Dry aging is what distinguishes a truly great steak from any other steak you will ever eat.
Imagine sitting before you is a prime, dry-aged steak, hot off the grill after a brief rest.
What strikes you first? Does the magnetic aroma of perfectly cooked Porterhouse, strip, rib steak, or filet pull you in? The appearance of grill marks? Or is it as the first bite hits your palate—the crunchy crust, the yielding interior, the burst of inimitable flavor, or the buttery juiciness? Or is it the awareness that you are about to embark on a peak dining experience?
Originally a method of preservation before the invention of refrigeration, dry aging is no longer a necessity, it is a measure of quality—the zenith of how good beef can be.
Today, dry aging is an art and science rarely practiced in these days of mass production and boxed beef. It is a hands-on process that imbues prime beef with the most tender texture, the most intense flavor, and juiciness beyond compare.
The Lobels are among the few butchers anywhere who still dry age beef. In fact, they hold a patent for the specifications of a specially designed dry-aging room with highly regulated temperature, humidity, and air-circulation controls. And they dry-age beef longer than most—up to 6 weeks.
This is an important distinction. Beef can be labeled “dry-aged” even if it has only been aged for a week or two. However, there is a world of difference between a steak dry aged for 7 days and one dry aged for about 45 days.
Another method of aging—wet aging—tenderizes beef, but does little to enhance flavor the way dry aging does. Wet aging involves sealing the beef in vacuum-sealed bags for a few weeks. At the end of the day, wet aging doesn’t deliver the impact and flavor of a dry-aged steak.
Among the reasons dry-aged beef is more expensive than typical supermarket beef is that only the highest quality beef can be dry aged. It is a labor-intensive process during which the beef shrinks in size, and there’s a considerable exterior loss in trimming dry-aged primals into retail cuts.
Beef that goes into a dry-aging room must be on the bone and it must have a lot of marbling, the intramuscular fat that permeates prime-grade meat. Marbling is a key factor in the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness that characterize a great steak.
Large sections of beef, called primals, are placed on racks in a dry-aging room. During the time in the room, the beef acquires a dark, hard crust that seals the beef and protects it from deterioration.
Within that crusty cocoon, the meat loses about 25 to 30% of its moisture through dehydration, and the muscle fibers shrink. Even though the beef becomes dense, enzymes tenderize the meat naturally by breaking down the muscle-fiber structures.
When the beef comes out of the dry-aging room, all the crust must be trimmed away before it can be cut into steaks or roasts.
After that, it’s a matter of you, a source of heat, and the most delicious steak you’ve ever enjoyed.