Have you ever questioned why a steak from a top steakhouse can taste so much better and be so much more tender than a steak from your backyard grill?
Large cuts of beef are aged using the dry-aging method for anywhere between a few weeks and several months before being trimmed and made into steaks. It’s a process that not only enhances the flavor of the steak but also makes it much more tender than it would be if it were just cut from the animal.
It still primarily belongs to upscale restaurants like Peter Luger, specialty meat suppliers like Pat LaFrieda, or the occasional high-end supermarket like Whole Foods or Fairway because it takes up a lot of space and requires careful temperature and humidity monitoring.
But if there’s one query I get about pricey beef more than any other, it’s, “Can I dry age steak at home?”
However, I recently learned from several reliable sources (including Cooks Illustrated and Alton Brown) that aging individual steaks is, in fact, possible in your home kitchen. Most experts agree that the prospect ranges from either impractical to outright impossible. Cooks Illustrated even says, “You can skip paying extra for commercially aged cow “.
That’s a very bold claim, and one that might hurt the sales of a number of highly profitable steakhouses and meat suppliers.
The Purpose of Aging
How does aging work?
First, a quick explanation of why you might want to age meat According to conventional wisdom, there are three main reasons to dry-age meat, all of which improve the meat’s flavor or texture.
- Moisture loss might be a major one. A dry-aged piece of beef can lose up to around 30% of its initial volume due to water loss, which concentrates its flavor At least, thats the theory. But is it true? (Cue dramatic foreshadowing music. ).
- When naturally occurring meat enzymes work to dissolve some of the more difficult muscle fibers and connective tissues, tenderization occurs. Compared to a fresh steak, a well-aged steak should be noticeably more tender. But is it?.
- Numerous factors, such as bacterial and enzymatic activity, the oxidation of fat and other fat-like molecules, and enzymatic and bacterial action all contribute to flavor change. Meat that has been properly dry-aged will produce strong beefy, nutty, and almost cheese-like aromas.
But is aged meat really better than fresh meat?
It depends. I asked a group of tasters to rate the meat according to their overall favorites, tenderness, and funkiness. The majority of people who tasted aged meat, which has undergone some degree of tenderization but has not yet developed a seriously funky flavor, preferred it to completely fresh meat.
However, opinions on meat that had been aged longer than that ranged more widely. Many people preferred the meat that had been aged between 30 and 45 days because the flavors were more complex and cheese-like. Some even preferred the extremely bizarre flavors that evolved in meat that was 45 to 60 days old. Which end of that spectrum you fall on depends on your experience. In my opinion, meat should only be aged for 60 days; after that, it becomes a little too strong.
Okay, Im sold. When I can order it online or from my butcher, why on earth would I want to do it at home?
Two reasons. First, bragging rights. How awesome will it be to tell your friends at the dinner party that you personally aged the beef for eight weeks?
Second, it saves you money. Lots of money. Meat aging requires time and space, both of which are expensive. This cost gets passed on to the consumer. Well-aged meat can cost anywhere from 50 to 100% more than an equivalent piece of fresh meat At home, the additional expenses are minimal as long as you’re willing to give up a refrigerator corner or you have an extra mini fridge.
You may have read that the cost of aged meat is largely determined by the amount of meat that is wasted, specifically meat that dries out and needs to be trimmed, in addition to the time and space needed. This is not as important a factor as you might think, and we’ll soon discover why.
Selecting Meat to Age
What cut of meat should I buy for aging?
You must select a large piece of meat that can be cooked quickly if you want to age it properly. As a result, the New York strip, rib steak, and porterhouse are the classic steakhouse cuts that are best for aging. (For more details on the four premium steaks you should be aware of, click here.) The rib steak, which is what you get when you cut a prime rib between the bone into individual steaks, is the easiest to find whole (and my personal favorite).
Can I age a single steak and what is the minimum size I need to buy for proper aging?
