Have you ever had the pleasure of enjoying a 4-6 week dry-aged ribeye steak and found yourself on cloud number nine?
If you are a meat lover, there is no wonder that you felt this happiness because dry-aged premium grade steak has a much meatier and stronger taste than a regular meat cut.
But what is dry aging of meat, is it different from wet aging, and how to dry age beef at home?
Read on to find the answers to these questions.
Aging meat – the basics
Unless you prepare and eat a fresh cut of meat directly after the animal has been slaughtered and butchered, all other meat you buy is aged. The reason is that there is a time lag between the slaughtering, butchering, packaging, and shipping of the meat, during which time it ages.
Aging the meat at a controlled temperature and in the right conditions will make it much more flavorful and tender.
Beef can be aged in two different ways. Dry aging allows the meat to sit at a specific temperature with a good airflow circulating around it and helping create a crusty exterior which later needs to be trimmed while the meat is prepared for cooking.
Wet aging is done by wrapping the freshly cut meat in the packaging until it reaches the stores and your kitchen.
How does dry-aging work?
Dry aging helps break down the muscle fibers of large cuts of beef by the natural enzymes present in it.
As the meat is dry-aged, its flavor becomes richer and beefier thanks to these natural processes caused by the enzymes, bacteria, and by the oxidation of its fat. At the end of the aging process, the meat will become tenderer than when it first was when freshly cut and is ready to be cut into steaks.
When left to dry-age enough, the steak will develop a strong cheese-like aroma too.
Keep in mind that beef is the most suitable meat for dry aging, as other types of meat like pork and chicken are already pretty tender when they are first cut.
How long does beef need to be aged?
Typically, dry-aging beef takes 4-6 weeks of storage in appropriate conditions. But how long you dry-age the meat depends on your preferences.
You will need to dry-age your beef cut for at least two weeks to achieve any noticeable changes in the meat’s texture. The reason is that it takes about 14 days for the enzymes and bacteria to start breaking down the tough fibers and the oxygen to start transforming the fat of the meat.
After 14 to 28 days of dry-aging, you will begin noticing a difference in the flavor of the meat, but the improvement of the flavor as well.
If you are patient enough and allow the meat to dry-age for 45 days, you will be able to enjoy the benefit of preparing and eating a much more flavorful steak with a deeper and beefier taste.
After 45 days of dry-aging, the meat will begin developing a strong, almost blue cheese-like smell, which some consider wonderful, but others are not so keen on. It depends on whether you like smelly cheese or not.
What beef cuts are recommended?
In order to get the best results from dry-aging, you should choose a large subprimal cut of beef, such as a prime rib roast, a whole strip loin, or other.
The reason why you should choose a large cut of meat is that during dry-aging, it dehydrates, and a lot of the outer crust will need to be trimmed, so you will end up with a much smaller cut of meat once the aging is over.
If you prefer, you can try dry aging a single steak, but beware that you will end up with a much thinner and smaller one which will be harder to cook properly to medium-rare doneness.
Wet aging or dry aging?
If you are wondering what the difference is between dry aging and wet aging beef and which one is better, here are overviews of both types of aging, as well as their pros and cons.
This will help you decide which type you prefer in order to achieve the perfect steak to suit your taste.
Wet-aged steaks are the steaks that are available in most grocery stores. Wet aging is a much newer technique than dry-aging and was first introduced in the 1950s.
Wet aging involved packaging the freshly cut steaks into vacuum-sealed packages and keeping them refrigerated. This packaging helps keep the steak away from oxygen while it is shipped and sold. You can continue the wet aging process by keeping the meat in your refrigerator for a few days too.
And as you probably know, if you freeze meat, this type of packaging helps protect it from freezer burn too.
Wet aging is preferred by most meat retailers and stores because it is much easier, quicker, and less expensive than dry aging.
Dry aging requires special aging lockers, takes at least 4-6 weeks, and causes the loss of large volumes of meat during the process due to the trimming and evaporation.
