How to Age Meat
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We want fresher Pork or Chicken and don’t age them, but fresher is not better when it comes to Beef, Lamb and Mutton. Age adds flavor. All modern commercial beef is aged. The traditional technique, which we don’t see much anymore is Dry Aging which is an art practiced by old school butchers, meat distributors and high-end steak house chefs. Wet Aging is how 90% of retail market beef is aged.

You can find Dry-Aged beef in High Quality Butcher Stores and top-line steakhouses but it is almost unheard of at even the most expensive Supermarket Meat Departments because very few supermarkets source their meat from anyone other than one of the large national meat producers who find industrial Wet Aging the most cost effective (less shrinkage) method though not the most flavorful.

Aging won’t improve, and will likely ruin, meats without a protective layer of fat like lesser grades of Beef, all Veal and Pork (except for ham). Lamb & Mutton, though does well with Aging.

We should also differentiate between Aging and Tenderizing. Aging does help tenderize, but tenderizing—breaking down the meat’s connective tissues by means other than time & evaporation-—is not aging. Examples of tenderizing include Pounding or Marinating and Rubs.

Production

As consumers were weaned from beefy tasting meat, meat packers further economized and refined their methods. Today, because refrigerated storage is expensive, only the high-priced loin and rib cuts are aged (wet or dry), and once the carcass is broken down and vacuum-sealed in plastic bags much of the beef will arrive in a grocery store meat cases within 2 to 4 days of slaughter.

To properly age meat, it should be stored for 2 to 6 weeks in a temperature controlled environment between 34° & 38°F 1.1° C & 3.3° C with humidity between 50%-75%. Typically, a special aging room is required. Sitting in the butcher’s display case is not aging, nor is resting in your refrigerator at home.

Proper Aging causes the connective tissue holding the muscle together to deteriorate which makes for a more tender steak, and the loss of moisture due to evaporation. A side of beef aged for 6 weeks might lose 12 to 15% of its sale weight through the evaporation of water. The evaporation, as in Reduction, concentrates flavors in the meat but costs money as the butcher loses 12 to 15% of their saleable product in a space and energy intensive (square feet of refrigerated space) process. Consequently, they have to charge more to make up for the difference.

Varieties

Only the top grades like Prime and heavy Choice beef can be aged effectively because they have a decent layer of external fat to protect the meat from going bad during Aging.

Substitutes

Pounding , Marinating , Rubs