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Q: Out of curiosity, why do the people who age beef two weeks to 20 days or more brag about it like it's a good thing? “XYZ” Beef ranchers have been doing this (raising grass-fed beef) for years and I think they're one of the ones with 21-day dry aging. With all of their experience, it made me think that was the way to go. Then I read where another major vendor, “ABC” Beef, uses wet aging and talks dry aging down. See? CONFUSION! What do you do and why?
A: The standard for aging beef is not two weeks or even three weeks as many beef people believe. Ninety percent of the tenderness improvement from aging is achieved by day nine. Going beyond that dries out the carcass more than it improves tenderness. Only really fat, super grain-fed critters can be hung longer without excessive shrinkage because of their greater fat cover. From slaughter through processing our meats are aged nine days, then all cuts are frozen and the aging process stops. If you want to age your beef more, you can thaw it out in a refrigerator and wait a few days before cooking it. The aging process takes up where it left off. If you did this, thawed out the packaged meat and left it in the sealed package in the refrigerator, this final process would be called “wet aging.”
Folks who brag up their long aging processes don't have a clue about what they're doing. There are many dozens of scientific meat studies involving shear force tests, etc., etc. on meats and aging methods and times. We believe our approach best balances overall meat quality from all the scientific work that has been done on it. Also, practical experience has been added to the equation. By the way, another experience factor is that at some point aging can actually get to a deterioration point where the meat can taste rotten! That can happen in less than 21 days.
I can add to this that wet aging involves primal cuts and in some cases the final meat cuts. That means the carcass is broken and the primal cuts (and in some cases the final meat cuts) are packaged in plastic vacuumed packs. There is some weight loss (liquid loss), which is actually about the same as dry aging from this process because instead of a carcass staying together (only split down the center) it is cut up in much smaller pieces creating more places for liquid loss. Aging is a factor of temperature and time. The warmer it is above freezing the faster it ages. The standard temperature for aging meats is 32 degrees. Therefore there is no degradation in the nutritional characteristics of the meats. The net difference between wet aging and dry aging for nine day periods is probably nil.
All beef (and similar large animals) is aged to some degree prior to processing unless it all goes into a grinder the day it is slaughtered and quick frozen. Aging has been with us since man ate the first critter too big to eat in one sitting. It's a standard function of the entire modern-day meat business so we don't believe it's a bragging point. All this “bragging” about aging processes is similar to car manufacturers bragging that their cars have tires.