Better with age?? The Wet vs Dry debate rages on …

Greetings Carnivores,

There has been a raging debate going on for years over which method of aging is superior: Wet vs Dry. It’s helpful to understand what happens during the process of aging so, I’m going to attempt to demystify the conflict for you because in the end … it’s going to come down to personal choice.

The truth is, the tenderness of all meat whether it’s Poultry, Pork, Lamb or Beef will improve to a certain degree, from ‘some’ aging. This is because immediately after the animal is slaughtered, natural enzymes begin the job of breaking the flesh down. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust so to speak. The process is inevitable and unstoppable, unless the meat is frozen but, then we begin to deal with other issues. (I go through those ‘issues’ in an earlier post called “Did it just get chilly in here?”)

When I started in this business years ago, there was no other option for aging meat other than humidity controlled, dry aged hanging. Dry aging basically allows the meat to dehydrate while hanging, and the process of breaking down imparts this earthy, musty, old (Blue) cheese sort of funky flavour … a flavour sought after by the tastebuds of some of the most discerning Foodies and Chefs alike.

But, there’s nothing like progress. Around the time Cindy Lauper, Techno-pop, Men at Work and the Cars were making names for themselves, a new method to age meat, developed by the meat industry was becoming more and more popular too.

Advances in Plastics and the introduction of huge machines used to vacuum seal large primal cuts in the slaughterhouse, allowed the meat industry to totally exclude Oxygen. This radically retards the speed with which a piece of meat breaks down (ages) with almost no moisture loss. The meat still ages in the bag although … it’s different. The downside (there always seems to be a downside to something good) is Wet aged Beef has has lost it’s distinctly ‘earthy’ taste.

Less and less meat was sent to the stores ‘hanging’ because now they were able to break down the carcasses at the plant level, and ship the individual ‘Primals’ to the stores in cases. Profits soared. Can you imagine the dollar signs popping off in the heads of the big meat execs? They figured out how to drastically improve their bottom line by reducing weight loss due to dehydration and trimming.

You can still find Beef dry aged, and hung 21 (or better) days but you’ll pay a premium for it. The ‘Boutique’ shops will be your best place to start but, make sure to ask the Butcher if he is hanging the old dry way. A lot of places just don’t have the time or space needed to accurately ‘Dry’ age on their premises so … it really is becoming harder and harder to find.

If you live in the Toronto area I have to recommend an old friend of mine who runs a beautiful Boutique shop in downtown Oakville called Just an Olde Fashioned Butchery and Seafood. His name is Bill Rechter and he and I go back a LONG way. He actually has a Black and White photograph of the two of us hanging on the wall, working in his shop … taken when we both looked like little kids. Check him out and tell him I sent you.

So, there you have it … Cindy Lauper or the Cars. Wet or Dry … personal choice.

“till next time Carnivores, stay hungry.

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2 thoughts on “Better with age?? The Wet vs Dry debate rages on …

  1. Hi Carnivore,

    Great post. I know it’s the cynic in me, but I believe wet aging took off precisely as a profit measure. I have been lucky to have both dry and wet aged meat and I (personally) think there is no compare. I find in the same cut, dry aged is much more flavorful and tender. Even mild tenderloin gains a ton of character through dry aging. But oiy! The cost! However, I have discovered dry aging at home! Here’s a link to a very concise video:

    http://americastestkitchen.tumblr.com/post/13784956335/how-to-dry-age-steak-at-home-wonder-why-meat

    I have heard some concerns voiced about aging your own meat, but like all things, cleanliness is key, as well as prep, and handling.

  2. Hi Norn, yes … you’ve hit the nail on the head. It was a purely profit/productivity decision, made by big business and, I agree with you about the taste. Sadly, the cost of REAL Dry aging makes the end result almost cost prohibitive. We’ve been forced fed the Wet version for so long … a LOT of ppl have never even tasted the difference. Thanks for reading AND, your feedback is always welcome.

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