Many steak lovers are accustomed to the flavor of beef cooked in an 1800 degree broiler after a wet age process and with steak juices pooling on the plate. Wet aged steak is the standard method that came about after the mass development of plastics made it possible to produce large volumes of wet aged steak. Dry aged steak on the other hand is a completely different process that dates back as far as the middle ages. What was once a method to preserve meat is now a luxury process used to naturally amplify the flavours of beef. In this article we are going to explore the two aging methods.
Wet Aged Steak
Wet aged beef is definitely flavorful with a minerally tang and roundness of fat that also creates a texture that is a bit chewy and juicy. It’s recommended to use beef that is graded USDA Prime for the wet age process because it’s a top quality piece of meat on the USDA's meat scale for tenderness, juiciness and flavor.
When wet aging, beef is sealed into a Cryovac sealed bag, and aged for weeks at a time. This process allows for meat to not lose moisture throughout the aging period and does not require being trimmed prior to serving it. And, this process results in better yield from the same cut of beef because it doesn’t allow the meat to breathe, where the dry age process has more loss due to evaporation. Wet aging is a faster process, this means that the enzymes don’t have enough time to substantially change the taste of the meat, the result is that although wet aged steak is tender, it is not as tender as dry aged steak.
Dry Aged Steak
Alternatively is the method of dry aging. The dry age process is considered more of a luxury product because it can become a financially risky process of controlled decomposition. Steak houses that choose to use this process tie up their investment of inventory that is sitting around losing water weight, literally shrinking and waiting for microbes to work their magic. When retailers or restaurants add in the labor, rent and energy to dry aged beef, it can double or triple the cost compared to serving a wet aged product. This can lead to them spending and selling dry aged steaks at almost twice the original amount of the meat.
Even though wet aged beef appears juicier, it is actually dry aged beef that becomes juicier as we chew because it creates more saliva and the concentrated fat coats the palate. This technique builds unique flavors through the enzymes within the meat and fat for a robust nutty flavor.
How long does the process of wet aged steak take compared to dry aging?
The process of wet aging beef can last anywhere between 4-6 weeks. This is dependent on a variety of factors and some butchers may leave the steaks to age for longer than others. Due to the wet aged steak process being relatively quick, it is a cheaper option. Dry aging on the other hand is a matter of preference, however, the longer you leave the beef to dry age, the more intense and unique the flavours will become. The most popular time scale for dry aging is around 30-35 days. For those who want a truly unique and funky flavour, the dry aging process can go up to over 75 days. You can read more about what tastes to expect in one of our previous blog posts on the timeline of how long you can keep dry aged steak in fridge.
Overview of wet aged steak vs dry aged steak
Both processes enhance the taste and texture of the meat creating flavors that are very different. Ultimately, when it comes to eating a high quality cut of beef that has been dry aged properly there really is no competition. The steak is richer, tastier and more tender. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference to find the flavor you prefer.