All our grill masters out there have probably tried their hand at dry-aging beef at home. This aged art has been reintroduced and refined as a new-age trend. But what effect does aging really have on your steak? How do you finesse the succulent, tender steak flavor that you want from home? Otto tells you everything you need to know.
What is dry-aging?
The secret to grilling steak to steakhouse perfection is the right temperature. Though, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the quality of your steak makes a big difference as well. Steakhouses and restaurants use dry-aging to tenderize the delicious beef dishes they serve, and now, many grillers have started bringing steakhouse dishes to their own tables by dry-aging at home.
While dry-aged meat might seem like a recent trend, the technique has actually been used for centuries to tenderize meat. By leaving meat in a cold, well-ventilated environment for 14 days or more, you get a more flavorful and tender steak. The idea behind it is that once an animal is slaughtered, rigor mortis sets in, which makes the muscles stiff. However, if you leave the meat to age, the enzymes and benign bacteria will break down the proteins and fats, which will not only relax the cut of meat but also add intensity and richness to the flavor.
Why dry-age steak at home?
Dry-aged steak requires two things: time and space. It should be noted that dry-aging causes the steak to lose some volume, so it may seem like your meat has shrunk. For meat purveyors, volume and time means money. With lost weight and time, the seller presents the meat as a specialty item which is why dry-aged steaks come at a relatively higher cost. If you have a spare mini-fridge and a little bit of patience or if you go all out and buy a dry-aging fridge, you can dry-age meat yourself. You will spend way less money on your tender steak, and – even better – you’ll earn some serious bragging rights for dry aging beef at home. All you need is quality meat which will cost you much less than an already dry-aged steak.
Practice a few times and you will even earn some serious bragging rights as the dry-aging connoisseur within your food circle. Your friends may even request that you dry-age steaks for them. Dry-aging at home is always preferable for cost, quality and assurance. False advertising has proven to dupe consumers into buying fake or misleading products. This is the same for products labeled as “aged meat” which can be a marketing euphemism for wet-aging. Wet-aged steaks is nothing but raw meat aging in its packaging while transported from its source (which can sometimes be from far-away lands). Wet-aged steak tends to become more sour than the nutty flavor from a classic dry-aging process. Unless you know the seller is trustworthy, it might be best to just trust your hand at dry-aging.
What happens to dry-aged meat?
Two things happen when dry-aging meat: the flavor of the cut intensifies and the meat becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender. The intensified flavor is the desired reaction of raw meat losing its juices and dries out. During the drying process, enzymes and benevolent bacteria break down the protein and fat molecules while the fat oxidizes which also contributes to the succulent flavor and tenderness.
During the dry-aging process, the outside of the meat slowly turns a darker red until it is almost black. This dried up outer-layer might even be coated in some light mold like a well-aged cheese. When preparing your steak for grilling, you will have to generously cut off the dried parts, which unfortunately means that you will lose a more of your steak. Be assured, though, if you dry-age properly, you will definitely be thanking yourself for your efforts.
Step-by-step dry-aging beef at home
What you’ll need
Before you get started, do your research and make sure that you have the suitable equipment. You want to be sure to use the right technique so that you don’t risk your expensive cuts of beef rotting in the fridge.
1. The Meat
The best meat for dry-aging beef at home are large muscles or sub-primal cuts on the bone like a strip loin, ribeye or sirloin. Bones and fat layers are good as they protect the meat from drying out too much when you are dry-aging beef at home. It is not advisable to try to dry-age single steaks, because you will lose so much volume when cutting off the outer, dried layer that you’ll be left with just a thin sliver of steak. The meat should be as freshly slaughtered as possible. Otto recommends telling your butcher that you’re going to dry-age beef at home so you will be recommended a good cut for this.
