Ask any chef about aged beef and watch their eyes light up. If you’ve dined at reputable steakhouses or higher-end restaurants, it is very likely you’ve come across “dry-aged” and “wet-aged” beef on the menu, without really knowing what these terms mean.
So, what’s all the fuss?
The difference in taste, flavor, and tenderness between aged and non-aged beef is why you’ll rarely find these prized cuts of beef at your local grocery store.
Simply put, dry-aged beef is beef that has been aged on a rack or hung in a temperature-controlled for anywhere from 28 to typically 60 days, though it can be aged for a good deal longer.
Dry-aging affects the meat in two major ways. First, in evaporating moisture from the beef, the meat takes on a more concentrated “umami” flavor, which is rich and savory on the palate. Second, dry-aging causes the enzymes found in beef to break down muscle fibers and connective tissue, which makes the meat far more tender and incredibly flavorful, not unlike a good aged cheese, or bottle of red wine. Oftentimes, dry-aged meat is described as nutty, beefy, and earthy—complex flavors that are further developed during cooking.
Wet-aged beef, on the other hand, is meat that has been aged in vacuum-sealed packaging in a temperature-controlled environment, between four and ten days. Like dry-aging, the enzymes use this time to tenderize the beef while producing vibrant flavors. For those who enjoy fresh-tasting meat, wet-aged beef is often preferred.
Ultimately, the decision in taste, tenderness, and flavor is a personal preference, but because of the time, cost, and facilities required to age beef properly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find dry-aged or wet-aged beef at your local grocery store. There’s a reason chefs rave about aged beef, but nothing compares to tasting the difference for yourself.