Ask Dr. Marsden: A brilliant scientist explains why dry-aged steaks are so delicious

If Julia Child couldn’t get enough of the dry-aged steaks from Allen Brothers, they must be pretty special (but we already knew that!). How exactly does Allen Brothers create that distinctive, dry-aged flavor?

I asked Dr. James Marsden, who helps Allen Brothers implement and innovate state-of-the-art aging and processing facilities at the Chicago headquarters. Marsden knows what he’s talking about when it comes to beef: He’s the Regents Distinguished Professor in Food Safety and Security at Kansas State University, and he’s also a science advisor for North American Meat Processors. (Incidentally, he’s also the father of heartthrob actor James Marsden, who played Cyclops in all three “X-Men” movies—and whose voice you can hear as the German shepherd in the just-released animated film “Cats and Dogs.”)

So, what’s all the fuss about dry-aging?

First, Dr. Marsden explained why steaks go through an aging process in the first place, and why there’s a big difference between wet-aging and dry-aging:

“With aging, you’re taking meat and putting it in a refrigerated environment so it gets some age on it. The fibers break down and the meat becomes more tender and flavorful, whether it’s wet-aged or dry-aged,” Marsden told me.

“With wet-aging, you put it in a vacuum-sealed bag for 3 to 4 weeks. With dry-aging, there’s no bag. The meat is hanging in a dry-aging room. It’s developing distinct flavor notes associated with oxidation, which occurs naturally. The oxidation process is very much like aging wine. It produces those complex flavors.”

Besides the extra-nuanced taste, there’s a reason why dry-aged meat tends to be pricier: “Dry-aging is an expensive process,” Marsden explained. “So it tends to be limited to high-value cuts like T-bone steaks or rib steaks.  With dry-aging, you’re losing yield because you’re losing moisture.”

With Marsden’s help, Allen Brothers has developed its own patented technology for perfecting the dry-aging process. “If dry-aging is done right,” Marsden said, “there’s nothing better. If it’s not done perfectly, you get a bit of a spoiled flavor, and that’s why Allen Brothers put this technology in place, so that never happens anymore.”

Still, no matter how incredible dry-aged steaks may taste to some of us, they’re not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea:

“Some people like the wet-aged flavor, and some people prefer the oxidized flavors associated with dry-aged beef. It’s kind of like wine: people prefer different flavors. The dry-aged beef has complex flavors that you have to develop a taste for.”

Needless to say, Allen Brothers steaks, both dry-aged and wet-aged, are a big hit in the Marsden family: Young Hollywood star James Marsden, according to his dad, loves the shipments of beef tenderloin that Dr. Marsden sends him on a regular basis. After all, he’s got to fuel up for those long, grueling film shoots. Next up: a role in the remake of “Straw Dogs,” a Dustin Hoffman movie first released in 1971. You heard it here first!


Allie B.

2 Responses to “Ask Dr. Marsden: A brilliant scientist explains why dry-aged steaks are so delicious”

  1. Just took my kids to see Cats and Dogs and they want to see it again. We’re all fans of James Marsden, the actor. I’m interested in reading more about Dr. Marsden here- how nice to get to know the Marsden family :)

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