Why Dry Age Beef?
El Gaucho is all about beef – really good beef (and we’re not shy about saying so). Just like our menu touts, we serve custom 28-day dry-aged Niman Ranch Certified Angus Beef® brand Prime and steaks. But what does this really mean, and why do we do it? Let us explain!
Dry aging beef is a very expensive and time-consuming process, requiring extra effort and a relatively large inventory. Less than 1% of beef today is dry-aged, which is why it’s typically found only in high-end steakhouses, and some upscale grocery stores. Because these are such important components, we partner with SmithCo Meats in Sumner, WA. Their USDA inspected and certified facility not only has the space, but a team with the patience and willingness to honor our custom dry-age process.
Dry aging is a rustic and dying art form, mostly due to cost. Simply stated, the basic process requires storing beef on racks, without packaging, in temperature and climate controlled coolers. During this time, a crust forms on the outside of the beef, similar to beef jerky (this layer is later trimmed away). The beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tender beef. The meat also undergoes dehydration, which can lead up to a substantial decrease in yield loss –sometimes up to 20%. Once the butchers have trimmed off the outer protective shell before portioning, there can be up to a 50% decrease in volume, which is where the cost factor comes into play. However, the fluid loss is also what gives the beef a greater concentration of flavor, as well as a sweet aroma, leaving a superior steak.
What is special about 28 days?
Most of the improvement in tenderness occurs within the first 10 days of aging, but studies have shown that 28 days is the “magic number” for supreme tenderness; after day 28, the tenderness level plateaus.
Also, not all beef is eligible for dry aging. Consistent fat content, or marbling, is essential, which is why higher grades of meat are reserved for dry aging. This is why we source our beef from Niman Ranch and Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) – their stringent specifications and protocols for raising beef creates the highest quality and consistent steak available.
Dry vs. Wet Aging
Fifty years ago, most beef was dry aged. In the early 1960’s, the invention of the vacuum pack was introduced, and it became the norm for most food processors, and understandably so: they could “wet age” the beef in the bag and not lose any volume. This was much more cost-effective and less risky for the processors. However, it has also led to a regression in beef taste, as the consumer has gradually forgotten the real taste of steak.
The majority of beef today is wet-aged. Typically, supermarket beef is wet-aged 5-10 days, and in most food service establishments, the range is more like 14- 21 days. With wet-age beef, the liquid remains in the bag, and gives a sour odor to the meat while it slowly ages. In contrast, dry aging allows liquid to escape and evaporate, leaving a much more pleasant aroma.
The Best of the Best
The Facts: Only 8% of beef sold in the United States can earn the CAB® label, and only 2% of that receives the CAB® Prime label. Add to that the fact that only 1% of all beef is dry-aged – and even less than that is 28-day dry aged – and you have a pretty spectacular cut of meat. The cherry on top is having Gaucho chefs prepare your steak to order on a charcoal grill.
In a nutshell, you are getting one helluva good steak, friends. And we are proud to offer this to our guests, every night.