If you’ve heard the term “dry-aged beef” before, you probably associate it with a high price tag on a steakhouse menu. Dry-aged steaks are always pricier than the rest of the steaks, so it stands to reason they must taste better, right? Unfortunately, it’s not as cut and dry as that; dry-aged steaks taste different, but whether they’re worth the hefty price tag is up to your taste buds.
What Is Dry-Aged Steak?
A dry-aged steak is exactly what it sounds like: a cut of beef that has been aged, uncovered and surrounded by air. If you pick up a regular steak at the butcher, it’ll be bright red and cook up chewy but juicy (especially when you hit that perfect medium-rare temperature). Dry-aged steaks, on the other hand, aren’t fresh; they’re dark brown in color because they’ve been aged anywhere from 7 to 120 days. They don’t spoil during the process because they’re stored in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment that keeps them from going bad. They do gain a layer of white mold on the outside of the steak, but don’t worry; this outer layer is always removed before you eat it!
The dry-aging process draws moisture out of the meat, shrinking its size and darkening the color. As the meat loses water, its flavor becomes concentrated to give it a more beef-forward finish. The time in the aging room also breaks down collagen—the connective tissues that holds together the beef’s muscle fibers—so these steaks are more tender than fresh steaks.
What Does Dry-Aged Steak Taste Like?
The first thing you’ll notice about a dry-aged steak is its texture. Because most of the collagen has broken down during the aging process, the steak isn’t as chewy as a regular steak. You may not even need a knife to cut into it; it’s so tender, it almost melts in your mouth as you eat it.
When it comes to flavor, that really depends on how long the beef was aged. The most common dry-aged steak is aged for 30 days. This steak tastes very beefy (similar to a rare roast beef) with a hint of what people describe as buttered popcorn flavor. As it continues to age, the flavor becomes more and more intense. After about 45 days, it starts to take on a funky edge (similar to blue cheese), which continues to intensify at 90 and 120 days. Steaks that are aged this long are very expensive and are best for true beef connoisseurs.
Why Is Dry-Aged Beef Expensive?
The price tag on a dry-aged steak might turn you off, but it’s expensive for a reason. First, it takes time and effort to age a steak, and you need specific equipment. An environment with controlled temperatures and humidity is crucial, and you have to carefully monitor the steaks to make sure they’re only growing beneficial bacteria.
Then, there’s the water loss. When a steak ages for 30 days, it loses 15% of its total weight in water. That means a one-pound steak now weighs 13.6 ounces. At 120 days, that same steak weighs even less; it’s lost 35% of its weight and clocks in at 10.4 ounces. If you’re a restaurant, you would want to account for both the time the steak sat in your inventory and its weight-loss, so every ounce becomes more valuable than the original.
Trying dry-aged steak at a steakhouse is a good way to determine if you like the flavor; you can definitely find it on the menu at the best steakhouse in every state. You can also find dry-aged steak at specialty butcher shops. If the flavor is to your liking, ask if you can special-order large roasts, too. It would be a great way to take your holiday roast to the next level.