2. The Fridge
There are special dry-aging fridges that you can buy for home use. However, you can also mimic the conditions of one by using a small fridge (optimally with a glass door), an electric fan, a wire rack and a thermometer. with a fan to circulate the air and a thermometer that measures temperature and humidity, you can dry-age your steaks in it on a wire rack. It’s not advisable to dry-age in the same fridge as where you keep the rest of your food for two reasons: the frequent opening and closing of the fridge will lead to inconsistent temperatures and humidity, and the meat may absorb some aromas from the other foods you keep in the fridge (and vice versa).
Preparing the steak for dry-aging
When preparing a cut for dry-aging beef at home, hygiene is extremely important. Any bacteria that touches your tender beef will have the perfect environment to breed on your steak for the weeks to come. Make sure to wear latex gloves and disinfect all working surfaces as well as the dry-aging fridge. Don’t the meat dry in preparation for dry aging – just wrap it loosely in a cheese cloth or a similar permeable material to allow for moisture to escape. Remember not to trim away any fat or bones before dry-aging beef at home – these act as meat protectors that lock in the flavor.
The process of dry-aging
It is vital that you either hang your cut or place it on a wire rack, so that the air can circulate on all sides. If you place the cut on a plate or a similar surface, the moisture won’t be able to escape properly and will probably start to pool on the surface underneath your meat. There is a high risk that your expensive steak will rot without proper ventilation by using a wire rack.
The best temperature for dry-aging beef at home is debatable, but most experts agree that it is around 34°F or slightly above. Be careful though: a temperature above 40°F will spoil the meat. This is why it’s worth investing in a stand-alone thermometer even if your fridge has a temperature indicator – just to be extra safe. The optimal humidity for dry-aged meat is in the 65-85% range. Be cautious with a high range of because it may lead to excessive bacteria growth. If you live in a humid area (humidity >80%), put a salt block or a tray of rock salt in the bottom of your dry-aging fridge to decrease the humidity. If the humidity is too low, the worst thing that can happen is that the aged steak dries out a bit more, which doesn’t significantly damage your tender steak.
Another debated topic is how long you should dry-age steak at home. This partially comes down to personal preference. For the enzymes to properly start breaking down the aged meat, the minimum dry-aging time is 14 days. 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 time frame is somewhat 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 the aged steak starts to develop some funky flavors that some grillers prefer but others might not enjoy as much.
Otto knows that it can be hard to leave your tender steak alone for so long, but he still recommends that you avoid peeking into the fridge too much. A constantly opened fridge will cause inconsistent humidity and risks bacterial contamination. This is why it’s preferred to have a glass door on your dry-aging fridge so that you can observe your tender steak without opening the door.
Patience is a virtue for the perfect steak
Once you’ve procured and prepared your dry-aged steak at home, waiting patiently for your tender steak to age tenderly, it’s finally time to get at it.
When you take your dry-aged meat out of the fridge, the outside should be dried up, hard and almost leathery. Use a flexible knife to generously trim off the dried outer parts and the fats. Then, cut the meat into steaks and fire up the grill.
You don’t want to waste all this effort to dry-age steak at home by preparing the steak wrong. With the Otto Grill, you can create a perfectly browned and crispy outside while the inside stays beautifully tender and pink. Just follow Otto’s guide on how to grill the perfect steak if you need to brush up on your technique (or just want a few extra tips).
How do you know if your steak has been contaminated and isn’t fit for consumption? Well, as mentioned, the dry-aged steak may have some mold on the outside after completing the dry-aging process. If you cut the outer layer off and the inside is beautifully deep red, your dry-aged meat is absolutely perfect.
If the outside has taken on a green-ish hue, this might be a warning sign. Check the inside: if the inside of your dry aged meat looks good, you’re good to grill. However, if the inside is rather slimy and maybe even a bit green-ish, there is a high risk that something has gone wrong and the meat has spoiled. In this case, it’s better not to take the risk. It is a painful thing to throw away steak, but we’d rather that you enjoy your dry-aged steak than get sick from it.
Don’t be discouraged though! If you use the right technique and proper hygiene, the risk of spoiling the meat is minimal while dry-aging beef at home.
Otto wishes you all the enjoyment (and patience) with your endeavors of dry-aging beef at home!
Grill on, my friends!