How to Dry-Age Beef at Home
Dry-aged beef is flavorful and tender. However, it may be hard to come by if you don’t live by a quality butcher or an authentic steakhouse. Purchasing it from these vendors can be expensive and inconvenient.
If you want to start enjoying dry-aged beef from the comfort of home, read on to learn how to do it yourself to experience the flavors you’ve been missing out on!
What is Dry-Aging Beef?
Dry-aging is a process done after the beef animal has been harvested. The process is meant to enhance both the meat’s tenderness and flavor.
The enhanced flavor comes from two specific processes:
- The cultivation of bacteria and mold (not the harmful kinds)
- A reduction in moisture
The reduction of moisture creates a piece of meat that’s more concentrated in flavor. The bacteria and mold cause the meat to have a nutty flavor.
Keep in mind that dry-aged beef isn’t for everyone. Some food connoisseurs prefer the taste of regular beef, as it doesn’t have the intense nutty flavors that dry-aged beef has.
If you’ve never had dry-aged beef before, consider trying it at a local restaurant or meat market. Visiting one of these places will allow you to determine if you like it.
It’s best to try out dry-aging at home once you know you enjoy dry-aged beef, as the process at home can be time-consuming.
What’s the Difference between Dry-Aging and Wet-Aging?
Maybe you’ve heard these terms thrown around but are unsure of what they mean.
You’re likely more familiar with wet-aging, as this is the process used in beef purchased from grocery stores. Wet-aging involves vacuum sealing beef, which is the same method that’s used to prevent freezer burn when freezing beef.
- No oxygen involved
- Minimal enzymatic changes
- Bloody taste
- Oxygen involved
- Noticeable enzymatic changes which alter the beef’s flavor
- Richer and more complex flavors
Which Is Cheaper: Dry-Aged or Wet-Aged Beef?
As previously mentioned, you’re more likely to be familiar with wet-aged beef, as that’s what most of us have encountered at supermarkets, and it's what we carry here at Seven Sons Farms.
Generally speaking, wet-aged beef is less costly to produce, and the process is easy. It does not require as much time or equipment. Plus, you’ll lose almost no product throughout the process.
When it comes to dry-aged beef, you’ll find that it’s more expensive. It requires more work and time to make, and you’ll need special equipment. It’s also more costly because of the amount of product you end up losing.
This is because of the evaporation and trimming involved in the process.
If it’s more expensive and time-consuming, then why do people prefer this option? Well, it’s a classic that people have enjoyed for centuries. Many prefer its taste and find the extra cost and effort to be worth it.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about dry-aging your own beef.
What Equipment Do I Need to Dry-Age Beef at Home?
This process will require some time and patience on your part. Be prepared with the right equipment.
Basic Things You Will Need
A refrigerator. While we recommend getting a dry-aging refrigerator, your normal one will work just fine. However, keep in mind there’s a catch: the refrigerator you choose should be used for dry-aging only.
Don’t use it to store beer bottles, condiments, and other miscellaneous items. A multi-purpose fridge with other items stored in it can mess up the flavor of your final beef product. Opening and closing your fridge a lot can also disrupt the final results.
Also, be mindful of your fridge size and how much meat you plan on preparing. A fridge that’s too small can cause inadequate airflow, while one that’s too large can give you trouble with humidity levels.
Find a refrigerator that meets your preparation needs. Consider getting one with a glass door, so you can check on your beef’s progress without opening the door and interrupting the aging process.
A fan. This may sound like a strange tool to have in a kitchen, but you’ll need it to dry-age meat. Ensuring you have proper air circulation is important to the setup process. Without it, you won’t get a tasty final product.
A small standalone fan will work just fine. You can get a small battery-operated one. Or, one with a power cord will work, as long as the fridge door can close securely. Just make sure you sterilize your fan before it goes in the fridge.
A Substitution for the More Adventurous
While a standard home refrigerator should get the job done, one isn’t as consistently cold as a refrigerator meant for dry-aging. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider investing in a dry-aging refrigerator. Consider how a dry-aging refrigerator outperforms your standard home fridge:
It keeps its contents cold. To dry-age meat successfully, you need low temperatures. Ideally, the temperature range should be between 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This small range doesn’t leave much room for error.
Even if your home fridge has electronically-controlled thermostat regulation, it won’t be able to precisely remain in these temperature constraints. A dry-aging refrigerator is designed to meet the specific temperature requirements for dry-aging meat.
