There are many ways to enjoy well-aged meat.
You can go to a high-end steakhouse and order it. Be prepared to spend upward of $100. Or buy it from a specialty butcher shop near you. Well, it’s still going to be expensive.
Or the last and cheaper option. DIY at home.
Now, there’re many things you have to consider when doing it. That’s because you’re dealing with meat, mold, and bacteria here. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? But trust me, when done right, properly dry-aged meat is the most delicious food that you’ve ever tasted.
So in this comprehensive ‘how to dry age beef at home’ guide, I’ll walk you through the entire process of dry-aging, from what it is to why we should do it to how to do it safely.
Buckle up, folks. It’s going to be a long ride.
What Is Dry-Aging?
Dry aging is a process of decomposing meat in a tightly controlled environment. As gross as it may sound, dry-aged meat doesn’t spoil at all. That’s because the moisture levels and the amounts of bacteria are carefully monitored during this time.
In fact, moisture and bacteria play an important role in changing the meat’s flavor profile (for the better, of course) and promoting its tenderness. Depending on the time length, the flavor profile can go from savory to beefy and umami to funky and nutty.
Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with being funky and nutty (am I right, James Brown?). Some people like the extreme while some don’t. It’s all about personal preference here.
Now, you can dry age meat from 7 days up to several weeks. The sweet spot is around 4 to 6 weeks. Some people even do it for a year or more. I don’t know about you but that’s too much for me.
That’s the gist of it. We’ll get into more details as we go along.
The Science Behind Dry-Aging
First, the moisture gradually evaporates. This is controlled by the temperature and the humidity level. A good temperature range for dry-aging is 32F to 40F and a good humidity level is 75% to 85%.
Higher or lower than those will encourage unnecessary bacterial growth, which could spoil the meat, or excessive shrinkage, which lowers your final yield. There’s also proper airflow to ensure a uniform migration of moisture out of the meat.
Then, the natural enzymes inside the meat start to break it down, slowly converting muscles and lipids into delicious sugars, proteins, and fatty acids. These newly-formed substances combine and create a whole new flavor profile.
Meanwhile, more bacteria (the good kind) start to grow thanks to the right environment. They’re working to tenderize the tough and chewy collagens. If you leave any fat cap on, the bacteria also oxidize and turn it into a smoother and softer outer layer.
Given these processes enough time, what you end up with is a tender piece of meat, packed with unique aromas and flavorful umami. The kinds that are worth dying for.
George Motz put together a beautiful video in regards to the science of dry aging in a commercial setting. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope you do too.
Is Dry Aged Beef Safe?
Yes, dry aged beef is safe to consume UNLESS something went wrong during the process. It could be the inaccurate temperature tracking. Or the wrong level of humidity. Or even the initial preparation.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause(s), especially for beginners at home. We certainly don’t have the commercial-grade equipment like the specialty butcher shop or the high-end steakhouse. But one thing we can always rely on is the smell of the final product.
Properly dry-aged beef usually smells funky. Now, it might smell odd to you at first, but it isn’t off-putting or unpleasant. On the other hand, rotten beef smells disgusting, to the point where you want to throw up. If it smells like a box of ass, just chuck it!
Use your personal judgements here.
Dry-Aging vs Wet-Aging
Besides dry aging, there is another type called wet aging. They’re both essentially trying to accomplish two things — improving the flavor and/or the tenderness.
I want to add that dry-aging is also expensive commercially. That’s due to the special equipment and the cut of meat required, not to mention the product trimmings after the process is done.
Unlike dry aging, wet aging is cheaper. It doesn’t need lots of time and any special equipment. Meat is packed inside a vacuum-sealed bag, aging in its own juice (hence “wet” aging). Because of the absence of oxygen, there are no chemical changes happening to alter the flavor of the meat. That explains why wet-aged meat tastes bloody rather than complex and funky. However, during this time, some enzymes do tenderize the meat.
Wet aging was invented in the 1950s so it’s fairly new. The practice is less talked about yet quite popular in the meat industry.
Did You Know? Wet aging is very popular in supermarkets due to the economical benefits. If you buy a steak from a grocery store, there’s a good chance that it has been wet-aged.
In short, both types of aging help soften the meat, but only dry-aging intensifies its flavor. Dry-aging is also expensive to do, therefore dry-aged meat is harder to find and costly to buy.
