The Great Steak Hunt

Taste-testing the best real dry-aged steaks for sale locally reveals a lucky, lucky, steaky, steaky metropolitan area

So, Bunky, you think you're the king of summer, do you? You splashed out for one of those grills with the gas flames that plume like fighter-jet exhausts up to the tippity tops of the highest elms. Now you've got infrared bratwurst sensors, a ruby-coated laser driven rotisserie, and a hologram of James Beard that hops out to dance on the solid gold grill while dispensing last-minute tips. Which has convinced you you're gonna grill up the best steaks in the neighborhood, just like at those $100 steakhouses. But guess what, Bunky? It doesn't matter if your grill's got more pep than a peewee hockey team hepped up on Milk Duds, great steaks aren't made, they're sourced.

That's right, I said sourced. Bought. From guys who spend their whole entire lives making backroom maneuvers so you can get the good stuff. You know those plastic-wrapped steaks in the big-box grocery store, the ones in the Styrofoam tray, the ones that lift up to reveal a little wet diaper of goo? I don't care if Julia Child herself comes to you on a shimmering cloud and offers to cook the thing with heavenly bolts of fire; that thing can never be made good. Never. It is wet and decaying; it's probably been wet and decaying for the last several weeks before it got to you, as it spent its recent life in a shrink-wrapped plastic bag of blood. You know what they call that? Wet-aged. You know what wet-aged is? It is a lie. A lie wrapped in misinformation wrapped in profiteering.

Here's what dry aging is: You take a piece of beef. You hang it up in a temperature- and humidity-controlled place where the air is moving. It starts to dry out. It gets denser and more concentrated. Enzymes and the wee little beasties of decay break the beef down a bit. If this sounds gross to you, then you need to know you have been betrayed by the hidden food systems of our 21st century. Dry aging is one of the basic ways that humans make foods taste better. You know what else is dry-aged? Prosciutto ham, Parmesan cheese, and a million other things. You know what foods are improved by steeping them in a plastic bag of blood? Exactly.

Cynthia Forster Cavanaugh with the dry-aged wares at her family-run shop
Jana Freiband
Cynthia Forster Cavanaugh with the dry-aged wares at her family-run shop

Location Info

Map

Forster's Meats and Catering

11255 Highway 55
Plymouth, MN 55441

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Plymouth

Clancey's Meats & Fish

4307 Upton Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Edina

Here's why very, very few butcher shops will sell dry-aged beef today: As things dry out, they weigh less. And less. And then even less. If the thing in question is beef, then parts become funny-looking, hard, and jerkylike, or even moldy. So these funny-looking parts have to be cut off and thrown out. Remember, we're talking about something that people buy by the pound. With wet aging, the soaking-wet beef in question doesn't lose a gram of weight. Get it? Wet stuff weighs more than dry stuff, and there's more of it. So it costs less per pound. And all the suckers run in to catch the bargain.

Personally, when I think about this myth of "wet aging" I feel like we live in a culture of nothing but the trustful blind leading the busily clueless. I've read that dry aging was the universal norm until slaughterhouses were corporatized, centralized, and efficientized in the 1960s. I've also read that since many people were raised on the soppy, spongy, cut-it-with-a-fork steaks of wet aging, many people now prefer it. I don't care. Many people prefer Domino's pizza, the musical stylings of animatronic silicone teens, and a life of quiet desperation. I'll tell you what, when Diamond Jim Brady or Louis Armstrong ate a steak, they weren't messing around with wet-aged slop. Makes me mad.

Then I go into a real butcher shop, and I feel better. And you know what? We are richly blessed with real, traditional, excellent butcher shops in the Twin Cities area. I don't have any hard data here, but I'd bet a cat that we have tons more than cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You know why? Because our local butchers are ornery and refuse to be shunted into the dustbin of history. When the Forster family had their farm and store taken from them by the city, they relocated to a dingy strip mall on Highway 55. I picture them walking along with sides of beef on their shoulders singing, "I will survive!"

My original thinking for this story was that I would go to the best butcher shops in the metro, purchase aged rib eyes from all of them, grill them all together, and through a blind-taste panel with friends, would discover the one single best aged rib eye in town, and tell you all about it. Halfway through my experiments, my luscious, fantastic experiments, I realized that my logic here was somewhat spurious. Individual cows are individual cows, and some will be better than others through no fault of the butcher shop at all. So I did have the backyard blind tasting, which in fact revealed the top dry-aged steaks, but in the end I decided it would be more useful to you all to hear about the top four spots to get dry-aged steaks around town, instead of just reading me rant and rave about a single experience that may or may not be replicable.

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