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What is the Difference Between Dry and Wet Aged Beef?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Beef must be allowed to age between slaughter and cooking, to disperse some of the bloody taste and allow the flavor of the beef to mature. There are two techniques used for aging beef: wet aging, and dry aging, and they result in very different flavors and textures. Most authorities on meat agree that dry aged beef has a superior flavor, and it is often found at fine dining establishments. Wet aged beef tends to be cheaper, and dominates the meat market: almost 90% of the beef sold commercially is wet aged.

Both aging techniques are also designed to make meat more tender. During the aging process, enzymes in the meat work to break down the muscle tissue, making it softer. Wet aged beef is vacuum packed in plastic within 24 hours of slaughter, and allowed to sit under refrigeration for approximately one week. The vacuum packed meat is then cut into more manageable sizes, like steaks and roasts, and sent to market.

Dry aged beef is allowed to hang in a refrigerated cooler for a minimum of two weeks. The beef may be loosely covered in muslin, but it is not sealed, which means that moisture in the meat is allowed to escape. Consequently, the beef shrinks, concentrating its flavor, but the dry aging also softens the meat, resulting in a rich flavor and buttery texture. A gray and moldy layer appears on the outside of the beef, and must be trimmed away before the meat is cut and sold.

Because dry aged beef shrinks and must be trimmed, it represents a loss to the company. Sometimes the meat loses almost one fifth of its volume during the dry aging and trimming process, and as a result the remaining meat costs more than wet aged beef. Dry aged beef also takes up much more room in the coolers of a processing plant, because of the much longer aging period. Until the 1970s, when the wet aging process was developed, dry aged beef was the only type of beef available commercially.

Because dry aging is more expensive and time consuming, it is reserved for particularly high quality cuts of meat. Some consumers prefer the flavor of high quality beef which has been dry aged, as it is much more complex and aggressive than wet aged beef. Wet aged beef, which is what most consumers today are familiar with, has a much more mild flavor and a texture which tends towards the mushy, rather than tender. High quality restaurants seem to prefer dry aged beef, and usually make it available on the menu to those who are willing to pay the premium.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By GenevaMech — On Feb 02, 2011

@ stormers- Georgesplane is right. As the article stated, dry aging causes the meat to lose up to twenty percent of its weight. This in turn means that a wet piece of meat that arrives in a vacuum-sealed package will lose up to twenty percent of its weight once it is cooked properly. Along with this water-weight goes the flavor of the beef. I my opinion, the beef with the best flavor and tenderness will be the dry aged grass fed beef, but you will certainly pay more than two or three dollars a pound for it. Considering the amount of time and the "loss of weight" in the curing process, you should expect to pay about 30%-50% more for your dry aged beef.

By Georgesplane — On Jan 31, 2011

@ Stormers- The difference between the two methods is definitely noticeable. A dry aged steak will actually lose less moisture during the cooking process, meaning that it will weigh more when it comes to your plate. For example, a 10-ounce steak that has been allowed to dry age will probably arrive on your plate between 9-10 ounces, whereas a wet aged steak will lose at least double the weight of a dry aged steak during the cooking process.

The wet aged steak may seem tenderer to the untrained palate, but in reality, it is a lack of structure within the meat that makes the steak seem tender. Dry aged steaks also retain more of the beef flavor, concentrating it into the meat, rather than losing it to the old blood in the packaging. The lack of structure to the steak will also create a steak that becomes less "juicy" the more it is cooked. Dry aged steaks still have structure to the cell walls, allowing them to retain their moisture. You can cook a dry aged steak well done, and still have it be juicy. The term dry aged is not to refer to the fact that the steak is dried out, it only refers to the process of letting the blood drain and the meat cure.

By Stormers — On Feb 10, 2009

There is a school of thought among restaurateurs that when wet aged meat is "cryovaced", the meat must purge or lose blood, in the packaging, before it will mature.

My understanding is that if the maturing process can take place with minimal blood loss, in the packaging, that the matured meat will weigh more, be more tender and even more juicy?

Who is correct?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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