What is wet aging of steaks and why should one consider it?
Wet-aging is the process of keeping a steak (or a large cut like a whole tenderloin, whole rib roast, or 3-4 bone prime rib) for a specified time period in a critically temperature-controlled environment. Enzymes in the meat will tenderize it gradually over the time period. At that point the meat can be cooked or frozen for later use.
As an experiment, I had purchased 4 one-pound ribeyes from Sam’s Club on Jan. 4, 2016. I cooked one, then individually vacuum-sealed the other three. I cooked one more after 4 weeks, then one after 8 weeks and the last one tonight – a total of 14 weeks. My goal was to determine the ideal time for wet-aging a 1-1.25# ribeye to improve the tenderness, without allowing the meat to get over-tender (a mushy texture). I was concerned that 12+ weeks might be too long.
Results: We noticed a progressive increase in tenderness between all the ribeyes, and were pleasantly surprised tonight to find the 14-week steak was extremely tender, yet maintained an acceptable texture.
Note the most important food safety requirement for wet-aging meat is the ability to control the temperature in the environment (refrigerator). I use an outdoor fridge that is rarely opened. I keep a refrigerator thermometer (Kroger) on the shelf with the meat and strive for 32-34* at all times. I check every couple of days and ‘bump’ the temperature controller up or down as needed. I also keep some bottled water on the shelf to observe for any ice formation. I recommend vacuum-sealing the meat and not leaving it in the store’s sealed container than might contain bacteria. For large cuts (tenderloin, rib roast, etc) it is ok to leave it in the original thick, vacuum-sealed cryovac, as long as it has remained sealed tightly.
(In another post I will discuss dry-aging and the combination of wet and dry aging).
If one is interested in improving the tenderness of store-bought steaks, I can recommend 14 weeks as the optimum time for wet-aged ribeyes that are about 1-1.5 inches thick, following the food safety notes above.
The steak from tonight is pictured, plated with rutabaga fries and oven-roasted zucchini slices, plus a salad of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes (recipe below).
1-1/4# wet-aged ribeye steak
Cluck and Squeal Beef Specific rub (or favorite seasoning)
(1) Prepare the grill for a hot, direct cook.
(2) Season and allow the steak to come to room temperature (45-60 minutes)
(3) Grill 3-4 minutes on each side until it reaches your preferred doneness – internal temp of 125* (medium rare) or 130* (medium).
(4) Cover and rest for 5-8 minutes before serving.