Dry-Aged vs. Wet-Aged Meat

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After an animal is slaughtered, enzymes immediately start breaking down muscle tissue, making it more tender.  In the beef industry, this process is called aging and can last anywhere from three days to several weeks.

Small poultry like chickens do not require aging and can be processed within a number of hours without a loss of tenderness.  Larger animals like lamb, pork, and beef need more aging time to ensure tender meat.  Today, there are two main ways of aging: dry and wet.  When dry-aging half or full carcasses are hung in a temperature controlled room to dry for several weeks.  Prior to the 1950’s, virtually all beef was grass finished and dry-aged.  With the emergence of feedlots, where thousands of animals are congregated for grain fattening in their final months, it was judged to be too costly to have carcasses “hanging around”.

Feedlot beef production led to the development of wet-aging.  The animal is slaughtered and the carcass is quickly cut up into primal sections and put in a vacuum-sealed bag.  These primal cuts are then refrigerated and distributed to large regional centers for storage and ultimate processing when needed.  The meat remains sealed and refrigerated for days, weeks, or even a couple months before being processed and packaged into retail cuts.

With dry-aging, whole sides of beef are hung in open-air lockers.  The temperature is maintained a bit above freezing at all times.  As it hangs, the meat continuously loses moisture while enzymes and microbes naturally tenderize it.  The loss of moisture concentrates the beef flavor since there is less water but the same amount of muscle fiber.  The cold room air also imparts additional subtle flavors.  When the carcass is finally processed, the individual cuts are typically vacuum-sealed in plastic and flash frozen for freshness.

Virtually all meat found in grocery stores is wet-aged.  The process is cheaper and the selling weight is considerably higher since the meat retains all its moisture. The tradeoff is that wet-aged meat often has a bit of a bloody, metallic taste and is tougher than dry-aged meat. Nevertheless, people have become accustomed to that taste, price, and convenience of wet-aged meat.

Most family farms sell dry-aged beef.  It’s a far better beef product, but it costs more to produce. The drying process adds storage time, the resulting beef cuts weigh less, and the dried-out surface of the carcass must be removed and wasted.

Large scale feedlot producers sell a lower quality product at a lower cost but sacrifice taste and tenderness.  We offer a superior dry-aged grass-fed product for customers who value both nutrition and flavor.

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