Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Dry Aging Meat at Home: A Photo Essay

This past Thanksgiving weekend, I was subjected to an unexpected visit from parents who live in another country, and whom I hadn't seen in four years.  

The merits or liabilities of such an event aside, part of the visit involved, of course, feasting in a grand manner.  

On their last evening in NYC, my parents took my brother and his wife and daughter, Husband, and me to The Post House for a farewell dinner.  This is one of New York City's most renowned steakhouses, and, as far as my father is concerned, a dining Mecca.  They specialize in dry aged steaks, and they charge a serious price for them.

"Dry aged beef."  What a buzzword.  We see it bandied about everywhere, from medium to top-priced restaurants, often worn as a badge of honor.  

But do we really known what dry aging really means?

These steakhouses would have us believe that dry aging is some arcane secret, only available to those who have received extensive training, have complicated equipment, and therefore are allowed to charge mere mortals outrageous prices for the privilege of feasting on the product of their sorcery.  They want you to believe that if you were to try doing it at home, it would kill you.

If that were the case, Husband and I would have been dead a year ago.

The reality is that dry aging is easy.  You need meat, a rack, and a fridge.  And patience.

Dry aging is the art of turning an ordinary piece of meat into a sublime experience by putting it in the fridge and ignoring it for a minimum of three weeks. The meat will lose some moisture, which will concentrate and intensify the flavor. Also, the enzymes inside the meat will begin to break down the fibers, and tenderize the meat. The less polite definition is that dry aged meat is just meat that is in the early stages of decomposition, but it is controlled decomposition.

Here is what I do:

1. Make room in the refrigerator for a large rectangular rack. Mine is a double-tier 11" x 17" cookie cooling rack. It MUST be a rack, because you want the meat to have air around it all the time.
I can fit a slab of strip loin and a slab of ribeye on this rack and age them simultaneously.

2. Get a full slab of beef from your local meat provider. Costco carries some lovely varieties. I have aged ribeye, strip (top loin) and sirloin.  It can be bone-in or boneless.  If you want to make prime rib for Christmas, then bone-in is nicer. Prime grade is nice, but Choice grade turns out just as delicious after the aging process. You want the WHOLE piece in the cryovac plastic wrapper. It will be about 15 pounds. Bring it home.
















 
3. Unwrap the meat in your sink, and dry it off completely with paper towels.
















 
4. Place the meat on the rack in the refrigerator, bone-side down if bone-in.  I do fat-side down if boneless.  It drips less into the bottom of the fridge, or the meat that's in the bottom rack.

















5. Here comes the hard part: Ignore the meat for a minimum of 3 weeks (the longest I've had a steak aging was 9-1/2 weeks, but that was the end of a slab that we started cutting into after four weeks). It will get ugly on the outside, really ugly: dark, dry, even a bit moldy. Do not fear. This is nature creating a wrapper of beef jerky to protect the tender steak inside.
 





















6. When you are ready to eat the meat, slice off from the end however much you need. It can be a single steak, or it can be the whole slab for a big party.  The inside of the meat will have turned a lovely deep burgundy.  


 














Here you can see the contrast between the scary outside and the succulent inside:

















7. Trim off the leathery outside from the meat.






















The scraps look like this:

















If you have a dog, feed him the scraps, and he will love you forever.

 















8. Now you are ready to cook the steaks. This takes some experimentation, until you get the hang of it. Dry aged meat has less water than fresh meat, so it will cook faster. You will need to play with the temperature of your oven or stove, or the setting on your grill. For a prime rib roast, I would say to sear the outside at 500º F for 15 minutes, and then roast slowly at 325º or 300º until it reaches an internal temperature of about 125. If you don't have a meat thermometer, get one. IKEA sells a lovely (if fragile) one for about seven bucks. Don't do the usual 135º F recommended for non dry aged meat.  Your roast will dry out and you will be very upset.

Here is a trimmed 2-bone, bone-in ribeye roast.  It can feed anywhere from 2-5 people, depending on appetite levels and how much other food you are serving.
Here is the roast, cooked:
Here is the roast, sliced:
Dinner is served:
Bon appétit!

