Aging Beef

Jan 09, 2017

JanealYanceyBy Contributing Author: Janeal Yancey, Ph.D., University of Arkansas

When you go to a fancy restaurant, you may hear that their beef is "aged." Sometimes they may say that it is dry aged or wet aged. They may tell you it was aged for 14 or 21 days, maybe more.

But, what does that mean?

Aging beef has nothing to do with how old the animal was. When beef is aged, it is stored in refrigeration for a set amount of time. The beef is typically not frozen, just refrigerated (29 to 34°F). 

Why?

Aging beef makes it more tender.

The protein in an animal’s body is constantly turning over; breaking down and being built back up. One set of enzymes break down the protein and another mechanism builds it. Even after the animal is harvested, those breaking-down enzymes are still active, continuing to work until they are broken down or the meat is frozen or cooked. If meat is stored in refrigerated temperatures, those enzymes will break down the muscle and continue to make it more tender for 4 or 5 weeks, even longer.
Sometimes, the whole carcass is held in refrigeration, but that requires a lot of space and energy. Cuts used for pot-roasts and ground beef typically don’t benefit from aging. So, most of the time, the beef is cut into different parts and pieces, and the tender ones (ribeyes, strip steaks, T-bones, sirloins) are aged, while the tougher cuts are sent directly to market.

Wet or dry aging.

Wet aging - After the beef is cut, the middle meats (ribeyes, strip steaks, T-bones, filets, and sirloins) are packaged in plastic bags and vacuum-sealed. Vacuum packaging protects the beef from bacteria and from oxygen that can cause it to spoil. The beef can be stored in a vacuum package under refrigerated temperatures for 4 to 6 weeks.  
We use the term ‘wet aging’ because the beef is aged in its own juices, not because additional water is added. If you hear that beef is aged without being specified wet or dry, chances are, it was wet aged.
 
Beef in a dry-aging cabinet in a grocery store in Texas.

Beefaging

You can see how the edges have dried and darkened.

Dry aging – Rather than storing the beef in vacuum packages, dry-aged beef is aged without packaging in a specialized cooler or cabinet. The temperature and humidity are closely controlled. It is usually a dark room or lit with special UV lights that help control microbial growth. After the aging period, the processor must trim the edges off the cuts because they have dried out or perhaps even growth a little harmless mold (like some cheeses grow mold). This trimming and the evaporation during the aging process cause the beef to lose weight during dry aging, thus increasing the cost.

Aging Beef

Dr. Yancey is a mom of two fabulous little girls and an advocate of the meat industry. She has a passion for providing education and information to anyone who has questions, follow her blogs to stay informed!

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