Are you a meat lover looking to elevate your steak game?
Have you ever heard of dry-aged beef?
It’s a process that involves aging beef in a controlled environment to create a uniquely rich and tender flavor.
But how do you dry age beef without it going bad?
In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of dry aging beef, including the proper conditions, cuts of meat to use, and safety concerns.
Get ready to impress your taste buds with a perfectly dry-aged steak!
How Do You Dry Age Beef Without It Going Bad?
Dry-aging beef is a process that requires precision and care to ensure that the meat ages properly without spoiling. The key to success is creating a controlled environment that maintains a specific level of temperature, humidity, and air flow.
To begin, it’s important to choose the right cuts of meat. Large muscle or sub-primal cuts on the bone, like a strip loin, ribeye, or sirloin, are ideal for dry-aging. Bones and fat layers protect the meat from drying out too much and help to enhance the flavor.
It’s not advisable to try dry-aging single steaks because you will lose so much volume when cutting off the outer, dried layer that you won’t be left with much. The meat should be as freshly slaughtered as possible. It’s recommended to tell your butcher that you’re going to dry-age beef at home so you’ll be recommended a good cut.
Once you have your meat, it’s time to create a dry-aging chamber. This can be done using a small desk fan that fits inside your refrigerator. Cut a small notch out of the soft sealant around the refrigerator door for the cord of the fan to pass through. Constant airflow around all sides of the meat is essential to ensure even and rapid drying and prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold.
It’s important to note that dry-aging beef should not be attempted with individually cut steaks. The meat will shrink vastly in size as it loses water through the aging process. When you combine the amount of rind trimming that needs to occur along with the smaller size, you’ll be left with barely a sliver of a steak.
During the aging process, moisture is drawn out of the meat, which helps to create the umami flavor and tenderness of the beef. The lack of moisture also helps to make it hard for harmful bacteria to grow. These aging refrigerators are free of harmful bacteria and keep cold, dry air circulating.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that safety is crucial when it comes to dry-aging beef. Your home fridge is full of all kinds of bacteria that you don’t want building up on your meat. There’s too much humidity in the air, and not enough circulation. A dry-aging room needs constant circulation to keep bad bacteria from getting a foothold.
What Is Dry Aging And Why Is It So Special?
Dry aging is a process by which large cuts of beef are aged in a controlled, open-air environment for several weeks to several months before being trimmed and cut into steaks. This process helps the steak develop flavor and makes it more tender than it would be if it were completely fresh. Dry-aging causes the steak to lose some volume, which concentrates its flavor, and also promotes the growth of ‘good’ mold and bacteria that lend a funky, nutty profile to the meat.
The flavor development of dry-aged beef is shaped by both a reduction in moisture and the cultivation of good bacteria. The moisture loss correlates to a concentration of flavor, while the good bacteria contribute to the development of deeply beefy, nutty, and almost cheese-like aromas. Properly dry-aged meat will have a complex flavor profile that is not found in fresh meat.
Dry-aging beef is typically done by fancy steakhouses, specialty meat purveyors, or high-end supermarkets due to the large amounts of space and precise monitoring of temperature and humidity required for proper dry-aging. However, it is possible to dry-age individual steaks at home with the right equipment and knowledge. The benefits of dry-aging at home include bragging rights and cost savings since aging meat takes time and space which cost money, and well-aged meat can cost anywhere from 50 to 100% more than an equivalent piece of fresh meat.
The Proper Conditions For Dry Aging Beef
The proper conditions for dry aging beef are crucial to ensure that the meat ages safely and develops the desired flavor and tenderness. The ideal temperature range for dry-aging beef is between 34°F and 36°F. It’s important to note that a temperature above 40°F will spoil the meat, so it’s worth investing in a stand-alone thermometer even if your fridge has a temperature indicator.
Relative humidity is also an important factor to consider when dry-aging beef. The optimal humidity range for dry-aged meat is between 65% and 85%. Be cautious of higher humidity levels, which may lead to excessive bacteria growth. If you live in a humid area with humidity over 80%, it’s recommended to put a salt block or a tray of rock salt in the bottom of your dry-aging fridge to absorb some moisture.
Air movement is essential in dry-aging beef. The aging room should have an air flow of 15 to 20 linear feet per minute at the surface of the product. This constant circulation helps to prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold and ensures even and rapid drying.
General sanitation of the aging room is also crucial. The aging room should be clean and free of all off-odors at all times. Floors and walls of the aging room should be thoroughly washed with an alkaline cleaning solution, and an approved sanitizer applied weekly or more often if needed. Sawdust should not be used on the floors because it contributes to air contamination.
Cured and smoked meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits, or shipping cartons should not be stored in the aging room because of the off-odor produced by such items, which will be adsorbed by the meat. Except during cleaning, walls, floors, and ceiling of the aging room should be kept as dry as possible. Carcasses and wholesale cuts should be properly spaced on trolleys or hooks to allow complete circulation of air around the product.
The Best Cuts Of Meat For Dry Aging
When it comes to dry-aging beef, choosing the right cut of meat is essential for achieving the perfect flavor and texture. Large muscle or sub-primal cuts on the bone are ideal for dry-aging, as they have a higher fat content that protects the meat from drying out too much and enhances the flavor.
Some of the best cuts for dry-aging include strip loin (New York Strip), boneless ribeye (ribeye), and top butt (sirloin). These steak cuts age well and improve significantly in flavor and texture with dry-aging.
It’s important to note that dry-aging should not be attempted with individually cut steaks, as they will shrink vastly in size as they lose water through the aging process. It’s recommended to tell your butcher that you’re going to dry-age beef at home so they can recommend a good cut.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try dry-aging pork or even poultry. Cuts from certain breeds of pigs, like the Mangalitza, lend themselves excellently to the process, while black feather chickens have been successfully tested for dry-aging with intensified poultry taste and texture.
