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Aging Beef: Wet vs Dry

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Dry-Aged BeefAging, either wet or dry, is a process that is done to let natural enzymes to break down and tenderize tissue in meat. The difference lies in whether the meat is allowed to age exposed to ambient air (dry aged) or vacuum sealed (wet aged).  With the advent of new vacuum sealed packaging technology in the late 1960’s, wet aging became and remains the most popular method of aging beef.  Dry aging, on the other hand, always retained its loyalists and is now finding new converts in all sectors from retail to fine dining.  Ultimately, there has been much debate over which process has better results, but in the end it really comes down to personal preference and/or convenience factors.  There is no debate that either method of aging beef is a necessary step in dramatically improving meat quality.

Differences Between Wet Aging and Dry Aging

During the dry aging process, primal cuts or whole sides of beef are exposed to ambient air in a refrigerated environment from anywhere from 14 – 35+ days.  During this process, the meat intensifies in flavor as water evaporates, but also shrinks as much as 20%. Furthermore, beef will develop a dry exterior that must be trimmed prior to use in any application.  The combination of the drip loss from dehydration and the trim loss created from dry aging both have a significant negative impact on yields, which understandably drive dry aged beef prices up.  Wet aging, on the other hand, delivers much higher yields than dry aging as no moisture is lost to evaporation.  Although there is natural purge loss associated with wet aging, it is a fraction of what is found in the dry aging process.

Although dry aging and wet aging have comparable effects on tenderness, they have wildly different effects on flavor.  Then environment where beef is dry aged plays a dramatic role in the finished product’s flavor.  Although it is as much art as science, it is known that humidity, temperature, air flow and surrounding elements all play a critical role in determining flavor.  It is very important that all of these factors are expertly controlled in the dry aging process as it is very easy for off flavors to develop.  Most studies show that wet aging develops more pronounced flavors, they are nowhere near as pronounced and unique as dry aged beef.  Some consumers prefer the more mild flavor of wet aged beef and many others prefer the unmistakable taste of dry aged beef.

All of Neesvig’s portion cut beef items are wet aged for the optimum amount of time needed to properly tenderize the muscle.  All of Neesvig’s vacuum sealed whole muscle cuts can be sold either “green” (i.e., with little to no age on them) or with any amount of age a customer desires.  Please discuss your wet aging expectations with your salesmen as it takes an abundance of planning and inventory control to ensure all of our customers are receiving exactly what they desire.

Any beef item inventoried at Neesvig’s can be dry aged.  Before the dry aging process begins, it is imperative that a dry aging plan is mapped out.  In order to successfully execute a dry aging program, questions of volume, finished good specification, desired age, and price all must be addressed.  In regards to price, costs are calculated each time has finished dry aging, so it is impossible to quote an exact price.  Historical yields can be used to estimate future prices before embarking on a dry aged program, but please remember they are nothing more than an estimate.

Wet aged beef

In the end, there are merits to both wet aged and dry aged beef.  Certainly, the convenience, lower cost and mild flavors produced from wet aging easily explain why it is the method of choice for most operators.  On the other hand, there is something to be said about the unique flavors and overall results that dry aging brings.  From the perspective of flavor alone, dry aged beef is not for everyone.  But there are many that have acquired the taste for it will not settle for anything else. It seems the only way to determine for yourself is to try both and decide which aging process is the most desirable to your palate.

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