What is Dry-Aged Steak & How Does It Taste?

What's nutty and earthy, umami and sweet, and caramelized and funky all at the same time? Well, it's dry-aged beef. If you are curious about dry-aged beef, and steaks in particular, including what they taste like and what to pair them with, read on! 

In this guide from The Butcher Shoppe, we’ll explore all things dry-aged beef, including:

  • What dry-aged beef is
  • The science behind aging steak
  • The process that leads to high-quality dry-aged steaks
  • What dry-aged beef tastes like
  • What foods and drinks pair well with dry-aged beef
  • The main differences between dry-aging steak and wet-aging steak

If you live in the Toronto area and want artisan butcher shop-quality cuts of meat delivered directly to your door, then check out The Butcher Shoppe's meat catalog online!

What is Dry-Aged Beef?

Dry-aged beef is a premium cut of beef aged in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, usually a refrigerated room. The dry-aging process allows the meat's natural enzymes to break down the connective tissue, resulting in a more tender steak. The process also causes the meat's moisture to evaporate, intensifying the beefy flavour and creating a unique taste and texture.

Dry-aged meat from The Butcher Shoppe

The Science Behind Dry-Aged Meat

Dry-aging meat is a process that involves controlled decomposition of the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavourful steak. Meat is composed of muscle fibers, connective tissue, and fat. The connective tissues consist of collagen and elastin, which are responsible for the toughness of the meat. 

When the meat is first cut, the muscle fibers are held together by this connective tissue. However, during the aging process, enzymes and bacteria in the meat begin to break down the connective tissue, which is why dry-aged steaks turn out more tender.

Meat dry aging in refrigeration at The Butcher Shoppe.

What Factors Affect the Dry Aging Process for Beef?

Dry aging beef is a delicate process that requires careful control of temperature, humidity, and air circulation. Let's take a closer look at the different factors affecting dry-aged steak quality.

1. How Long the Steak is Dry-Aged

The length of time a dry-aged steak is aged is a critical factor affecting its quality. Dry aging usually takes between 14 and 60 days, with longer aging resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak. The optimal length of aging depends on the cut of steak, the quality of the meat, and your personal preference for taste and texture.

The Butcher Shoppe’s dry aging process lasts for a minimum of 30 days.

2. Humidity Levels

Humidity plays a crucial role in the dry-aging process for beef. The ideal humidity level for dry-aging steak is around 70%, which helps prevent the meat from drying too quickly while allowing moisture to evaporate slowly. If the humidity is too low, the meat will dry too quickly, resulting in an unappetizing texture and flavour.

3. Temperature of the Dry-Aging Environment

The temperature of the dry-aging environment is another important factor affecting the steak's quality. The ideal temperature for dry-aging steak is around 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit). At this temperature, the meat can age slowly and develop flavour while avoiding the risk of spoilage.

4. Air Circulation

Air circulation is a crucial factor when dry-aging beef. During the aging process, the meat loses moisture as it dries, enhancing the steak's flavour and tenderness. Proper air circulation ensures that the moisture is evenly evaporated from the meat, preventing mold growth and creating a uniform texture.

Without proper air circulation, the dry-aged steak may develop an uneven texture or become moldy, ruining the quality of the meat. Air circulation allows for the development of a protective crust on the meat's outside, which helps prevent spoilage while allowing the steak to continue to age and develop flavour.

5. Cuts Of Beef Used

Though you can dry-age any cut of beef, certain cuts will perform better than others. At The Butcher Shoppe, we typically dry-age prime grade cuts of beef that have a good amount of marbling (the intramuscular fat that runs through the muscle fibers). Marbling helps keep the meat moist and juicy during cooking, resulting in a tender and delicious steak. Sometimes, whole primal cuts of beef are dry-aged in specialized dry-aging refrigerators.

Here are some of the best cuts of beef for dry aging:

  1. Ribeye is one of the most popular cuts for dry aging due to its high-fat content and excellent marbling. The ribeye has a rich and intense flavour further enhanced by the process.
  2. Strip steak is another popular cut for dry aging. It has a good amount of marbling and a tender texture that benefits from the process.
  3. Porterhouse and T-bone steaks are both excellent cuts for dry aging. They are large cuts of beef that include the tenderloin and the strip steak, offering a range of textures and flavours.
  4. Cowboy steak (a ribeye steak with the bone left in and then frenched at least 1”) is a tender and flavourful cut of beef sourced from the rib section of the animal. Like the ribeye, it has great marbling and is an excellent candidate for dry aging.
  5. The tomahawk steak is a variation of the rib steak with a long, protruding bone. This steak has a striking appearance and is perfect for an indulgent meal or special occasion. Because it is the same cut as a ribeye, it is just as suitable for dry aging

At The Butcher Shoppe, we also dry-age whole primal muscle cuts of beef, including swinging ribs!

Different types of dry-aged steak and meat on racks.

What Does Dry-Aged Beef Taste Like?

The flavour profile of dry-aged beef is one of the main reasons why food enthusiasts highly prize it. If you’ve never tasted dry-aged steak, you may wonder what makes its taste and texture different from regular steak. 

