Lots of retailers talk about their beef being “hung” or “aged” for a certain period but what does this mean and does it make a difference to the quality of the beef or steak? We have a look at this is some detail in the post.
The short answer is: yes, it does make a difference.
But it has to be done properly and as with most things in this world you cannot turn a poor piece of beef into something very good by hanging.
In simple terms “hanging” or “ageing” beef is the process of letting the beef mature after slaughter to improve both the meat’s tenderness and flavour. And, yes, it does indeed make a significant difference to quality.
Let’s be precise about ageing, there are two ways: dry-ageing and and wet-ageing. Dry-ageing is the proper and traditional method which we’ll focus on in this blog post. On the other hand, we have wet-ageing which we’ll briefly discuss then dismiss.
Wet-ageing is a technique first used in the 1960’s. After slaughter the beef is vacuum sealed and aged in refrigerated conditions. Yes, the beef is ageing but it has no contact with the air so no drying effect; and, it therefore loses no moisture. The loss of moisture is integral to the traditional ageing technique but is of course costly. Because beef can lose up to 20% of its weight through traditional dry ageing. Consequently, wet-ageing can be the method chosen by some retailers because it allows them to claim “aged” but with no weight loss. This results in cheap “aged” beef but of inferior quality.
So, dry-ageing is the traditional process, practiced for hundreds of years and turns top quality beef into something exceptional.
In the dry-ageing process, after slaughter the beef is hung in airy cool conditions (1-4 degrees C) for normally 21 – 28 days. The beef is hung in quarters because the weight of the beef itself helps in the process of tenderising the meat. By hanging in cool airy conditions the meat slowly but steadily loses moisture, this will be around 15% typically. This makes meat firmer and intensifies the savoury flavour. Also, there is a subtle colour change in the meat, often a good way to see if the beef has been hung as advertised, with the beef changing from a red to more of a purple.
In the ageing process the meat is obviously starting to chemically breakdown. This process of breakdown vs the improvement in tenderness and flavour is explained by the calpain theory. In brief this theory goes… calpains, which are a type of protein, breakdown other proteins in muscle to enable new protein to be synthesized. In the ageing process they carry on their work but the second part of creating new protein stops, hence the tenderisation of the meat.
As said hanging is usually for a 21 – 28 days period. The longer it is hung so the beef improves but the weight loss increases which is a very expensive loss. On the flip side, farmers who farm intensively rearing cattle fast on industrial grain feeds and slaughtering young need to hang the beef for longer time to try to get their immature and weak tasting beef to have some flavour. So, a balancing act… cheap beef or exceptional beef.
The beef supplied by The Good Grub People is slow reared traditionally on grass and then dry-aged for 21 days. More about Grass Fed Beef.