It controls the climate. Temperature isn’t the only factor to consider. You also want to have a sterile environment for dry-aging beef. A dry-aging refrigerator sterilizes and controls the humidity to prevent the development of unhealthy mold.
It has other purposes. If you decide to take a break from dry-aging meat, this type of refrigerator can be used for other purposes. For example, you can keep herbs, vegetables, and fruits fresher for longer in the consistent temperatures and sterilized conditions that this fridge offers. Just make sure you disinfect the fridge in between uses.
Getting this kind of refrigerator will grant you a dedicated space for dry-aging beef. You’ll never have to worry about clearing out your kitchen’s main fridge and dealing with cross-contamination.
What Beef Should I Use?
Now that you know what you need to get started, you might just grab any meat you can find at your supermarket. Before we get into the actual process, know that the type and quality of meat matters. Keep these factors in mind when purchasing your cuts.
The Best Pieces of Meat to Use
One of the most important parts about dry aging beef is using the right size cut. While you can age individually cut pieces, we do not recommend it. It’s best to use large cuts because they will lose water due to dehydration.
Larger whole muscles (also referred to as subprimals) are usually a safe bet. Examples of meats you could use include a strip loin shell or a large rib roast with at least three ribs.
It’s also important for you to choose cuts with a thick exterior layer of fat. When you trim the exterior at the end of the process, you’ll only be cutting away chunks of fat. This prevents lots of unnecessary waste and allows you to enjoy your beef to the fullest.
The presence of fat is also important because it contributes to flavor. Avoid pieces that are too lean, as you won’t have enough fat for a great-tasting finished product. Try to stick to USDA Prime cuts. This is the minimum amount of marbling you’ll need.
Another factor you should consider is whether or not the cut is on- or off-the-bone. If the cut is on-the-bone, you can easily cut away meat during trimming without losing any.
Here is our Recommendation: Prime Rib Roast or Beef Tenderloin
Is Higher-Quality Meat Better?
You already need additional equipment such as a dedicated refrigerator to dry-age beef. Is it worth it to invest in higher-quality meat? The answer is yes!
You don’t want to skimp out on quality when it comes to picking your meat. A top-grade cut will properly absorb flavors and create a better overall taste.
Be sure you are getting your meat from a good source. It’s recommended to use ethically sourced, grass-fed beef for dry-aging beef.
How Do I Tell if I am Buying Good Quality Meat?
As mentioned above, you want to look for pieces with a certain amount of marbling and fat on the exterior. These are elements you can easily spot.
To ensure you buy meat of good quality, use your best judgment. Look out for brown or gray edges. Steer clear of cuts that are wobbly and wet instead of dry and firm.
Talk to Your Local Butcher or Farmer
When it doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your local butcher or farmer should be your go-to person.
They are experts when it comes to meat and can help you with your buying decision. Let them know that you’re planning to try dry-aging at home. They can give you their recommendations and maybe even provide you with advice on the actual process. They can also ensure that you are taking home only the highest quality of pieces.
Don’t Just Buy It Off The Shelf
Of course, buying meat off the shelf from your supermarket might be the easiest option. However, it won’t offer you the best dry-aging results.
For one, lax regulations can make it difficult for you to know exactly what you’re getting and where it’s coming from. The expiration dates don’t always mean anything. Overall, the inferior quality can make it difficult to achieve good results from the dry-aging process.
What is the Process of Dry-Aging Beef at Home?
Dry-aging beef is well-worth the labor and time. However, it’s no walk in the park, so be sure you’re aptly prepared.
Disinfect your fridge. Use a mixture of bleach and water to disinfect the fridge’s internal surfaces.
Ensure the humidity range of your fridge is between 75% and 85%. If your fridge is below this range, some excess product shrinkage may occur.
If the humidity levels are above 85%, spoilage is more likely to occur. In most areas of the U.S., it’s easy to maintain appropriate humidity levels. If your area has particularly dry or moist air, you’ll need a humidity control on your fridge.
Ensure the temperature is controlled. Your fridge should be between 29 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1.6 to 4.44 Celsius). The ideal range is between 36 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit (2.22 to 3.88 Celsius) so you don’t spoil expensive products or become sick from eating spoiled meat.