27 comments:

  1. Excellent blog! Very informative, when I try this I will have total confidence (the pictures significantly added to the confidence quotient.)

    Question: I have a fridge in the garage normally used for a beer cooler. What temperature would you suggest for the meat?

    Jennifer

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  2. Whatever temperature your fridge normally runs should be okay. I have mine in the kitchen fridge, which gets opened and closed constantly. The meat still turns out beautiful.

    Just remember, in years past, before our germ-phobic culture, people would hang slabs of meat from a hook in the cellar. It's not as if those were precision climate-controlled rooms.

    I hope this helps.

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  3. Hi Carolina-

    Interesting article, and I don't even cook! Sometime you'll have to blog on the other end of the spectrum of meat consumption: tartare. I won't touch the stuff, but my sister loves it.

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  4. Also-You mentioned the Post House. What do you think of The Old Homestead?

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  5. Age is catching up with me. I meant to inquire as to what you think of Peter Luger's over in Brooklyn, not the Old Homestead. (Nonetheless, I'm sure you have opinions on both of them!)

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  6. Oh, Mommy, Mommy, thank you for the yummy scraps! Can I have some more, PLEASE????

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  7. Yum, yum! Can I come to your house to eat when I'm in P3?
    Katina (Katmandu)

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  8. Carolina ..thank you! My P3 treat!! I will make some and get it ready I can have it in a few weeks.

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  9. Good job Carolina, looks like we have both done our research. I like the raised rack - that's a good idea. Here is how I do it:
    http://foodobsessity.blogspot.com/2008/05/dry-aging-beef.html

    Kevin

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  10. Hi Carolina, I have been trying to gather as much info on DIY dry aging beef. I was on another foodie forum reading various posts about it and read a post by a professional chef who claimed that you will only end up with a dryed out worthless piece of meat due to the cryovac process (and/or gas packaging of meat)rendering enzyme activity inoperable as he claimed the cryovacing kills the enzymes (which are the crucial ingredient).
    Apparently one has to start with a joint (or side) that has never been cryovaced or gas packaged.
    But based on your experience I guess he didn't know what he was talking about. Would you please comment?
    Thank you.
    You have a wonderful blog.
    Cheers, Barney.

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    1. Barney,

      The professional chef is invested in scaring you away from doing your own dry aging, as it would cut into his bottom line.

      I haven't tried dry aging meat that hasn't be packed in cryovac. For starters, getting a whole slab of artisanal meat would be horribly expensive. Also, I have noticed that what dry aging does for a moderately priced piece of choice-grade meat is to narrow the flavor and quality gap with the pricier prime cuts.

      I do wish that the meat that comes in a cryovac had a thicker fat cap. That would make the aging process a lot better, IMO. But, I work with what I can get.

      Cheers,

      C

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  11. great info, but most days my fridge is't as clean as yours. I'm thinking of aging a prime rib in a paper bag for a few weeks, thinking that the bag will allow for drying while keeping out all the fridge nasty. What do you think.Thanks- Vance

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    1. Vance,

      I would not cover it with a paper bag. The meat really does best when the air circulates freely around it. Make some room in your fridge and age your meat properly.

      Also, you can age a half slab (4 bones), instead of a full 7-bone slab.

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  12. What is the smell like?

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    1. There is no characteristic smell from the meat aging in the fridge uncovered like that. The meat trimmings smell a bit like beef jerky. The taste of the aged meat is nutty and sweet.

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  13. Thank you for this post! Very informative! I have a fear of food poisoning. Do i have to worry much about that?

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    1. Never any problems with foodborne illness in the years we've been doing this. In fact, there are some Asian cuisines that use the jerky trimmings in soups or stews, rather than giving to the dog.

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  14. What is the MINIMUM time that should be used to still obtain desired results?

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    1. I wouldn't try to age a large slab of meat for less than 2 weeks. 3 weeks is average for restaurant fare. More than 4 weeks, and I personally feel there is a diminishing return for the effort.

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  15. Hello Carolina, I am so happy to have stumbled on your blog! I am about to try this dry aging at home. I have a question. So lets say the meat has been aged enough and you start cutting it into steaks pieces for consumption. Can you cut them up and vacuum seal it and store it in the freezer, and how long can aged steaks be frozen for? Does the freezing decrease the quality of the meat? Secondly, or like you said, you can just cut what you will eat and the rest goes back to the fridge to age longer, but will that contaminate the surface that has been recently cut?