First, a caveat: the flavour profile of dry-aged beef can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of meat, the length of the aging process, and the conditions in which the meat was aged. 

Here are some of the most common flavour profiles found in dry-aged steak:

  • Nutty and Earthy: Dry-aged beef often has a nutty or earthy flavour profile, which comes from the breakdown of the fat and proteins in the meat. These flavours are more pronounced in longer-aged steaks and are often described as similar to hazelnuts or mushrooms.
  • Umami: Umami is the fifth taste sensation, which is savoury and meaty. Dry-aged beef has a strong umami flavour profile, which is intensified by the aging process. This flavour is often described as meaty or brothy.
  • Sweet and Caramelized: As the steak dries during the aging process, the natural sugars in the meat become more concentrated, resulting in a sweet and caramelized flavour profile. This is often more noticeable in shorter-aged steaks.
  • Funky and Blue Cheese-like: Longer-aged steaks can develop a more complex and funky flavour profile, similar to blue cheese. This flavour comes from the breakdown of the meat's proteins, which creates a variety of aromatic compounds that give the steak a unique flavour.
  • Mineral: Some dry-aged steaks can develop a mineral-like flavour profile, similar to the taste of iron or copper. This flavour comes from minerals in the meat and is more pronounced in grass-fed or free-range beef.

In terms of texture, dry-aged steak tends to be more tender than normal steak. The aging process causes a breakdown of the muscle tissue and connective fibers in the meat, which allows the natural enzymes and bacteria to work their magic, breaking down tougher muscle fibers and encouraging the beef to develop a tender texture.

In summary, dry-aged steak has a unique and complex flavour that cannot be replicated by any other cooking method. 

Dry-aged tomahawk steak.

What Foods and Drinks Pair Well With Dry-Aged Beef?

Dry-aged beef has a rich and intense flavour that pairs well with various side dishes and beverages that complement the steak and add a delicious and balanced element to the meal. Here are some great options for pairing with dry-aged steak:

  • Red Wine: Dry-aged beef pairs perfectly with a full-bodied red wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot. The tannins in the wine help cut through the richness of the steak, while the fruity flavours complement the beefy flavour of the steak.
  • Roasted Vegetables: Roasted vegetables, such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or mushrooms, are a great complement to dry-aged beef. The earthy flavours of the vegetables pair well with the nutty and earthy flavour of the steak.
  • Creamed Spinach: Creamed spinach is a classic side dish that pairs well with steak and is a particularly good match for dry-aged steak. The creamy, savoury sauce adds a luxurious element to the dish, while the spinach provides a fresh and healthy balance.
  • Mashed Potatoes: Mashed potatoes are a simple, delicious side dish that pairs well with dry-aged steak. The creamy texture of the potatoes complements the firm texture of the steak, while the mild flavour of the potatoes allows the flavour of the steak to shine through.
  • Blue Cheese: Blue cheese is pungent and flavourful and pairs well with dry-aged beef. The strong flavour of the cheese complements the rich and intense flavour of the steak, while the creamy texture of the cheese provides a delicious contrast to the firm texture of the steak.
Dry-aged meats on a rack.

What is the Difference Between Dry Aged and Wet Aged Beef?

Dry aging and wet aging are two methods to age beef before it is sold and consumed. Dry aging beef involves hanging whole cuts of beef in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment for a period of time, while wet aging involves vacuum-sealing individual cuts of beef and letting them age in a wet, sealed environment. 

Other differences between these two methods for aging beef include the following:

  • Moisture: Dry aging steak allows moisture to evaporate from the beef, resulting in a more concentrated flavour and a firmer texture, while wet aging involves the meat being aged in a wet, sealed environment, which makes the meat more tender.
  • Time: Dry aging meat typically takes longer than wet aging it, with most dry-aged beef aged for at least 21 days, while wet-aged beef is typically aged for 7 to 14 days. However, we wet age our meat for a minimum of 30 days.
  • Cost: Dry aging steak is more expensive due to the time and care required to age the beef properly, while wet aging is more cost-effective. Another reason dry aging is more expensive is due to the weight it looses during the process. A pound of dry-aged beef is more beef product than a pound of wet-aged beef.
  • Flavour: Dry-aged beef has a more intense, nutty, and earthy flavour due to the concentration of flavour that forms during the aging process, while wet-aged meat has a milder, more subtle flavour.

Order Premium Dry-Aged Steak in the Toronto Area at The Butcher Shoppe

If you're interested in trying dry-aged beef, The Butcher Shoppe is your go-to source for properly dry-aged steaks and meats, including whole muscle primal cuts like swinging ribs. We're your local neighborhood butcher shop that delivers throughout the greater Toronto area, so you don't need to leave home to access our quality hand-cut meat products.

Dry-aged steak icon.

Our dry-aged steaks are aged for 30 days in-house to ensure the highest quality and most flavourful steak possible. We offer a wide selection of dry-aged cuts, including ribeye, porterhouse, and New York strip.

Plus, we only dry-age prime-grade beef, which means you are getting quality, dry-aged beef products. Check out our entire meat catalog and find out why Toronto chooses us for its online meat delivery.

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