Beef is aged for the same reason that scotch or cheese are aged -- because the aging process creates unique flavors that are sometimes described as "deep" or "pungent." You can't get these flavors from your average steak at the grocery store. If they sound good to you, read on.
To dry age beef at home, put it on an elevated wire rack in an otherwise empty fridge for 30 to 60 days. These are the pieces of equipment you'll need.
For dry-aging, you want a large cut of high-end beef. Prime rib is the best choice. It's usually available in larger cuts, and can be purchased with a fat cap -- which protects the meat from drying out during the aging process. The bigger the fat cap, the better protected your meat will be.
Don't buy individual steaks for dry-aging. They will dry out before 14 days which is the minimum time period for developing new flavors. Trying to dry age a single steak is like trying to make barrel-aged cocktails with just one shot. The alcohol would evaporate before you got to taste it.
You don't need to prepare your steak at all for aging. No salt, no pepper, no trimming of fat.
Dry age beef between 14 and 60 days. Beef that is aged for less than 14 days won't take on additional flavor. Once that point is passed, new flavors start to develop. After 14 days, the length of dry-aging really depends on your personal preference. Some restaurateurs identify 28 days as the sweet spot for dry-aging, but not everyone agrees. Some prefer beef aged for 30 days or even 45. Most people seem to agree that beef aged for more than 60 days is unpleasantly pungent.
The specific temperature, air flow, and humidity of your particular dry-aging setup may lead to different results. And the quality of the beef you buy may change the ultimate flavor. So you may find that your setup delivers the flavors you want at 26 days, or 34 days. There's really no way to tell until you cook and taste the beef. For this reason, you may want to err on the side of fewer days for your first try.
Dry-aging beef is more of an art than a science. Don't get discouraged if your initial efforts don't result in the flavors you were hoping for.
Check the steak -- very briefly every few days -- to make sure there isn't any out-of-control mold or rotting going on. A funky smell and small amount of mold is normal (you'll cut it away before you eat).
The final step to dry-aging (just before cooking) is to trim away the fat. It's possible that mold may have developed on the fat during the aging process, and you certainly don't want to eat that. But trimming excess fat will also make the steak easier to cook and eat.
You can dry age any meat. Beef is the most popular cut to dry age for two reasons:
The high fat content of beef prevents it from drying out during long periods in the refrigerator. Some beef cuts are very large so they can be dry aged for a longer period of time and get the benefits of the deep flavors that emerge.
Other types of meat like pork and poultry, can also be dry aged. But because they tend to be smaller and not as fatty, they will dry out faster and can't be dry aged for quite as long. The flavors that come from dry-aging may not be as robust with these types of meats.
Beef is dry aged in a cold refrigerator. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association reports that dry-aging can be effective at temperatures between 32- and 39-degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops below the freezing temp for meat (approximately 28 degrees), the natural chemical processes that change the flavor of the meat won't happen.
The most common humidity for dry-aging beef is approximately 80%, though some have found that dry-aging can work at lower humidity levels as well.
You may be able to dry age beef in a wine fridge depending on the type of fridge you have. The optimal temperature for wine storage is considered to be about 55 degrees Fahrenheit which is too warm for dry-aging beef and will cause spoilage. If you can set your wine fridge to temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it might work.
Previously frozen beef isn't ideal for dry-aging. A 2019 study by food scientists concluded that the freezing process caused too much moisture loss for the beef to be a good candidate for dry-aging.
Not all cuts of beef can be dry aged successfully. The best cuts of beef for dry-aging are large, tender cuts with plenty of fat content. Thin cuts, like individual steaks, will dry out or spoil before the aging process can be completed.
Dry-aging activates chemical processes that develop new flavors in the meat. Wet-aging primarily protects the meat against spoilage.
Until about 50 years ago, dry-aging was the only way to store and age beef. Whole carcasses and larger cuts were transported to supermarkets and butcher shops where they were stored and aged, then sold to customers.
In the 1960s and 1970s, beef began to be delivered in vacuum packaging, leading to the advent of "boxed beef."
With "boxed beef," meat packing companies delivered vacuum-packed individual cuts to stores — rather than huge portions of the animal as before. This saved weight in transport, eliminating the need for large bones to go along with the beef. Supermarkets could simply order the cuts they needed.
This vacuum-packed beef is also known as wet aged. Wet aged beef is stored in sealed plastic packets with the natural moisture of the beef inside. Because the plastic protects the meat from air and potential contaminants, the beef can be aged as long as it is stored in refrigerated conditions.
However, there is no reason to believe that wet aged beef develops additional flavor the way that dry aged beef does.
Cooking on a Traeger grill is ideal for dry aged steak, because you can add natural wood smoke to the deep, umami flavors developed during the aging process. Dry-aging beef and pairing with wood smoke can be an ongoing -- and delicious -- cooking project for Traeger owners.
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