Does wet aging make a difference in the quality? Many barbecue aficionados are fans of the process. But when it comes to pork, is it worth it to take this step?
This guide should help you decide whether or not wet aging pork is a technique that you want to explore.
Wet Aging Pork
We don’t recommend wet aging pork for a couple of reasons. For one, pork doesn’t age as well as beef, due to its higher moisture content. For another, the step isn’t usually necessary to promote tenderness in pork, whereas cuts like beef brisket will benefit from the long storage period.
How Long Does Raw Pork Usually Last in the Fridge?
When raw pork begins to smell like rotten eggs, or if it has an unpleasant fishy odor, then it’s likely begun to spoil. Pork that has outlived its freshness may also have a sticky or slimy texture or discolored flesh.
About Wet Aging
What exactly is wet aging, and how does it affect the quality of the meat?
Wet aged meat is stored in a vacuum-sealed package for an extended period of time. This is a technique that’s most commonly used on beef, though some have also tried it on pork and lamb.
During the wet aging process, the natural enzymes in the meat begin to break down the protein strands, which promotes tenderness in the finished product. For brisket, the wet aging period is typically around 30 days.
In addition to promoting tenderness, wet aging gives beef a pronounced meaty taste. Some people aren’t fans of the flavor, claiming that the meat tastes sour when it’s wet aged for too long.
This technique has been around for about 50 years, since vacuum-sealed packaging was invented (see About Cryovac Packaging, below. Though the basic method originated in Europe, it’s become popular in many other parts of the world.
It’s important to get the correct “kill date” from the butcher if you’re planning on dry aging your meat. While the method extends the meat’s shelf life, it doesn’t keep it fresh indefinitely. You should cook off wet aged beef between 30 to 60 days from the kill date.
About Cryovac Packaging
Cryovac packaging, also known as vacuum-sealed packaging, is the material that’s most often used for wet aged meats. It forms a tight seal around the meat, fitting almost as closely as a layer of skin.
When the meat is sealed this tightly, less air can get inside the package. Since prolonged exposure to air is one of the primary factors in meat spoilage, this helps prevent contamination.
Cuts like beef brisket will remain sufficiently juicy when sealed in cryovac packaging. That’s what makes the process so appealing for this particular cut, which can be tough and dry when it’s not cooked right.
Even if you don’t intend to wet age your meat, cryovac packaging can be a great asset. When you freeze meat in a vacuum-sealed container, you reduce the risk of freezer burn, since very little air is allowed inside.
Is Wet Aging Pork a Good Idea?
The general consensus among barbecue experts is that pork doesn’t age the same way beef does. To put it bluntly, the meat will spoil before it can take on any of the desirable qualities that make this method popular.
Others say that lamb and pork can be stored as wet aged products, as long as you don’t attempt to store them for as long as you would a cut of beef. We’ve even heard positive reports from pitmasters who cooked off pork butts that had been sealed in cryovac packaging for over 2 weeks.
So, should you try to wet age your pork? Our recommendation would be to err on the side of caution, and save the wet aging for brisket and other cuts of beef.
For one thing, it’s difficult to determine exactly how long the pork can stay in the package before it spoils. The only way to be sure is to open the package, and once you’ve done that, you can’t continue the wet aging process.
What’s more, if you do open the package and find that the pork has gone bad, you’re left with a bunch of wasted meat and nothing for dinner. Who wants to deal with that sort of disappointment?
We’ve also found that pork is at its best when you prepare it as soon as possible. The same holds true for chicken. Unlike beef, which can be dry aged for up to 30 days, pork’s higher water content makes it more prone to spoilage.
While we’re on the subject, there isn’t as much benefit to wet aged pork because there are fewer variables when it comes to tenderness. Beef has certain enzymes that contribute to the tenderizing process, whereas pork tends to be tender enough on its own.
What’s The Difference Between Wet Aging and Dry Aging?
Dry aging is a more traditional method and relies mainly on enzymes, whereas lactic acid bacteria plays a huge role in wet aging.
To dry age meat, butchers hang the product in a cold, well-ventilated room. During the aging process, the meat loses fluid, which gives it a more concentrated flavor. Interestingly, dry aged meat often has superior moisture-retentive qualities.
Again, since we prefer to cook pork when it’s as fresh as possible, we aren’t huge proponents of dry aging. If you see a dry aged pork chop advertised on a restaurant menu, go ahead and give it a try, but it’s hard to replicate the process at home.
If you’ve ever tried wet aged brisket, you might be tempted to try the technique on your next pork shoulder or rack of ribs to see if you get similar results.
However, beef and pork have different qualities, so their preparation techniques aren’t necessarily interchangeable. We would recommend that you save the wet aging method for your next brisket.