Have you ever seen beef carcasses hanging from hooks in a butcher's freezer and wondered what they're doing? Many people mistake this as simple meat storage, but in actual fact, there is a more interesting purpose behind this process. It is known as dry aging, where the meat is kept in a cool room at temperatures between -0.5 and +3 degrees celsius over long periods of time, up to 28 days.
What does dry aging meat do?
The idea behind this process is to allow the moisture to slowly be removed from the protein resulting in a stronger and more complex flavour profile. It also allows the meat's natural enzymes to break down connective tissue which gives it a more tender texture.
Once the meat has completed the dry-aging process, it's then sold as cuts in butcher shops. It's not commonly found in larger supermarkets as it's not conducive to their high turnover rate. Aged steak is therefore now considered gourmet, is more expensive and is generally only found in specialty meat shops and some butchers.
Dry-aged beef is still considered 'raw' and therefore still requires cooking, however, because of the moisture loss over the aging process, it doesn't require anywhere near as much heat as normal grocery store-bought steak.
Wet-aged beef is a common type of aged meat that can be found in most supermarkets. The process involves sealing fresh steak cuts in cryovac bags and refrigerating them to maintain moisture during transportation along supply chains and into stores. In contrast to dry-aged beef, the goal of wet aging is to retain the meat's moisture content.
Air dried meat
Beef jerky and beef biltong are also products of dry aging. In both of their cases, the aging process is achieved by air drying, which is a kind of sped up version of dry-aging. Unlike dry-aging, however, the end product is almost completely free of moisture and is ready to eat straight out of the packet. Due to its harder and chewy texture, jerky and biltong are generally considered snacks rather than the centrepiece of a hot meal.
By removing almost all of the moisture in the meat, pretty much all that's left is protein, making jerky or biltong a great snack for people looking to watch their carbohydrate intake. It's also great for athletes and bodybuilders who need to consume large daily amounts of protein for muscle regeneration.
How is dry aged meat safe?
Food safety is obviously very important, but it's a common misconception that when it comes to meat, the fresher it is, the safer it is. In some cases this is true, but in actual fact, aged meat is just as safe to eat if the aging process is completed under the correct conditions.
Meat becomes contaminated when fungus, mould and bacteria begin to grow. These contaminants need water and oxygen, so by drying meat, we're effectively removing the water that allows these nasties to grow and cause it to spoil.
While it takes up to a month to dry-age beef, the cold and dry refrigerated conditions in which the meat is kept helps to keep any contaminants from growing. The reduced moisture content of aged meat also gives it a longer shelf life once it reaches the display cabinet.
Biltong is not dried in a refrigerator, but is kept safe a couple of ways. Firstly, it is marinated with vinegar, salt, pepper and other flavours. The vinegar lowers the pH of the meat, inhibiting the growth of anything nasty. Meanwhile the salt helps to lower the water profile.
Secondly, the meat is usually dried in a box with a fan which encourages air flow. This air flow inhibits bacterial growth in still air.
Jerky, on the other hand, goes through a very quick drying process with the help of a hot fan. The combination of heat and fans gets the meat nice and dry in less than a day which doesn't allow anything to grow before the meat is completely dry.
As we touched on earlier, air dried beef is very high in protein. The reduced moisture content in dry-aged beef also results in a higher protein steak, but when it comes to bang for your buck, biltong and jerky will give you the biggest protein hit of any meat. This makes air dried meat ideal for people who have set nutritional goals.
It's worth noting, however, that many store-bought beef jerky brands sell what is known as 'candy jerky'. This is a low quality product that is packed full of artificial flavours and sugar which makes it less enjoyable to eat, and is no healthier than a bag of potato chips. Best stick to brands like The Jerky Co for high quality jerky and biltong that is made from all natural ingredients.
The Jerky Co beef jerky and biltong
Dried meat is what we do. We use premium, MSA grade beef to make the best jerky and biltong money can buy, so click the ‘shop now’ tab to take a peek at our massive range of flavours. Our mouth-watering air dried meat snacks are guaranteed to leave you craving for more!