Nope, unfortunately, you cant age individual steaks. (See here for more details as to why not. They won’t undergo any discernible texture or flavor changes in the fridge for about a week if you wrap them in cheesecloth or paper towels, place them on a rack, and do so. If you try to age them even longer (and they don’t start to rot), you get what follows:
*In my experience, this can occur when there is insufficient ventilation and the cheesecloth or paper towel traps moisture against the meat.
The meat has become completely unusable due to its extreme drying. I was left with a sliver of meat that was about half a centimeter thick after trimming away the desiccated and slightly moldy bits (perfectly normal for dry-aged meat). I was unable to cook it to a temperature lower than well-done, so my effective yield was a huge fat zero.
The simple fact is that larger cuts of meat must be aged in the open air when being dried.
What should I therefore be looking for in the larger cuts of meat?
There are numerous variations of rib sections, each with a unique number designation.
- The 103 is the most intact. The entire rib section—ribs six through twelve of the steer—along with a sizable portion of the short ribs, the chine bones intact, and a sizable flap of fat and meat—referred to as “lifter meat” and distinct from the highly sought-after spinalis dorsi*—covering the meaty side. Even if you ask the butcher for this cut, it’s unlikely that you’ll find it.
- The 107 has undergone some trimming, including the removal of the outer cartilage, some (but not all) of the chine bone, and shortening of the ribs. Typically, rib sections are sold in this manner to supermarkets and retail butcher shops so that they can further deconstruct them.
- The 109A is considered ready to roast and serve. It has had the lifter meat removed and the chine bone almost entirely sawed off. Once the lifter meat is removed, the fat cap is replaced.
- The 109 Export has lost its fat cap but otherwise resembles the 109A. This is the cut that will be served at the fancy hotel buffet or on your Christmas table. This cut’s meat has very little exterior protection.
*The best cut of beef is spinalis, also known as ribeye cap!
I aged a 107, a 109A, and a 109 Export in an Avanti mini fridge set at 40°F with a small desk fan to allow air to circulate, simulating a dry-aging room on a small scale (I had to cut a small notch in the sealing strip around the door to allow the fans cord to pass through). I made no attempt to regulate humidity, which bounced around between 30 and 80% (higher at the beginning, lower as the aging progressed)
I discovered that your final yield improves the more protection you have. When dry-aging meat for any amount of time sufficient to make a difference, the exterior layers become completely desiccated and must be removed, which is why protection from the exterior is important. The more “good” meat you throw away and waste, the less protected it is. What happens when you attempt to age a 109 Export is as follows:
I had to completely remove the spinalis muscle before I discovered meat that I could cook underneath, as you can see from how much of it has dried out and withered away. And that is not meat you want to waste.
However, this is what you get after removing the fat cap from a 109A:
The fat cap effectively guards the meat against moisture loss, leaving us with a spinalis muscle that is 100% edible
Here is what we have after trimming the fat and the cut faces a little more:
The yield you receive is roughly equal to a roast that is completely typical in size. The only meat you actually lose from your prime rib, if you think of it as a long cylinder, is from either end. The fat cap and bones will completely protect the sides.
What Causes Flavor Change?
So really, aged meat doesnt lose much moisture. But, wait a minute, havent I read that aged steaks can lose up to 30% of their weight in water? Isnt that one of the reasons why aged steak is so expensive?
Dont believe everything you read. That 30% figure is deceptive at best, and an outright lie at worst Yes, its true that if you dry-age an untrimmed, bone-in, fat-cap-intact prime rib, youll end up losing about 30% of its total weight over the course of 21 to 30 days or so What they fail to mention is that the outer layers of the meat, which will always be removed whether the meat is aged or not, are where the majority of the weight is lost.
Has it never struck you as not just a little bit odd that the aged ribeye steaks in the butchers display arent 30% smaller than the fresh ribeyes in the display? Or that aged bone-in steaks are not stretching and pulling away from their bones%E2%80%94I mean, surely the bones arent shrinking as well, are they?
