Dry Aging Beef:
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There are many reasons that butchers don't typically age meat these days:
- First of all the cost of aged beef can be very high. Because of the weight loss of aged beef, the price per pound can be pretty outrageous. If you add in the time, storage space, refrigeration, and labor, that price just keeps moving up.
- For aging to properly improve the quality of a cut of meat, it should contain substantial marbling. This means that there is fat evenly distributed throughout the meat. Only the highest grades have this kind of marbling (Choice and Prime).
The aging of beef is normally thought of as the time, in days, from slaughter until the carcass is broken down into retail cuts. The average industry time for aging beef before cutting the carcass into retail cuts is about seven days. We typically hang most beef for 10 to 14 days.
Cooked, un aged beef has been described as "metallic" and lacking in typical beef flavor. True beef flavor is fully developed after about 11 days of aging. The aged beef flavor increases with increasing aging time. However, the longer the beef hangs the more weight you lose.
Aging also increases tenderness. It has been shown that during the aging process certain changes take place in portions of the structure of collagen and muscle fibers. Currently, it is thought that enzymatic-caused changes in the structure of muscle fibers are largely responsible for the increase in tenderness. It is known that tenderness decreases immediately after slaughter while rigor mortis takes place (taking 6 to 12 hours to complete); then tenderness increases gradually. Tenderness continues to increase up to 11 days, after which there is no increase in tenderness.
The amount of time that it takes to get a 10 to 14 day age can also vary. If there is only one beef in a cooler the enzyme and bacteria growth is slower and the beef may hang for 16 days to get the equivalent aging of 10 days. And if the cooler is full there is going to be more enzymes and bacteria present. So the beef may only need to hang 8 days to get a 12 day age. It is necessary that a experienced butcher closely watch the hanging carcass. During the aging process, one can also expect a loss of weight of the product. Because the lean (exclusive of trimable fat and bone) is approximately 70 percent water, it's easy to see why there is a weight loss. The weight loss is caused by dehydration of the lean and fat. The weight loss occasionally occurs at tremendous proportions depending on relative humidity, amount of air flow and temperature of the aging cooler. During chilling of the hot carcass immediately after slaughter, the carcass will lose 2 to 3 percent of its weight due to moisture loss. Aging the carcass beyond this time will result in additional tissue shrinkage of 1 to 1.5 percent per day for each seven days. Hamburger cows or "grinders" should be cut within 3 days of slaughter to minimize the weight lost per day.
Carcasses with a thin external fat cover will lose more moisture than carcasses with a heavy fat cover. One study observed an 18 percent trim and shrink loss from loins aged 14 days in a 36 degrees F cooler. Also remember that fat protects the meat from dehydration. Therefore, if you are aging a beef carcass with very little fat, you can expect a higher weight loss during the aging process than would occur normally with a fatter carcass. Maintaining the aging cooler at 85 percent relative humidity will keep weight losses down during prolonged aging. Carcasses with little external fat are more likely to pickup undesirable cooler odors and should thus be aged no more than five days.
Some studies have shown that there are many benefits of hanging a beef for up to 21 days. These benefits greatly decrease after 14 days. With the new e coli and salmonella concerns we don't feel the benefits out way the risks of hanging a beef for 21 days.