We often get asked why we hang our beef for a minimum of 28 days on the bone. The supermarkets in particular must think we’re crazy. By doing this, we end up losing approximately 15% more of our beef than they do, but let’s start at the beginning.
In our final year of agricultural college, when it came to deciding on our dissertation topics, James Flower decided to investigate marketing beef from Home Farm to the local community in Somerset and I chose to look at ways of hanging beef to improve tenderness.
After many late nights, library fines and meetings with some of the UK’s finest farmer and butchers, I discovered that hanging beef really is an art form, or at least it should be! It’s really not a simple process, and cutting corners just leaves you with watery, tasteless beef.
I arranged to have two beef animals sent to Bristol University’s abattoir and conducted an experiment on hanging beef in two different ways but for the same length of time in the same conditions. I tested a technique that the Australians use called Tenderstretch, which effectively hangs the beef by the H-bone, compared to the traditional British technique using the Achilles tendon. Then a blind taste test was carried out at their laboratory to discover which provided more tender beef.
The results were pretty conclusive: the tenderstretch technique helps to make beef considerably more tender. In general this practice isn’t adopted in the UK as it costs more money than the traditional technique, because the carcass takes up more room in the fridge and the muscles form different shapes which are more complex for butchers to deal with.
There are many factors that affect tenderness other than hanging technique, such as animal age, cold shortening which means the muscles contract during the chilling phase of hanging, animal stress which leads to a high PH level, breed, temperature and the length of time for which the beef is hung.
We hang our beef in halves on the bone in dry conditions for 28 days. Most supermarkets cut their beef into primal muscle groups and wet-age the beef in large vacuum pack bags on the shelf. They do this because it saves room in their chillers and it’s cost effective as the water content stays high so they have more meat to sell per animal. Unfortunately wet red meat sitting on shelves in blood and water is not conducive to a great eating experience.
The reason we insist on dry hanging is so that the muscles can stretch. This allows the enzymes to break down the muscle fibres which tenderises the beef. The water content also evaporates from the meat meaning we’re left with dry dark claret meat. The flavour of the bone is allowed to fully develop into the meat and this means you have a much deeper flavoured beef, without the high water content of cheaper meat.
We are convinced dry hanging beef is critical to a fantastically tasty and tender steak, and that’s why we’ll never do it any other way.