Go to an expensive steakhouse in Miami and you're bound to find the words "dry-aged" on the menu. But half of the patrons shelling out big bucks for that expensive, tender meat probably don't know what it means.
Short Order wants you to know why you're eating. We spoke to chef Amiro Cruz of Wolfgang's Steakhouse, who gave us a lesson on the how and why of dry-aging.
At Wolfgang's, all of the beef is dry aged in-house for 28 days in the restaurant's on-site meat locker, so we stood inside a small, frigid room to see for ourselves how the meat changes during the four-week period. Here's what we found.
The first step is selection. "There are certain cuts of beef that are suitable for dry-aging -- sirloin, strip loin, rib eye. Those are the high-end pieces that are most suitable for aging because of the high content of fat," Cruz told Short Order.
At Wolfgang's, they don't use anything less than prime. "If you're going to put 28 days into something, you've got to make sure it comes out right. If you buy the prime beef, you have a higher chance that everything's going to."
Meat cuts are delivered twice a week. When we visited last Friday morning, a new shipment of short loin (a cut of beef that comes from the back of the cow) had just come in. The meats are labeled with two dates as soon as they come in, the day of arrival and the day by which the dry-aging process will be complete.
The cooler is kept very cold -- between 37° and 39° F -- with humidity control at 78 to 82 percent. There's also an air circulation system with additional fans. All this helps to take the moisture out of the meat while it's dry-aging. "The meat comes in wet, red, and bloody. You want to get that sealed in as soon as possible, so it doesn't continue to run," says Cruz.
Massive 30-pound cuts of beef sit on racks with ventilation. At around 21 days the meat starts to develop its flavor. The edges get darker, and the outside gets dryer. "The fat surrounds the whole meat, so when you place it into the dry-aging room, the meat inside stays nice and juicy, and the outside gets that dried factor."
Beef is kept in the meat cooler for 28 days (sometimes a bit longer, and that's no problem, according to the chef). "There are other places that would rather do less [time], and there are other places that may do it more," he says.
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Then it's time for these huge hunks of beef to end up as a juicy steak on some hungry (and lucky) carnivore's plate. The steak portions are sliced from the massive cuts at the beginning of each day. When steaks are ordered, the meat (once stored in temperatures around the upper 30s) is placed in a high-intensity broiler to cook it at 1600° F. Talk about a change of temperature. "That gives it the nice char on the inside, while it's still red on the inside."
There's no seasoning involved in the dry-aging process. Only some course salt or freshly ground pepper is used once the cuts of meat are actually being prepared. "After the 28 days, that's when you can really taste and feel the flavor. That's why we do it ourselves from A to Z. We don't let others do it for us."