Dry-Aged Beef: Worth the Wait
Like cheese and fine wine, beef becomes better with age. That’s why at Grange and Grub we raise grass fed Angus and then we dry-age it for 21 days at our certified humane USDA butcher.
Justine with our steer being dry-aged
Dry-aging might seem counter-intuitive; after all, anyone who’s left a T-bone in the fridge a week too long knows that the results are, um, let’s say, less than pleasant. On the other hand, anyone who’s tasted a steakhouse-grade, dry-aged cut of USDA Prime ribeye knows the bold intermingling of savory, umami flavors that comes with skilled dry-aging.
The difference can be so blatant that for some steak lovers, the idea of eating unaged steak is similar to eating microwaved brisket. Of course, not all dry-aged proponents are that die-hard. But for those who’ve had the chance to appreciate dry-aged beef, there’s simply no comparison.
We dry-age our meat a little differently at Grange and Grub. Instead of only aging the primal cuts and cutting a slice off when a customer orders, like in a restaurant, we actually age the whole steer. Then, after the aging process we cut the meat based on our customer demand. The beauty of this method is that everything ends up being dry-aged, even our ground beef.
What Is Dry-Aged Beef? (And Why You Should Eat It)
Simply put, dry-aged beef is beef that has been left to age in a dry, climate-controlled environment. But it’s also so much more.
First, dry-aged beef is buttery smooth, with muscle fibers and tough tissues tenderized via the aging process. Second, dry-aged beef has a greater complexity of flavor. Over time, dry-aging develops a mix of sweet, salty, savory, and nutty aromas, much like fine cheese. Third, dry-aged beef has a greater concentration of flavor, with a beefy boldness and intensity not found in unaged or wet-aged beef. These three key features have turned dry-aged steaks into a prized gourmet item.
If you’ve had a ribeye, strip, or porterhouse from a high-end steakhouse, you’ve likely tasted dry-aged beef. For most steakhouses, dry-aged, USDA-rated Prime beef is the standard by which all steaks are measured.
Dry-aging produces a wide range of flavor profiles. Steaks aged for short spans of time—two weeks, for instance—tend to be tender, but more subtly flavored. Meanwhile, steaks aged for longer spans of time—eight or more weeks, say—can develop seriously sharp, funky flavors. It’s that sweet spot in the middle—typically four to six weeks—where the magic really happens: a marriage of tenderness, beefy boldness, and a palette of sinfully savory flavors.
How Dry-Aging Happens
Drying-aging typically happens in professionally built, custom aging lockers. These lockers are essentially large fridges, built specifically to house aging beef. Many of the very best steakhouses and restaurants have their very own aging lockers.
There are four essential factors to proper dry-aging:
- Temperature is essential to control the rate of chemical change in dry-aging beef. Proper dry-aging occurs between 32 F and 40 F.
- Most aging lockers use commercial-grade ventilation systems and special racks or hooks to ensure that beef is properly exposed to air.
- Moisture levels have a direct effect on bacterial growth, which affects the flavor of dry-aged beef.
- Proper dry-aging takes upward of two weeks. Flavors become more complex and intense over time.
While temperature, airflow, and moisture levels can all be tweaked to different effect, time is by far the biggest variable in dry-aging. How long you dry-age beef for impacts the tenderness, weight, and taste of your steaks. As a result, a 14-day dry-aged steak is a far different steak from one aged 60 days or more.
The following timeline charts the changes that occur during dry-aging:
- Day 1 to 14.During the first two weeks, evaporation is the most important change. Loss of water mass causes the beef to lose weight but intensify in flavor. Enzymatic changes start to occur after the first week, breaking down tough tissues and fibers. The beef’s flavor profile remains largely unchanged.
- Day 14 to 28.Evaporation continues, but at a slower rate. Enzymes now begin to break down proteins, fats, and glycogens, transforming them into new, savory components like sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids. Beef starts to take on a nuttier, more savory profile.
- Day 28 to 42.Weeks four to six are usually the sweet spot for dry-aged beef. Beef by this point has reached maximal tenderness and flavor concentration. The beef’s flavor profile, meanwhile, is well-balanced, with a depth and complexity of flavor that is robust without being overwhelming.
- Day 42+.After week six, new flavors begin to overtake the original taste of the steak. Sharp, pungent aromas and flavors develop. Many compare the taste of steak aged eight weeks or longer to blue cheese. For some, these steaks are the height of luxury, but for others, the intensity and sharpness of flavor is off-putting.
Different vendors age their steaks for different lengths of time. Some butchers will dry-age for as low as 7 to 14 days, which produces no significant change in flavor. Others specialize in aging for up to (or over!) 100 days, producing a steak funkier and intense than a James Brown album.
Grange and Grub 50
So with that understanding, and my mouth drooling (because I LOVE dry-aged beef) after writing this, we are going to take a side from one of our steers and age it for 50 days. We are going to call it our G&G 50 beef. The steer was sent to the butcher on the 26th of July and for the weekend of September 16th and 17th we will have fresh, not frozen, 50-day dry-aged beef for sale. We will have our Grub trailer ready and waiting, offering you the option to immediately have us grill it to your desired doneness. I honestly don’t think there will be a fresher, better cut, aging or cooking style than what we will offer on the farm anywhere else in the country; my opinion.
Perfectly cooked medium rare meat by Justine