Can You Dry Age Meat at Home?
Now that we know dry-aged meat is considerably expensive, it’s still certainly possible for us to do it at home. All you need is a small corner of your house, some equipment, and time. Done right, you end up saving money and having a chance to brag about it to your friends.
That being said, the process of dry aging at home also requires patience and involvement from your end. This isn’t something you can do on a weekend. Otherwise, you risk wasting time and money or worse, food poisoning.
What Cuts of Meat Are Best for Dry Aging?
To start off, you don’t want to dry age an individual cut. The reason is because the cut will shrink in size. Then you still have to trim away the outside layer (more on that soon). What you’re left with is just a thin piece of meat. Not really worth the efforts, is it?
Now, you may have read that you can dry age a steak by wrapping it with paper towels or cheesecloths for 7 days. I hate to break it to you, but that ain’t true. The only thing it does is dehydrating the steak, which technically is dry-aging. However, in terms of flavor change, you need more than 7 days to really see any improvements.
What you should dry age instead is a whole cut, regardless of grain- or grass-fed. For example, a prime rib or standing rib roast.
- You’d want to get USDA Prime if you can. Otherwise, lower-grade meat works too. Keep in mind that lower-grade meat might benefit more from dry-aging than higher-grade one. That’s because there’s more room for improvement.
- You’d also want the meat to have bones and a fat cap. They can take a hit from all the trimmings thereafter. That way, your meat loss is minimal. Don’t forget to leave a bit of fat so it tastes better when you cook. Also, don’t season your meat with salt or anything. Leave it out until cooking time.
Dry-aging works really well for beef because of the varying tenderness from cut to cut. Bison also benefit from it. Pork is not since its fat goes bad quickly.
How Long to Dry Age Beef?
As I mentioned above, there is a wide range of flavors in dry-aged meat, depending on how long the dry aging goes. The more you do it, the more intense and funky the meat is.
It all boils down to your taste buds. But a good length of time to start is from 4 to 6 weeks. This is where the flavor profile is best for most folks.
Of course, this might change as you gain more experience and fine tune your setup. Keep in mind that the longer you dry age, the less of your final yield.
Here is an estimated dry-aging timeline for your reference:
Day 1 – 14
The meat starts to shrink rapidly due to the initial evaporation. It also starts to break down. The flavor changes, however, are minimal during this time.
Day 15 – 28
Moisture loss continues at a slower rate. The meat is quite soft at this point because of the bacterial growth. Its flavors also start to develop as the natural enzymes transform the glycogens and lipids into amino acids and fatty acids. The right words to describe the flavors are beefy and savory.
Day 29 – 44
Things just get even better. The flavor profile continues to develop further, from beefy and savory to umami and full-bodied, with depth and distinctive aromas.
The tenderness, however, reaches its peak. From here on, it can’t get any more tender.
Day 45 and beyond
This is where the funky flavors begin. Pungent, sharp, and intense. It might not be for everybody, just like blue cheese.
To dry age beef at home, you’d need the following:
- A small fridge that is solely for dry-aging.
- A thermometer to monitor the temperature.
- A small fan for air movement.
- A tray for catching drippings.
- A wire rack to put the meat.
How to Dry Age Beef at Home
Here comes the best part. Let’s start with the most important component — the fridge.
Don’t dry age meat in the same fridge as other food items. The meat will pick up the flavors from them. It’s also hard to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity, which in turn throws off the moisture levels.
Also, make sure that the fridge is wide enough. Some of these whole cuts are large. You want even airflow all around the meat. It shouldn’t be too large either. Otherwise, you might have problems with humidity.
You’d also want to disinfect the fridge before using. Once that’s done, set the temperature to about 32F to 40F.
Place a digital thermometer inside the fridge. It’s better if you can get the one that tracks both temperature and humidity. Remember that the humidity level should be around 75% to 85%.
Put the fan at the bottom of the fridge. Proper airflow is essential for dry-aging. You want constant and uniform air movement throughout the fridge.
Get a pan that is larger than the meat. Fill it with some salt to absorb odors and drippings. Keep in mind that salt is corrosive so you’d want to use stainless steel, porcelain, and glass pans.