The edible portion of an aged prime rib is actually nearly identical to that of a fresh prime rib, with the exception of the cut faces that need to be removed.
Okay, lets say Im convinced about that. Does this imply that the notion that “meat flavor is concentrated” in an aged steak as a result of dehydration is untrue as well?
Im afraid so. Though it sounds great in theory, several facts contradict it.
A trimmed steak cut from an aged piece of beef is nearly the same size as a trimmed steak cut from a fresh piece of beef, according to a simple visual inspection.
Additionally, I compared the density of beef that had been aged in various ways to that of completely fresh meat. To do this, I removed identical-sized pieces of meat from the centers of ribeyes aged to different degrees, being careful to keep any significant amounts of fat out of the process. After that, I submerged each of these meat chunks in water and measured their displacement. What I found was that meat aged to 21 days displaced about 4% less liquid than completely fresh meat A slight increase, but not much. Meat aged all the way to 60 days displaced a total of 5% less%E2%80%94showing that the vast majority of moisture loss occurs in the first three weeks
“That is, the meat expelled more moisture the younger it was.” “.
Furthermore, these density differences in the meat vanished entirely once it was cooked. In other words, the meat released more moisture the younger it was. Why is this so? The decomposition of meat protein and connective tissue is one of the side effects of aging. This increases the meat’s tenderness and prevents it from contracting as it cooks. Less contraction = less moisture loss.
When all was said and done, in many cases, the meat that was 100% fresh ended up losing even more liquid than the dry-aged meat
The final straw was a straightforward taste test, which revealed that meat that had been dry aged for 21 days (during which time the internal meat’s density changes the most) tasted exactly the same as fresh meat. The improvements were in texture alone. Real, discernible flavor changes didn’t appear until between 30 and 60 days, and during that time there was essentially no change in internal density. Thus, moisture loss is not tied to flavor change.
What causes meat to stop losing moisture after the first few weeks while it is maturing?
Its a matter of permeability. As meat dries out, the muscle fibers become more tightly packed, making it harder for moisture to escape from beneath the surface. The outer layer of meat becomes so tight and tough after the first few weeks that moisture loss is virtually impossible.
Take a look here:
A four-week-old piece of beef has the same amount of dried meat on it as a beef that has been aged for more than eight weeks, as can be seen. The waste was roughly the same no matter how long I aged the steak—just a centimeter or so from the exterior cut faces.
What elements, if not moisture loss, impact the flavor of aged beef?
A couple of things. The first is the enzymatic fragmentation of muscle proteins into smaller pieces, which improves their flavor. However, the much more significant change that occurs when fat is exposed to oxygen completely overshadows this effect. The most significant flavor change in meat that has been aged for longer than 30 days is caused by oxidation of fat and bacterial action on the surface of the meat.
The outermost parts of the meat, which are typically trimmed away, do contain a lot of this funky flavor, so if you want to get the most flavor out of your aged meat, it’s crucial that you serve it with the bone in place. The outer portions of bones will still contain tons of oxidized fat and affected meat, unlike the fat cap, which is completely removed and discarded. As you eat, the aromas from this meat enter your nose and completely change the experience. For its richer, more intensely aged flavor, the spinalis (again, the outer cap of meat on a ribeye) is highly prized by fans of aged steak.
How simple is it to age steak at home, and what kind of setup is required?
Its very simple and requires virtually no special equipment. There are just a few things youll need:
- Fridge space. The best appliance to use is a dedicated mini fridge that you can close to prevent the smell of the meat from contaminating the flavors of your other foods, and vice versa. It can get a little. powerful. If I even glanced inside the mini fridge I kept next to my desk for a moment or two, the smell of aging meat would fill the office. Similarly, aged meat can pick up aromas from your refrigerator. A mini refrigerator is your best bet unless your refrigerator is odor-free.