To truly understand how much the dry-aging process is capable of elevating otherwise pedestrian cuts of meat, it’s important to experiment with different large, fatty cuts and become amazed at the results. Dry-aging fish is also possible and can result in a unique and delicious flavor profile.
Safety Concerns When Dry Aging Beef
When it comes to dry-aging beef, safety is a crucial concern. It’s important to create a controlled environment that maintains a specific level of temperature, humidity, and air flow to prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold. The surface temperature should not exceed 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) during the aging process, as higher temperatures can cause mold to grow on the meat surface, and some molds produce mycotoxins.
Butchers, steakhouses, and other professionals use entire rooms, walk-ins, or dedicated refrigerators that are specifically air-temperature and moisture-controlled to manage the aging process safely. The humidity and moisture are specially controlled because that is what inhibits bad bacteria growth.
If you’re attempting to dry-age beef at home, it’s important to be aware of the risks. A dry-aging room needs constant circulation to keep bad bacteria from getting a foothold. Your home fridge is full of all kinds of bacteria that you don’t want building up on your meat. There’s too much humidity in the air, and not enough circulation.
Temperature, relative humidity, air movement, and general sanitation of the aging room are essential considerations in successfully aging beef. The temperature of the aging room should be maintained at approximately 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, relative humidity at 85 to 90 percent, and an air flow of 15 to 20 linear feet per minute at the surface of the product. The aging room should be clean and free of all off-odors at all times.
It’s also important to properly space carcasses and wholesale cuts on trolleys or hooks to allow complete circulation of air around the product. Sawdust should not be used on the floors because it contributes to air contamination. Cured and smoked meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits or shipping cartons should not be stored in the aging room because of the off-odor produced by such items, which will be absorbed by the meat.
How Long To Dry Age Beef For Optimal Flavor
The length of time you should dry-age beef depends on several factors, including your personal preference, the cut of meat, and the conditions in which it is being aged. Generally speaking, the sweet spot for dry-aged beef is around 30 days. At this point, the meat will have developed a more intense flavor and texture typical of a dry-aged steak. Around 15% of the beef’s weight will have been lost as the flavor concentrates even further, leaving a more rich, umami taste which can only be achieved naturally through dry aging.
For retail customers, it’s recommended to go for 35 days of dry-aging, while for restaurant customers, it’s advised to go for 18 to 20 days. This is because some diners may not be familiar with dry-aged beef and may find it unpleasant if aged for too long. However, some steakhouse owners prefer meat that’s been aged around 45 days or longer. The longer you go, the funkier the flavor will get. Dry-aged meat does have a unique smell and flavor. It’s a more rich flavor up until the 30-day point. When you go farther than that, and if you go really far out, like 60 to 90 days, you develop a serious blue cheese funk to it.
When dry-aging beef at home, the minimum dry-aging time is 14 days for the enzymes to properly start breaking down the aged meat. However, it takes about 21 days for the meat to begin to develop the complex flavors you’re after. Most experts agree that the optimal timeframe is somewhere around 28-30 days of dry-aging. It is possible to dry-age steak at home for 42 days or more if desired, but then it starts to develop some funky flavors that some grillers may like but others might not enjoy as much.
It’s important to keep in mind that the length of time you leave meat to age depends on numerous factors. What cut are you using? What kind of mold do you have in your fridge? Is it more intense than other strains? How much of that mold is in there? And most importantly: what is your personal preference? Generally, it takes at least 30 days before you can start to taste any signature dry-aged flavors. After a certain point, dry-aged steak turns from a delight to a delicacy. Meaning – the more funky it gets, the fewer people it will appeal to. You also have to consider the loss versus gain. The more you leave the meat to age, the thicker and tougher the rind will be, ergo the more you will need to cut away. There comes a point at which the benefit of flavor intensification is negated by the sheer loss of product and shrinkage.
How To Cook And Serve Dry-aged Beef
Cooking and serving dry-aged beef requires a bit more attention and care than cooking fresh-cut beef. The dry-aging process removes a significant amount of moisture from the meat, which can cause it to dry out quickly if overcooked. Here are some tips to help you prepare and cook your dry-aged beef to perfection:
1. Thaw your dry-aged steak carefully: If your dry-aged steak is frozen, thaw it slowly in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days before cooking. This will help to preserve its quality. If you don’t have that much time, you can thaw it more rapidly by placing it in a bowl of cold water.
2. Season your steak just before cooking: Wait until just before cooking to season your steak with salt. Applying salt too soon can pull moisture out of the meat and make it more difficult to sear and seal the steak.
3. Sear the steak with high heat: Quickly sear both sides of the steak with high heat, either on the grill or in a very hot pan. This will help to caramelize the meat surface and seal in juices.
4. Cook with indirect heat: After searing, transfer the steak to a lower, indirect heat until it reaches the desired doneness. This will help to prevent the steak from drying out too quickly.
5. Use tongs instead of a fork: Use tongs instead of a fork to handle your steak. Puncturing the steak with a fork can break the sear and cause juices to escape.
6. Use a meat thermometer: Use a meat thermometer to determine when the steak is cooked to your liking. Insert the thermometer from the side of the steak to its center, and leave it there until you are ready to serve.
7. Let the steak rest: Allow the steak to rest on a hot plate for about as long as it was cooked. This will allow the juices to redistribute and settle before cutting.
Dry-aged beef is a delicacy that requires patience and attention to detail to prepare and cook properly. By following these tips, you can ensure that your dry-aged beef is tender, flavorful, and cooked to perfection.