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Aging beef, how does it work?

If you’ve already enjoyed a Papa Earth grilling steak, you can vouch for that ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ tender quality. Between the farm and the table, our beef undergoes an age-old perfecting process. Today we will break down what you need to know about beef aging and doing it properly.

Why does beef need to be aged?

All fresh beef is (or really should be!) aged for at least a few days and up to several weeks to allow the enzymes naturally present in the meat to break down the muscle tissue. The results are an improved texture and more robust flavour.  Most consumer beef is aged in plastic shrink-wrap—a process known as wet-aging. Though not all grocery store meat is aged this way, a large portion is, especially when it hasn’t been marked as dry-aged. Wet-aged meat gets to market quicker because it ages in transit to retailers and reduces meat processor storage and monitoring costs that they would have incurred dry aging the meat.

Dry aging a steak makes it more tender and flavourful. First, naturally present enzymes in the meat break down some of the collagen that holds muscle fibres together. Too many of these fine fibres and collagen stores cause steaks to toughen while cooking. In an interesting twist, it could be said that as a lot of available meat has been wet aged, consumers might have developed a taste for the more metallic and less nutty or buttery taste of shrink-wrap aged meat.

A little more about dry aging

Dry aging is expensive and now, in a fast-paced world, considered a luxury in meat. This is because abattoirs or other meat handling locations need the physical space to keep the meat while it ages as they aren’t able to immediately ship it to its final destination. Real meat lovers know, however, that dry aging makes the difference in their culinary experience.

The dry aging practice is thousands of years old and definitely before the time of modern refrigeration and freezing. Across many cultures all over the world, people were pickling, brining or smoking meats to preserve them. Dry aging was among these freshness conserving techniques and the method that kept the meat closer to the original state and, in most opinions, improved it.

Traditionally done in a chamber, a cave or a cellar, dry aging is when you expose a piece of meat to the open air in a controlled environment to go through a flavour metamorphosis. Some moistures are pulled out and others are sealed in. The beef’s natural enzymes don’t only break the muscles down slowly to tenderize it but also release their own savouriness. When the surface of the beef dries, it creates a crust over the muscle, but what’s inside stays moist and red. Of course, the crust that forms is carefully trimmed before it makes it to packaging but this time getting its crust is a meat’s badge of honour. The longer you age meat, the stronger the tastes get.

We won’t lie – we know it’s not particularly appealing to think of your meat hanging on hooks in a room while it technically decays a bit. The good news is that with time, there has been much tuning of the process and science involved that makes sure it’s all still healthy for you. Rooms are monitored for humidity, bacteria levels and the air flow is controlled to be even around all of the meats’ surfaces. Like in the process of making cheese bacteria and mold in the right amounts make food magic. In the video that we have found below, an Australian meat company gives us a great look at the dry aging meat process.

How does dry aged beef not spoil?

Aging and rotting are not the same thing. Controlling the aging environment is paramount to the success of the procedure. For the same reasons you keep leftovers in air tight containers to preserve them in the fridge for a bit, in a more refined way, the aging process manages three key flavour factors or air flow or exposure; humidity and temperature. There is also strict mindfulness for bacteria, handling of the meat and sanitary conditions of the room itself and who enters.

So, what’s better? Dry aged or wet aged beef?

Listen, we have our own opinions over here so our goal is simply to inform you. It always comes down to personal preference. The biggest difference between the two kinds of meat is flavour.   Dry-aged meat is described as having a nutty or buttery flavour or tastes as though it has been roasted. This might not be as tasty to someone who has only known and grown accustomed to wet-aged beef that has a less pronounced profile of flavours.

All Papa Earth beef products, both AAA beef as well as Grass-Fed and Grass-Finished beef have been aged. In particularly our grilling products like steaks have been dry aged, and meats like ground have been wet-aged. Ready to build your box? Start here, or try one of our curated boxes.