- A fan. You should install a fan inside your refrigerator to keep the air moving in order to encourage drying of the surface and even aging. Similar to a convection oven, this method promotes more uniform cooling and humidity throughout. I used a standard desk fan. I made a tiny notch in the fridge door seal to allow the cord to fit through in order to get it in there.
- A rack. Your meat must be elevated on a rack. I experimented with aging some meat on a plate and right on the floor of the refrigerator. Bad idea. The portion in contact with the plate failed to properly dehydrate and rotted. The best way to age food is on a wire rack or directly on a refrigerator’s wire shelf.
- Time. Patience, little grasshopper. Your perseverance will be rewarded with the steak of your dreams.
What about humidity, though? I’ve heard that it should be kept high [or low, or medium, or nonexistent, or et cetera]; where should it be, and how can I control it?
I aged meat in three different refrigerators, each of which had a different humidity level. The mini fridges was consistently high%E2%80%94around 80% through the entire aging process (I kept it there by leaving a small tray of water in the back of it) The office refrigerator, which was opened and closed repeatedly during the process, had one piece remaining. Its humidity ranged from 30 to 80%, with no regularity. Finally, my home fridge was lower in humidity, closer to 50% at all times (similar to ambient room humidity)
Guess what? All three produced excellent aged beef.
And it makes sense. The beef’s outer layers become almost completely impervious to moisture after the first few weeks, as demonstrated by the testing I did above. The internal meat is protected regardless of whether the environment is humid or dry. Thats good news for home dry-agers!.
Okay, Im nearly convinced. How long should I be aging my meat for?.
I gave tasters steaks that had been aged for various amounts of time. I cooked the steaks in a sous vide water bath to 127°F and then finished them with a cast iron pan and torch to ensure that all of the steaks were rated fairly and that differences in actual cooking were kept to a minimum. Steaks were tasted completely blind.
Although the findings indicated that aging time was largely a matter of personal preference, the following provides a general overview of what takes place over the course of 60 days:
- 14 days or less: Not much point. No change in flavor; very little detectable change in tenderness. Very few people preferred this steak.
- 14 to 28 days: Especially at the higher end of this range, the steak begins to become noticeably more tender. Still no major changes in flavor. This is roughly the same as the average steak’s age at a high-end steakhouse.
- 28 to 45 days: The true funkiness begins to show. At 45 days, the meat is noticeably moister and juicier, and there are distinct notes of blue or cheddar cheese. Most tasters preferred 45-day-aged steak to all others.
- 45 to 60 days: Extremely intense flavors emerge. Several tasters praised the richness of this highly aged meat, but some thought it was a bit much for more than one or two bites. Regarding the 60-day steak, Ed Levine said, “I may have reached my aging threshold.” It’s uncommon to find a restaurant serving a well-aged steak. *.
I’ve Got Some More Questions!
What about wet-aging? What is it, and does it work?
Wet aging is straightforward: Place your beef in a Cryovac bag, and allow it to sit for a few weeks on a shelf (or, more likely, on refrigerated trucks as it is shipped across the nation). Inform your customers that it is aged and charge more for it.
The problem is that wet-aging is nothing like dry-aging.
First off, wet aging prevents fat from oxidizing, which prevents the development of funky flavors. Enzymatic reactions will result in a negligible change in flavor, but they are, well, negligible. Furthermore, wet aging stops the draining of surplus serum and meat juices. Tasters often report that wet-aged meat tastes “sour” or “serum-y. “.
The benefits of moist aging are similar to those of dry aging in terms of moisturizing and tenderizing, but that’s about it. In reality, wet-aging is a product of laziness and money-grubbing. It’s simple to let that distributor-provided Cryovacked bag of beef sit around for a week before opening it, allowing it to be labeled “aged,” and selling it for a higher price. I dont buy it. Ask whether “aged” meat has been dry-aged or wet-aged when purchasing it. It is best to assume the worst if they don’t know the answer or don’t want to share it.
