July 10, 2018
How do you know you’re getting the right cut of beef for both your BBQ and your budget? With terms like AA and AAA, Dry Aging, Wet Aging, it might seem confusing to choose the right cut.
Beef Tenderness & Aging: What’s With the letters?
Beef in Canada is graded by the Canadian Beef Grading Agency. Accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, this not-for-profit agency is tasked with delivering services for beef in Canada. The grade standards are set by the Federal Government based on recommendations from the industry and government, and all meat packers and processors must follow the same set of rules so customers get uniformity and quality, no matter where they buy their beef.
Beef is given different grades, and they’re not all that different from the grades you’d see on a school report card. Part of the grading process involves evaluating firmness, color, texture of the fat and the marbling of the Rib Eye muscle and that’s how they determine the grade - Canada A, AA or AAA. A has a slight trace of marbling, while AAA is the highest amount of marbling, once it leaves the processing plant.
Calgary Co-op meat departments only carry the two top grades; AA and AAA, and as you may have read, Co-op stocks Only Alberta Beef.
After processing, beef can be sold as is, or it can be aged. Aging has a few key benefits.
All About Aging Only Alberta Beef
Aging can drastically improve tenderness and taste of beef.
“During the aging process the natural enzymes inside the meat break down the muscle tissue and make it more tender and flavourful,” explains James Lelonde, Meat Operations Manager, Calgary Co-operative Association Limited. “You can guarantee tenderness when you age the product, and that improves the dining experience. In fact, you could have a double-A aged product eat just as well as a Triple-A product that hasn't been aged.”
Setting Co-op’s meat department apart from competitors is that all Co-op’s AA and AAA beef is aged. AA beef is aged for 14 days, while AAA beef is aged 21 days.
What Can Aging Do?
Lelonde adds, “When beef has been properly aged before serving it has a deeper richer flavour and increased tenderness. There are two primary ways of properly aging beef: Wet Aging and Dry Aging.”
Wet Aging is how most meat today is aged. Sealed in cryovac packaging to protect it from air, the meat sits in a cool environment and is allowed time for those enzymes that can make meat tough, to loosen up.
Only Alberta Beef: Dry Aging at Co-op
Dry Aging is a longstanding technique that can also deliver unparalleled flavour. That’s why Co-op’s meat department also offers a 28 day Dry Aged AAA beef.
“With our Dry Age, you may have seen those cases in some of the stores in the meat department, where we display the beef inside a controlled environment,” says Lelonde. “That's an old school way of aging the product. You build up an outer crust which is technically a type of mould that we remove later, but it has the effect of sealing the meat inside. This method gives you a much nuttier, richer and more buttery flavour in the meat, and it’s the best quality we carry.”
Lelonde explains that aging can have a profound effect on beef quality. While some other meat purveyors may stock AAA beef, Co-op is the only Calgary-area grocer to use aging, guaranteeing additional tenderness and flavour, whether you choose AA, AAA, or Dry Aged. You may see beef that’s been aged longer than 28 days, but Lelonde says that after that, there really isn’t much noticeable benefit.
“We think of our AA Aged beef as everyday beef, which is definitely superior quality, adds Lelonde. “AAA Aged is special, and the Dry Aged is the pinnacle of fine beef available in our stores. How do you choose? Sometimes it's about who you want to impress on any given day!”
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