One bite of Lone Star Farm Beef tells you that this farm and their butcher are doing so many things right.
Years ago, Ernie and Elmina Beiler decided that when they were going to raise free-range beef, they weren’t going to take any shortcuts. They’ve decided to keep a small herd–fewer than 100 cows–so they can keep close tabs on all aspects of the farm and herd. They’ve chosen to raise the cattle without antibiotics or hormones, and to feed them a very balanced diet.
The Beilers give their herd as much grazing time as possible, and when they need to supplement, while commercial beef operations primarily feed their animals corn kernels, the Beilers’ herd eats the whole cornstalk–nutritious corn silage grown on the farm and served along with hay and grain. They keep the calves with their mothers and let them roam. They implemented a conservation plan to keep their farm environmentally healthy. And they have their butcher dry age all of the beef for 14-21 days.
Every choice a beef farmer makes impacts the taste of the beef, but dry aging is definitely a crucial final step.
A very small percentage of beef in the U.S. is dry aged. It’s hard to find any supermarket beef that uses this method, and none but the very best restaurants and steakhouses use dry aged beef.
That’s because it takes longer than wet aging and some of the meat’s volume is lost. In dry aging, the meat loses water-weight and its dry exterior must be completely trimmed. It also means that the beef stays at the butcher’s longer, taking up cold storage space, so butchers often charge extra for dry aging. Dry-aging is one more sign that Lone Star Farm is not taking any short cuts and is committed to the best practices.
What is Dry Aging?
Beef is usually aged in one of two ways. When it is wet aged, as is the case for nearly all supermarket and most restaurant beef, the butcher seals the cuts in plastic and keeps these small portions in a fridge. When it is “dry aged,” as is the case for top-notch steakhouse beef, the meat hangs from a hook in cold storage. In both aging processes, the enzymes that are naturally present in the meat break down muscle tissue, improving the taste and texture. The difference–and it’s a crucial one–is that because dry aged beef is exposed to the air, dehydration further concentrates the meat’s flavor.
“Dry aging does for red meat what cave aging does for cheese or cellaring for Bordeaux,” writes Larry Olmsted in Forbes. It “improves the taste greatly with time.”
“Dry aging,” Olmsted continues, “is so important that it supplants USDA grades: dry aged choice beef tastes much better than the highest grade, prime, un-aged.”
This aging process not only results in better flavor, it also harkens back to traditional, more natural, practices. Thirty-five years ago, all beef that wasn’t cured or canned had been dry aged, according to the article “Dry vs. Wet: A Butcher’s Guide to Aging Meat,” in The Atlantic. “What happened?” the article asks. “Why is properly hung beef such an oddity today if it was the industry standard such a short time ago?” The article says that the meatpacking industry learned it could save time and money by placing meat in vacuum-sealed plastic bags.
But the Beiler family knows that “faster” doesn’t mean “better,” and they let themselves be guided by what is better, healthier and most natural.
The Next Step: Cooking Recommendations for Steaks and Roasts
Once you have the dry aged steaks, roasts or other beef, cooking methods make a huge difference too. Be sure to check out our Steak & Roast Cooking Recommendations to make sure your beef achieves the perfection it’s destined for!