Wet-aging also has the limitation that it cannot be used for as long as dry-aging. Given that a wet-aged piece of meat is largely protected by the environment outside, it seems counterintuitive. However, if even a tiny amount of dangerous anaerobic bacteria gets into that bag, the meat will rot inside its cover without any signs of it until you open it.
My sincere apologies to anyone who was in the office when I unwrapped that package of rotten wet-aged beef. It smelled like “rotten excrement taking a poop,” according to Robyn. “.
Yeah, it was that bad.
What do you think of those posh “dry-aging bags” I’ve been reading about so much?
Like me, you must have seen those dry-aging bag videos kicking around the internet. The idea is that you seal a cut of beef in some sort of special bag that allows you to safely age it at home. Supposedly, it aids in aging by allowing moisture out, but letting no air in.
I ordered a few kits to test this out myself. Before I even began aging, there were problems. I went through an entire $25. 50 kits worth of three bags failed to form a tight seal when used with my standard FoodSaver vacuum sealer (yes, I adhered to the instructions exactly). I finally got one bag to seal after purchasing one more kit for a total of $51; however, the following day, I found that the bag had actually been improperly sealed and had leaked:
Even so, I made the decision to let it go, pressing out as much air as I could and making sure the bag made good contact with the surface of the meat as per the directions.
I opened the roast after aging it for a few weeks and discovered the following:
I dutifully removed the molded areas, trimmed down the roast, and cut steaks from it despite the less than ideal appearance. The taste tests I conducted on the beef showed no discernible difference between beef aged in one of these bags and beef aged outside. My wallet, which was now $51 lighter than when I started, was where I did notice a difference.
Ill pass on the special equipment.
N.B. For more thoughts on the UMAi Dry Bag, check out this informative post from the Go Lb. Salt blog. If the analysis here is correct, its probably a good thing that the bag did not work as advertised and instead let air come into contact with my meat. I mean, dont we want the fat to oxidize?
Quick and Dirty
Okay, just give me the tl;dr version. How do I age my steak?.
- Step 1: Buy a prime rib. Check to see if it is bone-in, ideally with the chine bone still attached and the entire fat cap intact. If you are purchasing from a butcher, request that they not at all trim it. Since a good butcher makes money by selling you the extra fat and bone, they won’t charge you full price.
- Step 2: Store the meat in a refrigerator on a rack. A dedicated mini fridge is preferred, in which you have installed a desk fan set to low and have cut a small notch in the door lining to allow the cord to exit Set the temperature to between 36 and 40°F.
- Step 3: Wait. Wait four to eight weeks, occasionally turning the meat to encourage even aging. Itll start to smell. This is normal.
- Step 4: Trim. Check out the slideshow above for a walkthrough of the procedure.
- Step 5: Cook. (See above or below for some recipe links. ).
- Step 6: ???
- Step 7: Profit.
There will be a pop quiz in, oh, let’s say 60 days. You all got that down?
Edit: Many people asked for photos of the drying setup. I unfortunately dont have any photos from when the meat was in, but heres a photo that shows the fan positioning and basic layout. Its pretty darn simple.
Get The Recipes:
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How to DRY AGE BEEF AT HOME Properly – 45 Day Aged Bone in Ribeye
Can you dry age beef in your own refrigerator?
The aging room’s temperature should be kept between 34 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit, the relative humidity should be between 85 and 90 percent, and the airflow at the surface of the product should be between 15 and 20 linear feet per minute. The aging room should always be spotless and smell-free.
What temperature do you dry age beef at home?
Wet aging requires less time, less equipment, and results in no product loss as opposed to dry aging, which typically takes 4-6 weeks, calls for specialized aging lockers, and trims and evaporates the product. Wet-aged beef is therefore simpler to find and less expensive to purchase.
How long is dry aged beef dried for?
For the best results, most butchers typically age full or sub-primals. Strip loin (New York Strip), boneless ribeye (ribeye), and top butt (sirloin) are a few of the cuts that are frequently dry aged. These steak cuts benefit greatly from dry aging in terms of flavor and texture as they age well.