Have you heard of dry-aging beef? If you've never heard of dry-aged beef, it's a process that involves hanging freshly slaughtered beef in a temperature-controlled environment for a few weeks up to months. This process sounds costly and might turn a few people off at first, especially if you've never tried it. But surprisingly, it is possible to dry-age your beef at home if you're careful about prep and want to enter an entirely new world of flavor for your favorite beef cuts.
But what is it? Why should you consider how to dry-age your beef, and why does it matter? Let's get right into it!
What Is Dry Aging?
The process of dry-aging beef consists of exposing subprimal to oxygen, which allows natural enzymes within the meat to come alive and begin breaking down the molecular bonds of beef. A subprimal is a cut of meat much more significant than a steak but a bit smaller than an entire side of beef. Most butchers work with subprimal, shipped to local markets for final cutting that turns into your favorites like steaks and roasts.
During the dry-aging process, meat hangs in a humidity-controlled environment in a way that exposes all of its sides with unimpeded airflow around the entire cut. This makes good bacteria find their way onto steaks, which slowly start to break down and increase the amount of evaporation. To put it frankly, dry-aging is a bit like the mold of blue cheese—dry-aging allows good mold to grow over meat, but not the bad mold or bad bacteria which spoils it.
Before professionally dry-aged meat makes its way to our plates, all the mold is trimmed away, leaving just the tenderized, delicious beef behind. The flavor of dry-aged meat has been described as a deep nuttiness that you won't get with average wet-aged steak and that it is much more tender with a different mouthfeel altogether.
Why Would You Want to Dry-Age Beef At Home?
First, you can easily impress your dinner guests and family by telling them that you dry-aged your steak at home. Second, and the more obvious and possibly most important? Dry-aging your beef at home saves you money, quite a bit of it. Well-aged meat could cost you anywhere from 50 to 100% more than the equivalent of a piece of fresh-cut meat. And at home, so long as you have a spacious fridge or are willing to dedicate a corner of your fridge to the dry-aging process for weeks or months, the extra costs to you become minimal.
What Cut of Meat is Best for Dry-Aging?
To age beef properly, it needs to be a large piece that is best cooked with quick-cooking methods. That means your standard steakhouse cuts, like the New York strip, rib steak, and porterhouse, are ideal cuts for aging at home.
What do we recommend as the easiest and best choice when you're just starting? We think it's the rib steak, which you get when you cut a prime rib between the bone into individual steaks.
Can't You Age an Individual Steak?
Unfortunately, you can't purchase an individual steak and then age it yourself. Why? The pieces of meat are simply too small. When wrapping a steak with a cheesecloth or paper towel and leaving it to dry-age individually, the cheesecloth or paper towel will hold moisture against the meat, which is not what you want. You need plenty of ventilation first to properly dry age.
Second, a single steak would become so dried out that it becomes inedible. By the time you finish trimming away any moldy bits and that which is desiccated, you'd be left with a sliver of meat probably no bigger than half a centimeter thick, making it impossible to cook it lower than well-done, making your yield virtually zero.
The truth of the matter is, yes, you need the most significant cuts of meat you can afford.
What Cuts of Meat to Look For
You'll be looking to get your hands on rib sections. Each of these rib sections comes with its number designation.
- The 103 is the most intact. It is an entire rib section of beef (ribs six through 12 of a steer) along with a significant portion of the short ribs, the chine bones intact, and a large flap of fat and meat. (Called ""lifter meat""), covering the meaty side. However, this is a challenging cut to get a hold of, even if you ask your reputable butcher for one.
- The 107 is somewhat trimmed with the short ribs cut short, some but not all of the chine bone sawed away, and the outer cartilage removed. This is how rib sections are commonly sold to retail butcher shops and supermarkets, where they are then further broken down.
- 109A. The 109A is considered ready to roast and serve. It's had the chine bone nearly completely sawed away and the lifter meat removed.
- 109 Export. This is essentially the same as the 109A but has the fat cap removed as well as the chine bone. This is the cut you might see at Christmas tables or at a hotel buffet where the meat is somewhat protected on the outside.
The 107 or 109A is the ideal piece you are looking for. Aging Process Setup
Luckily, the aging process is simple to set up. The biggest requirement will be space.
- A dedicated mini fridge is the best setup to use, so you can keep the refrigerator closed without smells permeating the rest of your fridge. If you don't have one, a secondary fridge that can be used for dry-aging alone is an acceptable alternative.
- A fan. A refrigerator alone doesn't move enough air to dry-age properly. You'll need to stick a fan inside the fridge to keep the air circulating.
- A rack. Your meat must be elevated on a rack. Any piece of meat that does not have proper airflow because it is in contact with a plate or service will not dehydrate properly and end up rotting! Age on a wire rack or directly on a wire shelf in the fridge.
- Time. Once you have all of the above set up, it's time to wait.
How Long To Dry-Age?
You will want to dry-age your meat in the fridge for 28 to 45 days for the best possible tenderness and flavor. Some natural funkiness will start to manifest itself, but don't panic. This is what you are looking for. At 45 days, you should recognize distinct notes of blue cheese or cheddar cheese, and when cooked, the meat will be noticeably more tender, moister, and nuttier.
Remember that it is essential not to use cheesecloth, paper towels, or a plate to dry-age and that you do have to have a fan for airflow. Otherwise, you risk the chance of rotting meat instead of dry aging.
We hope this inspires you to try the dry-aging process at home, or at least consider adding dry-aged beef to your meals for a bold, new flavor that you can't get enough of!