Good Meat Doesn’t Just Happen

| 7/10/2013 3:52:00 PM

Tags: home butchery, pastured meat, Cole Ward,
For the best quality of meat, approximately 21 days are needed between slaughtering and eating.

What makes good meat? Lots and lots of factors… how and where the animal was raised, what it ate, how it was treated, how it was slaughtered (which is very important), and – post-slaughter – how it was aged.

Many folks assume that the fresher the meat, the better. Not so. I guarantee you that if you cook and eat a steak from a freshly-slaughtered animal, you won’t be happy. Why? Because as muscle becomes meat, all sorts of internal chemical and physical processes begin. Much of the taste, tenderness and “mouth-feel” of meat depends on proper pre- and post-slaughter practices. In fact, they’re critical in ensuring that meat tastes like meat. 

One of the first things processing facilities do after slaughtering an animal is to chill it in a temperature controlled environment. This is done to bring the carcass temperature quickly down – which reduces bleeding - as well as to “firm up” the carcass for cutting. During this first phase of “becoming meat”, each carcass will shrink (through loss of moisture) about 1-2%. 

Beef carcasses are generally chilled for about two days; pig carcasses for less than one day. The  profitability of a slaughtering facility is determined by its its through-put, so since chill rooms can only hold a set number of carcasses at any one time, the facility needs to move those carcasses out.

This takes us to the next step – aging. And (at least for beef), a choice – between wet aging or dry aging. There’s a big difference. No matter which, aging is VERY important. Meat is not ready to be eaten right after slaughter. It needs time to become tender, which happens as connective tissues within the muscle break down. Aging is that breakdown process. The ideal aging period is 21 to 24 days. 

Almost all beef you buy in stores today has been “wet-aged” (usually for about 14 days); cut into portions by the processing plant, then vacuum-packed in sealed plastic bags for shipment to distribution or supermarket warehouses where the meat packages are held for a specified period of time as the meat ages in its own juices. Wet-aging is popular because it takes less time and no further weight is lost in the process. 

8/5/2013 9:59:00 AM

I've never heard of this. Does verison benefit from aging also? Is there an aging guide somewhere I could follow? 

7/11/2013 6:21:39 PM

Cole is a wonderful butcher and a great teacher. If you're interested in meat cutting then get his DVD set - it is invaluable. My wife, our oldest son and I apprentised with Cole for 18 months in preperation for opening our own on-farm inspected butcher shop. We raise pastured pigs and as Cole mentioned, dry aging works. We've been doing that for years with our pork. By the way, ours are a Yorkshire x Large Black x Berkshire cross - all three are very old traditional breeds that are great in the natural setting of pasture.

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