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    Replies
    1. I have done it both ways: cutting through a piece gradually while it continues to age, and age it all at once and then cut into steaks or roasts, which I then vacuum seal and freeze.

      I like the latter method better. Dry aged steaks have a lower moisture content than fresh steaks, so the cell structure is less susceptible to breakdown from freezing. In fact, I can hardly tell a difference between a frozen/thawed dry aged steak and one that was just cut off the slab. In my experience, vacuum sealed/frozen meat is good for up to a year if you have packaged it properly.

      For cut-as-you-go, the only concern is that the outside of your slab is going to dry out, creating a new "jerky" crust, and you will need to trim it before you cook your meat. But, just as there is no real risk of tainting when you are aging in the first place, there is no risk of tainting when you cut into the slab and put it back in the fridge.

      Since it is only Husband and me at home right now, we do better with the FoodSaver method of dispensing dry aged steaks and roasts.

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    2. Thanks Carolina, I prepared the slab of meat last night and its in the fridge overnight now. So exciting! I read some other blogs or you tube videos show that people put a drip pan of salt underneath the meat. what's your take on this? Also, from your picture you posted of your process, I guess you do not take much consideration of humidity changes when people are opening the fridge daily? Oh one last question, I read a lot of posts about how clean the environment has to be to prevent mold. From your experience is this absolutely necessary, like hospital standards? :)

      My set up is this, I have a small bar fridge (4.4 cubic ft) in my basement solely for aging meat. The temperature is pretty constant at 36-37 degrees, and the humidity is around 70-80 degrees. I have a CPU fan I placed on one of the door shelving, and a box of new baking soda to remove any odors or extra moisture. The meat is at the most lowest area of the fridge possible with a rack and a pan of pickling salt underneath. Is this setup going to be ok?

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  16. I say "bah" on the whole anal-retentiveness over controlling temperature and humidity. I just use my fridge. I don't do the lowermost rack, because that space of the fridge is taken up with soda can boxes. I just put it in the fridge and everything is fine. I don't do the pickling salt. Never occurred to me. I expect that it has to do with humidity control. See above.

    In the past, people kept their meat hanging from a hook in a cellar. No climate control systems there, and if people died from food poisoning, it would be the same people who would die from similar stupidity nowadays.

    That being said, your setup looks fine!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Carolina, so here is an update of my setup. I am scared as hell its going to rot!
      Its almost been day 6, the beef looks good, no mold on it, it looks a bit like beef jerky, the thin fat cap has shrunk and turned pinkish color. What I am beginning to worry is the temperature fluctuations in the fridge. Now I don't know much about fridges, maybe this is normal. I usually go check a few times a day on the setup. I have a thermometer inside the fridge, so I have to open the door to check on it. The temp is anywhere from 36 - 43! Maybe the fridge is going on the defrost cycle cause I open the door to maybe times to check, so there is a lot of moisture and the coils are all frozen and need to be defrosted. So I set the temperature gauge to a bit more cooler setting and the temp is at 32... I don't know if this constant change in temp is affecting the aging process in anyway? I will invest on some silica gel pellets and a wireless thermometer today so I can avoid opening up the fridge door so often. But with all this temp control nightmare, the meat looks fine...

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    2. I'm very happy-go-lucky about the whole aging process. I put it in the fridge and let it be. Just my regular everyday fridge. The hardest part is making room for the aging rack. I don't fuss with temperature or humidity controls. I haven't died yet.

      That being said, it's only Husband and me, so I don't have a brood of kids opening and closing the fridge all day long.

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  17. can I age a tenderloin that is untrimmed? I recently had a filet at a steak place that was aged 28 days. It was amazing. It was $65.00 also. I plan on using a small old dorm room fridge. Do I need a fan in there?

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    1. I wouldn't try it. The way big steakhouses manage to do it is that they age whole slabs of the porterhouse cut, and split the cut into "Sirloin" (NY strip) and tenderloin. But, really, you need the fat cap and some bone around it, in order to age properly and safely.

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