The Wire Rack
Place the wire rack on top of the pan. The wire rack allows air to flow through the bottom of the meat. Remember that all-around airflow is important. Once that’s done, put the meat on top of the rack.
You might want to put some jugs of water inside the fridge. This helps the fridge stabilize its temperature quickly as you open and close it to check on the progress.
After everything is set up, put a note on the fridge saying what date that you start and just wait. Keep in mind that time is the biggest variable in this whole process. Other variables you can control are temperature, airflow, humidity, and quality of the meat.
Do Dry Age Bags Work?
There is a type of vacuum-sealed bag that is designed for dry-aging. What it does is to block the air coming in while allowing the inside moisture to go out. If you seal the meat with this bag, you can actually place it inside your regular fridge, alongside other food items.
Seems great, isn’t it? But how well does it work compared to the traditional dry-age method we’ve been talking about here.
Not sure if you’re aware by now, this whole dry age thing requires the meat to be “naked” 100% of the time. That’s to help moisture to evaporate. It also allows the air to circulate around the meat, preventing any potential bad bacterial buildup.
The bag gets the moisture evaporation right, but not the air circulation. After all, we need oxygen so that the fat can oxidize properly. Not to mention other biochemical reactions as well.
A quick disclaimer though. I’ve never used this type of bag. From what I’ve researched so far, many people think that it’s unnecessary and expensive. But it DOES work. So, it might be worth giving it a try.
Any Way to Speed Up the Process?
There is this Japanese rice called Koji. You have to grind it into flour. Then rub that flour on a steak. Leave the rubbed steak in the fridge uncovered for 3 days. What you have is something similar to a well-aged steak.
But is it true though? Danielle Prewett of Meat Eater didn’t think so.
Koji does intensify the meat’s flavor to umami and savory, but not to the point of funky. It doesn’t tenderize the meat that well either. If you need to “dry age” your meat in a few days or so, Koji could be a lifesaver.
Why Must You Trim Away the Crust
The outer layer takes most of the hit from moisture loss and bacterial growth during the dry-aging process. In fact, it’s all spoiled.
That’s why you need to trim it away. That’s also why I recommend buying meat with a fat cap on. So you can save as much meat as possible.
How to Cook Dry Aged Steak
There’s no way better to cook a steak, dry-aged or not, than the reverse sear technique. After taking the dry aged meat out of the fridge, you will notice a lot of changes, especially the color.
The outside will be dark brown and moldy. This obviously needs to be cut away as we’ve discussed above. The inside will be a rich shade of burgundy or cordovan. Beautiful, I might add!!!
The next step is to cut the whole thing into individual steaks. I’d go as thick as 3”. Anything thicker than that isn’t ideal.
After that, you’d want to season the steaks. Remember when I said to save the salt at the beginning of this article. Well, it’s time to use it now. Maybe with a bit of pepper too.
Then, follow these 4 simple steps to cook dry aged steaks using the reverse sear method.
- Set up a two zone fire. On a charcoal grill, push all the hot coals to one side. On a gas grill, turn on one to two burners while leaving the others off. Get the ambient temperature of the grill up to 225F to 250F.
- Place the steak(s) on the indirect heat zone and cook it until the internal temperature is about 10F below the target. Say, you want medium rare (130F), you’d want the temperature to be 120F.
- Let the meat rest and crank up the ambient temperature to 600F. Throw the meat on the direct heat zone and sear each side for 2 to 3 minutes.
- And that’s it. You don’t have to rest the meat again. Simply dig in and enjoy.
A quick video to help you visualize the whole process better.
How to Store Dry Aged Beef
After cutting the meat into small pieces, you can wrap them in plastic. Then refrigerate what you’re planning to eat in 3 days. Freeze the rest.
Wrapping It Up
I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoy writing it. This is a long one so take your time going through each section. There is a table of content at the top to help you navigate.
That being said, dry aging certainly takes time, involvement, and patience. But the result is well worth it. The meat is tender and has an amazing umami flavor. You can even go extreme and get it funky instead. It’s all about personal preference. Just like anything in BBQ, there’s nothing right or wrong here. Experiment and have fun.
Finally, if you enjoy this ‘how to dry age beef at home’ guide, please don’t forget to let me know that by commenting down below. Any feedback is always welcomed.
And with that, have a good one.