Dry vs. Wet Aging: Key Differences

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Which is better – dry-aged or wet-aged steak?

This topic has become quite a bone of contention amongst us carnivores. So before we get started weighing up the pros and cons, let’s explain what aging means:

The aging process kicks in post-mortem in the days after slaughter. During this time, the enzymes start working on the muscle tissue breaking down the meat and tenderizing it. So when you hear the description “mouth-watering succulent” steak, you can attribute this largely to the meat’s aging process.

Now that we’ve briefly explained what the aging process is, let’s talk a little more about the dry and wet-aging process while weighing up the pros and cons of each. Plus, we will recommend the best cuts of meat for each aging method.

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Dry-aging explained

Dry-aging is a traditional, age-old treatment that occurs for beef post-mortem.

Dry-aging is considered a fine art that has been around for centuries, long before we invented the refrigerator.

Back in the day, people would hang an entire carcass or primal cut in a humidity-controlled room like a cellar or even a cave. By hanging the meat, the carcass has an unobstructed airflow.

The aging process is similar to when fermenting cheese in that over time, the dry-aging process increases the flavor of meat and changes its texture. The longer the dry-aging process, the more tender and flavorsome the beef will become.

You will notice that most restaurants and mail order steak companies dry-age their steak between four to six weeks. If you age it for longer than eight weeks, you are going to hit that “blue-cheese” flavor zone – if you know what we mean?

Best cuts to dry-age
Dry-aging brings out the hidden flavors and textures of your less luxurious cuts. Also, when you are choosing to dry-age steak, the fattier the cut, the better!

Therefore, due to USDA Premium steaks being graded on marbling, you will begin noticing restaurants tend to serve these cuts of beef dry-aged.

Suitable beef to dry-age include: Thick, marbled cuts like porterhouse. Bone-in/boneless ribeye. Bone-in strip steak. Sirloin steak.

The pros of dry-aging

There are many benefits to sticking with a trusted and proven process like dry-aging. These include:

  1. The beef becomes more tender.
  2. The flavor of the beef intensifies over time.
  3. It is suitable for aging an entire carcass or primal cut.

The cons of dry-aging

Like anything, there are disadvantages to dry-aging. They are:

  • The meat loses quite a bit of moisture or evaporates over time. This increases the cost of the steak per pound.
  • The meat’s surface goes moldy and needs to be trimmed back which means you lose even more beef.
  • This process is unsuitable for single steaks because you’ll lose too much volume of steak in the process.
  • Dry-aging is fantastic, but it can be a costly and time-consuming process. This is why you rarely see it offered outside of your high-end, fine-dining steakhouses such as the Papa Bros Steakhouse in Dallas and The Capital Grille in Seattle.

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Wet-aging explained

With technological advancements like refrigeration and plastic, wet-aging is still a relatively new way of aging beef. In this process, the beef cuts are stored in vacuum-sealed bags (cryovac) and refrigerated between 28 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike the open air dry-aging process, during the wet-aging process, the steak cut has zero exposure to oxygen. While stored in the vacuum-sealed bag, the beef ages in its natural juices while enzymes break down connective tissues and tenderize the steak.  

Best cuts to wet-age
When selecting wet-aged steak, it is more suitable to use this process for lean steak.

Since grass-fed steak tends to produce leaner beef than grain and corn-fed cattle, it dips out on the USDA Prime gradings due to limited marbling.

Since grass-fed beef is already naturally flavorsome, its beef is ideal for wet-aging.

Suitable beef cuts to wet-age include: Boneless strip steak. Filet mignon. Flat-iron steak. Flank steak.  

The pros of wet-aging

Like dry-aging, there are advantages to using the wet-aging process. These include:

  • There is no moisture loss, aka weight loss, due to dehydration.
  • The taste of the beef is vibrant and fresh.
  • There is no mold growth on the beef.
  • Both small and large cuts can be wet-aged.
  • It is an ideal process to apply to leaner grass-fed cuts of beef.
  • It is generally more commercially viable as wet-aging is an easier and more efficient process to manage in the food supply chain.  

The cons of wet-aging

Again like anything, there are disadvantages to wet-aging:

  • Wet-aging can create a slightly metallic taste.
  • It is an unsuitable aging process for fatty beef and beef that is graded as USDA Prime.

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Bringing it all together

Tips when buying aged steak
If you are out and about and looking to buy aged steak, remember to check the label. If it does not clearly state it is dry-aged, it is likely that the steak has been wet-aged.

The majority of steaks sold commercially are wet-aged.

Now that we have compared these different aging methods, you are probably wondering which one is better? The truth is, neither is better. Both the wet and dry-aging processes deliver tender and delicious steak. 

When people argue that one is better than another, it is purely subjective and based on taste. Meat eaters describe dry-aged steak as having a rich, earthy, nutty, roasted flavor, whereas wet-aged beef tastes more vibrant and fresher but note, it does have a slightly metallic taste as well.  

As traditional steak eaters, our preference is to eat USDA Prime meat dry-aged for approximately 21-days. Steak that follows this process gives you a mouth-watering, melt-in-your-mouth texture with just the right depth of flavor. If steak dry-ages for too long, the taste gets a little too strong for our palette.

However, whether you select wet or dry, it all boils down to your personal taste.

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Kelly Pettitt

By Kelly Pettitt

When she's not working on the train tracks, Kelly is a proud carnivore who travels the globe on the hunt for the ultimate steak experience. When she’s not devouring a New York Strip or chomping down on a rack of ribs, she is mixing up a dirty martini or sipping on a full bodied shiraz.