Obtain a piece of meat that’s already been dried. To ensure it was done properly, we recommend obtaining this piece of meat from a local dry-aged meat retailer.
Spread this piece of meat along the inside of your fridge. This speeds up the development of your fridge’s microclimate. You can still dry-age beef without doing this part, but the microclimate will take a lot longer to form without this assistance.
The Cooking Process
Though the setup is important, the cooking process is what you’ll be looking forward to. When your beef has dried for the appropriate amount of time, consider your taste buds. Also, take the taste buds of the people you may be cooking for into account.
Palpability is subjective, as people will prefer different tastes and textures.
In a perfect trial run, all of your aging parameters will be correct and no spoilage will be produced. The only thing that may get in the way of a perfect piece of meat is the rind, or the hard outer shell that develops during the aging process.
This rind will not soften during the cooking process. It needs to be removed before the cooking process begins. Freely cut off the rind, making sure to not leave any of it behind. If you leave any rind left, you’ll ruin an otherwise perfect dry-aging experiment.
As you’re trimming the rind away, you may notice patches of discoloration. These are normal in most cases and safe to eat. If you’re unsure if they’re safe for consumption, feel these spots to see if they are soft. If they are particularly firm, cut them away to avoid food poisoning.
Here are some questions we haven’t covered so far:
"Is there an easier way?"
If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re not alone! Many people find this process to be difficult and time-consuming, leading them to not bother with it at all.
Of course, if there’s an easier way, you’re going to want in on it. Unfortunately, there isn’t.
Some websites suggest that this process isn’t as complicated as most make it out to be. They suggest that “shortcut” methods will work just as fine.
For instance, some say that you can simply line cuts in a pan with a paper towel or cheesecloth. Then, you put the pan in the refrigerator for around 3 to 7 days.
There are several reasons this method is ineffective. While the cheesecloth will dehydrate the meat, it won’t age it. The enzymes need at least 2 weeks to tenderize the fibers properly. The beef needs at least 3 weeks to develop complex flavors.
When it comes to dry-aging beef, it’s best not to take shortcuts. You’ll only end up frustrated and left without the product you want. While the process might seem tedious, it definitely pays off. You, your family, and your guests will end up with a delicious, properly-aged piece of meat.
"Is mold okay?"
Some people might be wary when they hear mold is involved in this process. After all, mold is bad for us, right? We stay away from it in the produce section and throw out bread as soon as we notice its presence on it.
When it comes to dry-aging beef, however, mold is completely normal and even essential. Basically, we want it because it creates the nutty taste that we are aiming for. Think of the mold that many types of cheese have that create highly-sought after products.
If at any point you notice black mold, cease all aging activities. If there’s one thing you learned from this article, it’s this—black mold is bad. Be sure to throw out any meat in your fridge and give it a good deep-clean. Then, you try again, adjusting your process accordingly.
"What are the proper preparation and cooking techniques?"
Know how to prepare and cook your dry-age meat is very important. It’ll ensure that your hard work pays off and keeps everyone safe.
Preparation: A rind forms during the aging process. Be sure to remove it as it won’t soften when cooked.
Cooking: Be sure to cook at least the outside of your meat to the proper temperature. The high heat will kill off harmful bacteria. You don’t need to cook the inside as it is sterile. Keep in mind that the bone, however, is not and can breed bacteria. Either cut away the bone altogether or roast it separately and serve with the cut.
"How long do I typically age beef for?"
This answer depends on what you are looking to achieve. If you just want to increase tenderness, four weeks should be fine. After a month, it won’t get any more tender to a point that’ll you actually notice it.
If you are looking to increase the meat’s flavor profile, you’ll need to let it age a little longer. A month is the minimum amount of time for noticing any hints of the traditional dry-aged flavor. If you are looking for more complex notes, leave it in your refrigerator for six to eight weeks.
"Why does dry-aged beef taste better?"
Dry-aged beef doesn’t necessarily taste better. In fact, some people prefer the taste of wet-aged beef, as it doesn’t have an overwhelming nutty flavor.
For those who do opt for dry-aged beef over its wet-aged counterpart, it’s usually because of its increased tenderness and flavor caused by oxidation, enzyme breakdown, and bacteria. Who knew science was responsible for how your food tastes?
Make Your Beef Taste Better!
If you want to try out dry-aging for yourself, consider getting some high-quality pasture-raised beef from Seven Sons to get started.