Turns out the answer isn’t a simple yes or no! Shocking! But the complexities for reasons why is absolutely astounding.
When a cow is slaughtered, its beef is so fresh it’s considered “green.” As with wood from a newly felled tree, it’s extreme freshness is considered a bad thing. Green beef is tough, a tad bland, and has no sustained juiciness—the steak seems played out by the second chew.
For this reason, we age beef. This is accomplished in one of two ways. It can be hung from a hook in the fridge, which is known as “dry aging.” Or cuts can be sealed in plastic and kept in the fridge, which is known as “wet aging.” Many things happen to beef as it ages. Water evaporates, fats oxidize, and levels of umami increase, just to name a few. But the most important thing that happens is that natural enzymes break down the muscle fibers, making the beef more tender.
A lot of people think that if a little aging is good, then a lot of aging is much better. That explains why the Chicago steakhouse Primehouse, to take just one example, serves a rib eye that’s been dry-aged in its Himalayan salt-tiled aging room for 75 days. But is Primehouse right? Will a steak aged for 75 days be much better than one aged for seven?
Oh, and a steak really only needs to be aged for two or three weeks tops — at the longest. Other factors come into play, but three weeks should do it for any type of cattle. Sort of related: Cooking a steak is much easier than you thought. Ahem.