Wet aging requires much simpler and cheaper equipment, doesn’t take too much time, and there is hardly any loss of the product from the butcher to the table.
During wet aging, some minor changes due to the enzymes in the meat do occur, but they are almost unnoticeable. The wet-aged steaks typically have a bloodier and more metallic taste. On the other hand, dry-aged steaks have fuller, more complex, and richer umami flavors.
This is why wet-aged beef is much more readily available and is quite less expensive than dry-aged one.
On the other hand, if you prefer the easier method of aging meat, wet aging is perfect for you, as it only requires placing the vacuum-sealed package in the fridge, and it won’t require any trimming prior to cooking either.
Dry aging involves exposing a large subprimal cut of beef to open air in a cool locker or refrigerator for at least 14 days. During this time, its enzymes break down the tougher fibers making the meat more tender, and the oxygen reacts with the fat creating an appetizing crust. At the same time, the naturally occurring bacteria will help begin a very slow and controlled rotting process of the meat, making its flavor meatier, richer, and deeper, and umami-like.
At the end of the dry-aging, the meat cut will develop a hard crusty exterior that needs to be trimmed off, as it itself is inedible.
Also, during the dry-aging, some of the meat will evaporate, causing the cut to shrink in volume and weight.
Overall, the end result of dry aging is an amazing beefy taste which has nothing in common with the bloodier and partly metallic taste of wet-aged steak.
The problem is that dry-aging requires special equipment, which costs money and takes up a lot of space. Plus, it takes a lot of time and results in a loss of part of the meat during the process.
Dry Aging Beef at Home
Here are some tips, as well as a step-by-step guide for creating a dry-aging setting, and for dry aging beef properly and safely.
The home setup
Dry aging beef at home requires making space for and investing in some dedicated equipment.
You will need a separate refrigerator, a fan that can fit into the fridge, and a cooking sheet, and a wire rack.
The reason why you should use a dedicated refrigerator for dry-aging meat is to avoid the meat absorbing any odors from other foods or passing on its smell to other food. Also, with a separate fridge, you can ensure that the temperature is just right for the dry-aging and that the moisture remains constant without them being affected by other items stored in it.
Your dry-aging fridge should be able to hold 36 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the weeks or months of aging the beef.
The wisest option budget-wise is to invest in a small bar refrigerator or a mini-fridge.
You’ll then need the following equipment: a dedicated refrigerator, a small fan, a tray, and a wire rack and cooking rack.
You will also have to add a small electric fan that is able to fit under the drying meat in the refrigerator to your home meat age drying kit. To be able to add the fan, you will most probably need to cut out a notch in the seal’s corner, which will allow for the electric cord to fit without keeping the door or of the refrigerator open.
Apart from these two appliances, you will also need a baking sheet and a wire rack that will fit into your fridge. The meat will be left to dry-age on the wire rack so that there is sufficient air circulation all around it, and the baking sheet will catch any juices and drips.
f the refrigerator comes with wire racks, you can place the meat directly on them and only add a baking sheet to prevent the mess.
Step by step guide
The first step of the dry-aging process is to ensure that you have a suitable large subprimal top-grade cut of USDA Prime beef. Pick a large bone-in rib roast with at least three ribs, a whole strip loin, or another similar cut with a thick fat cap. The layer of fat will help preserve as much of the actual meat after the dry-aging and trimming.
Place the meat on a wire rack so that the air can circulate freely all around it, and position the fan under it.
Make sure that the temperature inside the refrigerator is 36 degrees Fahrenheit and that the fan is turned on continuously during the dry aging.
After you are set, place the baking sheet underneath to catch any dripping and close the fridge.
The effect of the dry-aging will become evident after at least 2-4 weeks when the enzymes in the meat will begin breaking down the muscle fibers and making it much tenderer.
But if you want your meat to develop that deep and rich beefy flavor, you will need to wait for about 4 to 6 weeks.
