Dry Aging, Wet Aging and Dry Brining: The Differences Explained
While aging meat is a long-used technique for enhancing and enriching flavors of steaks, it is becoming increasingly popular in the world of meat lovers. Within this article, we’ll explain the differences between dry aging, wet aging and dry brining, and how you should handle these for your next beef experiments.
What are the effects of aging beef?
By aging beef, enzymes slowly but surely break down connective tissue within the steak fibers. Two effects are remarkably noticeable: the texture of the meat becomes more tender, and the flavor is remarkably intensified. Of course, every aging method has its own characteristics. Let’s deeper into them!
What is dry aging?
Dry aging can be executed in two ways.
The first option is to place beef in a dry age cabinet. The cabinet comes with specialized ventilation, humidity and temperature control to create perfect conditions for aging meat. It is generally viewed as the most precise (and expensive) way to dry age your favorite steak.
The second option to dry age beef is to use a specialized dry age bag along with a vacuum sealer. Be aware that dry age bags (such as Umai dry bags) are not regular vacuum seal bags. Dry age bags are specially designed for withdrawing moisture from the inside while still perfectly vacuum sealing the meat.
What are the effects of dry aging?
The result of a good dry aged steak is considerably noticeable in flavor and texture. The taste is more beefy, earthy and richer than a regular steak, while texture is much smoother.
When dry aging, please be aware that the outside of the steak will become dry and crusty. Before grilling, it is best to trim the entire outside crust with a sharp knife. By doing so, keep in mind that you’re about to lose around 20-25% of your steak. That’s why we always recommend aging thicker steaks (1KG+) instead of small ones.
The time needed for dry aging beef varies on preference. Here at OS Meatshop, we take the following day marks into consideration:
21 – 30 days: great juiciness and tenderness, along with a balanced dry aged taste.
45 – 50 days: great juiciness and tenderness, along with a strong dry aged taste.
60 + days: losses in juiciness and tenderness, along with a very strong dry aged taste.
What is wet aging?
Wet aging is a slightly newer trend that is increasing in popularity. Contrary to dry aging, the goal is to age beef without extracting internal moisture from the beef. That’s why regular vacuum seal bags (instead of specialized dry age bags) will suffice for wet aging.
The main advantage of wet aging comes with the fact that there is no dry crust being formed on the outside of the steak. In other words, you’ll preserve all of the meat without the need to trim before grilling. This makes it a very cost-effective solution for meat lovers to experiment with.
Please note that wet aging does not induce as drastic flavor changes to your beef like dry aging. That being said, wet aging is still a nice way to notably enhance tenderness of your steak.
For wet aging, we believe that a 21-day mark is generally a good consideration.
What is dry brining?
Last but not least, we have the process of dry brining steaks. Contrary to the previous methods, no vacuum sealed bags are needed for dry brining. You basically just need two components: a refrigerator and a good amount of salt!
Start by salting a steak 4 hours to 3 days prior to grilling and leaving it in your fridge completely uncovered. Due to the process referred as ‘osmosis’, the salt will first extract moisture from the steak. Subsequently, the salt will dissolve into the moisture and finally re-enter the steak. On the inside, the salted moisture will break down connective tissue. Not only will your steak be considerably more tender, but it will also have great improvements in flavor. To top it off, your steak will have a lovely dark red color!
For dry brining, please take following time marks into consideration:
4-12 hours: slight improvements in flavor, tenderness and juiciness
24 hours: great improvements in flavor, tenderness and juiciness
36-48 hours: great improvements in flavor, but a tad too dried out
As you can read, our desired time mark for dry brining lies around 24 hours prior to grilling. At this point, the flavor, tenderness and juiciness find themselves in a sweet spot. When dry brining for 2-3 days, we find that steaks are becoming slightly too dried out for our liking, and the texture of the steak somewhat reminds us of beef jerky. Feel free to experiment yourself!
The final verdict
At OS Meatshop, we are big lovers of aging meat. Note that each method has its own unique characteristics, and it is completely up to you to experiment which one fits best in terms of flavor, tenderness and juiciness. Either way, all methods are fun experiences wherein you can educate yourself while enjoying delicious beef at the same time. What’s not to like?!