Dry-Aging Beef: Doing the Magic at Home

Dry aging beef

Credit: Adam Kuban

Dry aged beef is more than a delicious food; it is a work of art. A decent cut of meat is selected, stored and taken cared for under the right environmental conditions – temperature, air flow and humidity – for it to transform into an incredibly tender and scrumptious dinner.

Over the course of time (which can be as short as 12 hours to as long as eight weeks, depending on how your butcher or favorite restaurant chef does it) changes happen in the beef carcass. The enzymes work on the tenderizing the meat and connective tissues and intensifying the flavors as the moisture dries out. The end result is worth all the wait – a steak cut that’s way better than it originally was.

Dry-aging at Home: The Advantage

This type of dry-aged beef is hard to find. Considering the amount of time it takes to complete the process, the meticulousness of the method, and the shrinking of the meat, it is not surprising that it is priced steeply from $30 to $50 per pound. Thus, at best your only option to taste a really good and delicious slab of dry-aged beef is in upscale restaurants.

As the word gets around about how good these cured meats are, one question keeps popping up: Can you dry age beef at home? The answer is YES.

If you are a foodie or an avid cook, transforming a fresh slab of meat into a work of art is just too tempting. It is another feather to your chef cap. It can also save you a lot of money.

If you are interested in dry-aging your own beef, you can already pull it off without investing on expensive restaurant-grade or large-scale production equipment. With the demand for homemade dry-aged beef, options from inexpensive and simple-to operate gadgets to expensive equipment are increasing in the market, making the process easier.

Your Dry –Aging Beef Guideline

If you need a step-by-step guide on how to dry-age beef J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab’s Complete Guide to Dry-Aging Beef at Home posted on Serious eats – The Food Lab makes an adequate reference. It covers every step from selecting meat to making the right aging setup using materials you already have, and therefore, without spending a fortune. Here are some important steps and tips you can pick from this blog.

  1. The Cut of Meat:
  • Select a large slab or apiece of meat: Pick a cut that is usually cooked quickly – rib steak, New York strip, and the porterhouse.  Drying the meat can make a thin or small piece too dry and “impossible to cook to anything lower than well-done.”
  • How to pick the rib cuts: “Rib sections come in several different forms, each with their own number designation.”
  • The 103: This covers an entire rib section from ribs 6 through 12 of the steer, together with a significant portion of the short ribs, the chine bones completely intact, and a large flap of fat and meat (called “lifter meat”)
  • The 107:  This is trimmed so that the short ribs are cut short, and some of the chine bone removed along with the outer cartilage removed.
  • The 109A: The “ready-to-roast and serve” cut with fat cap minus the chine bone and the lifter meat.
  • The 109 Export: This is basically the same as the 109A without the fat cap.

       2. The Fat Cap as Protection

  • The fat cap provides protection to the inner muscle to provide you a better final yield. Protection is important because drying the meat over an extended period can cause the protective layer to get excessively dehydrated, which must be trimmed away.
  • Minimal protection means more of the supposedly good meat needs to be trimmed away.

      3. The Aging Set-up

López-Alt  writes… “It’s very simple and requires virtually no special equipment. There are just a few things you’ll need:

  • Fridge space: Any dedicated mini-fridge will do. The smell can get powerful, so pick one that closes well. The smell can easily stick to any food or container inside, in the same it can easily be permeated by other aromas. This is why it is good to have a mini fridge that can be dedicated to this homemade dry-aged beef.
  • A fan: Put a fan inside the mini-fridge to maintain the air circulation, just like how a convection oven works. The author suggests making a small cut in the seal of the fridge door for the electric cord to fit through.
  • A rack. The meat needs to be hanged or at least keep them elevated in a rack. Using a plate will prevent the undersides from drying, causing the meat to rot. A wire rack on the fridge shelf is a good strategy.

        4. Timing

According to the author, after cooking them following a similar procedure: “… in a sous-vide water bath to 127°F before finishing them with a cast iron pan/torch combo,”  the taste of the final product is largely a matter of personal preference. He shares a rough guide as to what can be expected in the course of 60 days (and over):

  • 14 days or less: There was a very little evident change in both flavor and tenderness. “Very few people preferred this steak.”
  • 14 to 28 days: The steak is getting to be more tender, but the taste is not very distinct. “… This is about the age of a steak at your average high end steakhouse.”
  • 28 to 45 days: “… At 45 days, there are distinct notes of blue or cheddar cheese and the meat is considerably moister and juicier. Most tasters preferred 45 day-aged steak to all others.”
  • 45 to 60 days: “Extremely intense flavors emerge. A handful of tasters enjoyed the richness of this highly aged meat, though some found it a little too much to handle more than a bite or two…”

If you wonder what the steak would taste like beyond 60 days, Minetta Tavern and Eleven Madison Park in New York offer 80-day and 120-day aged steak respectively in what they call as “tasting menu.”

Trying your hand in dry aging your favorite beef cuts for that intense flavor right in your own kitchen? Aside from these tips and guidelines, you need good doses of time and patience to  be rewarded with a steak by the sweat of your brow.”

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