If you are a fan of the smelliness which develops during prolonged dry-aging, then you can leave the meat to dry for more than 6 weeks.
Once the meat has been dry-aged according to your taste, you will need to take it out of the refrigerator and carefully trim off the fat cap, and any deep brown or red rind or mold developed on its exterior with a sharp knife.
After the crust and fat are removed, you can proceed to cut the meat into 1.5-2 inch thick steaks.
An alternative method for dry-aging meat at home is with the help of the use of dry-aging bags.
How to cook dry-aged beef
After all of your hard work and patience, the time will come to prepare your dry-aged beef steaks to perfection.
While there are various ways to cook dry-aged steaks, our recommendation is to use the reverse sear method. This will allow you to end up with the best results.
The more traditional method for cooking dry-aged steak is searing it at very high temperatures and then cooking it to the preferred doneness at a low temperature. This results in steaks with a beautiful crust and a perfectly cooked inside.
But the reverse sear is a method which many professionals have started using for cooking the perfect dry-aged steak. Reverse searing is the opposite of regular searing. It means roasting the meat in a cooler oven and then finishing it up by searing it at high temperatures.
First, begin by smoking the steaks low and slow until their internal temperatures reach 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit below the desired end doneness temperatures.
When this temperature is reached, char or sear the steaks over a hot fire until their internal temperature reaches 5 degrees Fahrenheit below the desired doneness.
This will ensure that the meat is cooked to perfection and has developed a smoky crisp crust.
With reverse searing, it is easier to avoid overcooking your precious dry-aged meat, as well as undercooking it into an unpleasant “bull’s-eye finish,” which leaves the middle of the meat red while the rest becomes grey.
Reverse searing is a relatively new steak cooking method that includes the following steps:
Set your smoker or grill to a temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the meat away from any direct flames and heat.
Use a digital meat thermometer to monitor the doneness of the steak, and remove it from the grill when it reaches about 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit from the desired doneness. This means removing it at 105 degrees Fahrenheit if you prefer it rare.
Remove the steak from the grill and tent it until you can increase the grill’s temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
When the temperature is reached, char the steak for about 1-2 minutes, and keep flipping it until the internal temperature reaches about 5 degrees Fahrenheit below the desired doneness. For medium-rare, the internal temperature to look for is 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the steak from the grill and let it rest for a moment so that it reaches that perfect finish temperature.
Myths about dry aging
Like with all BBQ-related topics, dry-aging beef is surrounded by multiple myths.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about dry-aging meat and how to avoid them:
- You can dry-age individual steaks in your fridge for 7-14 days
Many people believe that they can dry age a nice and thick steak they bought by placing it on a plate and into the fridge and letting it dry age for a week or two weeks.
But as we mentioned earlier, it takes at least 14 days for the enzymes to start breaking down the tough muscles and at least 4 weeks for the flavor of the beef to start becoming richer and more umami.
In other words, you will not achieve anything by leaving your meat in the fridge for 1-2 weeks apart from it, potentially absorbing the odors from other foods and vice versa.
- Wet aging is the same as dry aging
There are people who believe that the results from dry aging and wet aging beef are the same. But they are not. As we mentioned previously, there is a big difference between dry and wet aging, and the results from both of these processes when it comes to texture and taste are drastically dissimilar.
The umami flavor of dry-aged beef is achieved by allowing the air to circulate around it at the proper temperature for at least 6 weeks.
- You can use your home fridge to dry age the meat
While technically this is possible, it is not recommended because the meat can absorb the odors from the other foods in the fridge. Plus, the temperature and air circulation inside the refrigerator must remain consistent for the best results, which is difficult to achieve if you keep opening it to take out food and drinks.
Hopefully, we have helped you understand what dry-aging beef is, how it works and how it is done at home, as well as why it is the most preferred aging method for high-quality beef steaks.
So, now you can pop into your local butcher shop and get yourself a beautiful cut of beef so that you can try out this meat improvement method yourself!
Good luck and enjoy your DIY dry-aged steak!