Dry Aged Beef – Is it really better?

 

Some vegans and vegetarians would take great umbrage to Pink Floyd’s stipulation that, “you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.”  But maybe the meat wasn’t worth eating?

How much beef do you eat a week? How many steaks, burgers, roasts, etc? How was your meat aged? For how long? Does it make a difference?  If you are a vegetarian do you even care?

Obviously if we are asking the question, the answer is YES…it does make a difference. And if you are a vegetarian the answer is…MAYBE.   But the more important answer is to the question – WHY?

Before we go any futher, we’d like to be clear about the fact that this discussion does not apply to lab grown meat!  Lab grown meat contains no fat, no marbling, and that just won’t do!

The primary function of the aging process (wet or dry) is to improve flavor and texture. We’ll get into the specifics in a future post. For now, let’s suffice it to say that when it comes to red meat (beef, elk, deer, buffalo & bison to name a few) aging times of at least 14 days are crucial. Times in excess of that may also be desirable.  But a word of caution here.  Any grassfed red meat is going to be high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and when that highly volatile double bonded compound breaks down it imparts a VERY gamey flavor to your meat.  So if you are considering dry aging grass fed anything, give careful consideration to the over all aging time.

Like all things organic, when life ceases to exist breakdown occurs. Muscle and connective tissue breaks down. As with the breakdown of all organic matter, there are by-products and this is where wet aging and dry aging part ways.

Around 1965 cryovac packing was developed and by 1968 approximately 95% – 98% of all beef sold in the US was wet packed. It was (and still is) believed that this is a preferable method of aging beef because it avoids the bacterial contamination risks associated with dry aging. It also accelerates the enzymatic breakdown process and allows beef to be aged for shorter periods of time. Typically wet aged beef is aged for 14 – 21 days. As the beef ages and the meat and connective tissue break down, because it occurs in airtight bags, the primary by products are acids. These are responsible for most of your grocery store/supermarket beef tasting “bloody” or “serum-y”.

Dry aged beef on the other hand, because it is open to the air, produces alkane as its primary by-product. Alkanes in dry aged beef are primarily alkaline compounds that dissolve fats.  (You can read a lot of the chemistry behind it here.)

What does all of this mean? Think about what you are eating…not just the beef, but the additional by-products. Most doctors will tell you that if you want to avoid cancer avoid red meat. We understand that cancer thrives in an acidic environment. So perhaps the underlying reason for avoiding red meat is not simply because “red meat is bad”, but because almost all red meat available today is primarily acidic in nature.

Perhaps the prevalence in cancer occurrences (in non-smokers) is because of the significant shift in beef consumption from 1968 onward? That shift was away from traditional dry aged beef and toward cryovac-ed wet aged beef. We won’t even get into the discussion about the plastic bags used for cryovac-ing. Dry aged beef with alkane as its primary by-product is healthier for a couple of reasons:

First, having an inherent chemical compound that will break down the fats is great! That’s an automatic cholesterol reducer, or at the very least should prevent cholesterol from going up when eating red meat.

Second, eating meat with an alkaline rather than an acidic bias is generally much better for you!

Science and greed did it to us again. Let’s move that meat to market faster. Let’s use these new fangled plastics to make life better. In the case of dry aged beef, we gave up a lot of good and got nothing back in return. Next time we’ll consider the gastronomic benefits of dry aging your own beef.