You may have seen it on the menu at an upscale steakhouse or through a display cooler in its lobby. It’s something called dry-aged beef.
You may also have seen or heard it called Kobe or Wagyu beef.
You may have been asking yourself, what is this? Is it a gimmick? Is it really worth it? Is it really better?
The answers are no, yes and definitely yes. First of all, what exactly is dry-aged beef and what is it that makes it different (and better) than regular beef? Without sounding like a meat geek, I’ll explain.
Generally speaking, people want their meat (beef steaks, in this case) to be two things: A) Flavorful (which primarily depends on the animal’s diet) B) Tender (which comes from the amount of fat in the meat and how evenly that fat is distributed–called marbling)
Although American beef is exceptionally high quality, it’s raised and processed (I’ll say more commercially) to get the product to market in a reasonably short period of time. It also spends little time aging.
How does aging improve flavor?
First of all, there are two kinds of aging, wet and dry.
Wet aging takes place from the time the meat is processed until it is shrink-wrapped (known as cryovac’d). The air is expelled and the meat is shipped to market.
This cryovacing primarily protects the meat from spoiling rapidly during refrigeration, and it allows just a little time for the meat to marinate in its own juices so to speak. The flavor of the beef doesn’t necessarily get more intense, but it does allow a bit of time for the salinity in the fat to season the meat. While this is happening, in spite of it being well wrapped, the natural enzymes in the meat will tenderize the connective tissues over time–not a lot but some. On a flavor and tenderness scale of 1 to 10 (10 being fantastically flavorful and tender), wet aging will at best get you from a 2 or 3 to maybe a 4. And 3 or 4 is what you’ve eaten most of your life.
Dry aging is a whole new ball game.
Dry aging begins where wet aging leaves off. The product is removed from its protective packaging, patted dry and placed in an environment of perfect humidity, temperature and air circulation.
What happens next isn’t science; it’s nature.
Dry aging allows the meat to create a dry, protective outer skin that protects the meat from spoiling while it continues to age. While it ages, a number of things happen. First, the meat dehydrates a bit, which not only concentrates its flavors, but also improves them, like aging fine wine. Second, the meat’s natural enzymes REALLY go to work and continue to soften and break down the connective tissues until the meat is super tender.
Why is dry-aged beef so much more expensive?
I think you can understand that time is money, but beyond that, there’s more, much more.
No one in his right mind would age poor-quality beef. The beef selected to be dry aged is typically prime beef, the most expensive grade given by the U.S.D.A. Beyond that, many purveyors of dry-aged beef use a species of cattle with exceptional flavor and fat marbling. The most legendary being the Japanese Wagyu strain, which is where the famous Kobe beef comes from.
This Wagyu beef is already in the neighborhood of a 7 on my flavor and tenderness scale before it’s aged at all. Even better, Imperial Wagyu® cattle are always and ONLY fed an all-vegetarian diet and are never given growth hormones, stimulants or antibiotics. They are fed slowly for more than 400 days, promoting the highly marbled, smooth texture they’re famous for.
So, going back to dry aging, you take a U.S.D.A. Prime piece of Wagyu beef, which is already very expensive, and then you shrink it.
What’s left is even better, but it’s more expensive than you started with… Is it worth it? Yes.
And here’s the good news: Nino’s will now carry select cuts of dry-aged Imperial Waygu® beef in our meat departments! Dry Aged by Fairway Packing Company.
Located in the heart of Detroit’s Eastern Market, Fairway has provided some of the highest-quality prime meats to Michigan’s finest restaurants since 1989. Its state-of-the-art equipment and the newest technologies resulted in the Fairway Packing Company being the only Michigan restaurant meat distributor to be voted to the National Top 200 Purveyors by Meat Processing Magazine.
Dry aging at Fairway is done by racking meat in a controlled 32- to 36-degree refrigerated environment under ultraviolet lighting to kill any bacteria. From there, six huge fans constantly run, creating hurricane-force winds to ensure even drying. Fairway’s state-of-the-art drying room is also equipped with a Himalayan salt wall, which acts as a natural purifier that helps control the humidity and season the air, giving the beef even more flavor.
Typically, it takes about a week and a half before you see any improvement in the flavor of a dry-aged meat. Fairway has a 28-plus-day aging program. Fairway believes this will provide its customers with the best beef they’ve ever eaten.
Stop into Nino’s and see what this is all about. Dry-aged Wagyu beef is a cut above the rest and something you owe it to yourself to try at least once…or twice…or…