
Dry aging occurs when the meat is wrapped in a cheese cloth (rather than vacuum sealed,) allowing the moisture to evaporate and concentrate flavors on the surface. It can be aged for any period of time, but experts agree that to experience the true taste of a dry aged steak it should be aged for a minimum of 30 days. Over this time the moisture evaporates causing the meat to shrink, meat fibres to break down, and a distinct flavor to form. Given the shrinking, the cuts typically start out thicker and are trimmed before being presented, meaning a higher price for the consumer.
If you’d think that a dry, shrunken steak would be tough and rubbery, you’d be wrong. The tougher muscle fibres and connective tissue break down, naturally tenderizing the beef. As mentioned, any dry stray pieces of fat or meat are typically trimmed before being presented for purchase, so the final product is a nice uniform, tender cut. Whether it’s more tender than a wet aged steak is heavily contested and can be true or false depending on your source. So if tenderness is your selling point, there’s no discernible difference.
One point that cannot be contested is the difference in taste. Dry aged beef takes on a nuttier, beefier, more complex taste that’s distinct in older steaks. That said, as mentioned before, this dry aged flavor typically takes 30 days or more to be palatable. Fo those that are only aged for a few days or weeks, the taste is much more faint and can even be undetectable. The key point to draw from this is that if you’re going to buy a dry aged steak to experience the taste be sure to find one that has been aged for a considerable amount of time.
The jury may be out on whether a dry aged steak is more tender than a wet aged steak, but one thing is for certain and that is that when aged properly you’re getting a unique taste that you won’t get in your traditionally aged steak. The process makes a dry aged steak pricer, so it’s probably something you’d want to save for a special occasion, or if you just want to shake things up. Either way, now’s probably the best time to try it… before the trend dries up.