The Ultimate Steak: Dry-Aging 21, 30, and 45 Day Steaks
|Home Dry Aged Ribeye Steaks|
After reading Serious Eats The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Dry-Aging Beef at Home (by J. Kenji Alt-Lopez), I felt confident enough in the safety and the ease to try dry-aging at home.
Over the years, I had grown to love that dry-aged steak flavor you find at all the top steakhouses. I often purchased dry-aged steak from the grocery (most butchers, many online steak purveyors such as the famous Lobel's of New York, and even Whole Foods offer dry-aged meat) and had long contemplated attempting it at home, even following several popular Kickstarter projects about devices that let you dry-age your own steaks at home.
|Alexander's Steakhouse Dry-aged Bone-In Ribeye|
The Food Lab's guide speaks briefly about such products (summary: they do work) but had an even more welcome message: it's VERY simple to do it at home and you don't necessarily need a fancy setup.
All you need is refrigerator space, a source of salt (to absorb moisture), a rack to place the beef that you would like to dry age, a fan (for air circulation), and, optionally, a temperature and humidity monitor.
Essentially, that's what all of the several hundred dollar commercial products aim to do, but I was looking for an even easier and cheaper way to try dry-aging to see if it was for me.
|Dry-Aged Steak from Lobel's of New York|
THE BUDGET SETUP: Thanks to Amazon, I found many of the items I needed to try dry-aging readily available and at affordable prices to boot (click the affiliate link to go to the actual product sold on Amazon):
Igloo 4.6 Cubic Feet Stainless Steel Compact Refrigerator - Many of us have small compact refrigerators from living in a dorm room or small apartment. I happened to have this model and was mainly using it to store drinks. Really any refrigerator with spare space will do and most modern refrigerators do a good job of humidity and temperature control which are important for dry aging. One note, while you can use your main fridge, the odors from dry-aging can be strong, so it's recommended to use a dedicated refrigerator for dry aging. A compact fridge is perfect.
Himalayan Salt Block - After seeing a Himalayan Salt Block at Alexander's Steakhouse, I bought one myself. While you could use any salt source to help absorb moisture, a salt block is a convenient and fits nicely in most refrigerators. I bought mine online from The Meadow, a great brick and mortar salt store in Portland that I got the chance to visit a few years back.
|Himalayan Salt Block|
Stainless Steel Cooling Rack - I initially started by placing my beef on the salt block but it didn't go well. The moisture from the beef seeped into the salt block and the bottom of the beef didn't dry or age well. You need a rack for air circulation. I bought this relatively affordable one by Hamilton Housewares.
Circulating Fan - a fan is pretty critical to help air circulation and to ensure even drying and aging of whatever piece of meat you decide upon. The Food Lab's Guide recommends using a small electric fan and I actually had a Vornado that fit in the refrigerator. The one caveat is that because it is a plug-in fan, you need to cut a notch in your refrigerator seal.
I'll admit that for the longest time, this was what prevented me from trying to dry-age steak at home. I didn't want to cut a hole in the seal and ruin my refrigerator if none of this worked out.
Luckily, Amazon came through again. I searched for battery operated fans and initially none seems up to the task, because all had poor battery life (several hours or days). I finally found a fan that was targeted for RV and boat refrigerators without built in fans. It was battery operated and had a long battery life of over a month.
There are two models, one with an on/off switch and one without, and both are affordable. In informal testing, my first D cell batteries lasted almost 2 months, plenty of time for dry aging.
Camco 44124 Fridge Airator with On/Off Switch
Camco 44123 RV and Boat Fridge Airator
|Compact Fridge, Salt Block, Fan (Fridge Airator) and Temperature/Humidity Gauge|
Optional: Temperature and Humidity Monitor - many of the fancier and more expensive products you can buy to do dry-aging at home tout being able to monitor temperature and humidity. As I said earlier, while both are important, most modern refrigerators do a good job at both. Luckily, you can buy such monitors and they're very cheap (~$8-10), so why not?
|Lodge Logic Cast Iron and Dry Aged Ribeye Steak|
THE EXPERIMENT: To really see if dry-aging steaks made a difference, I decided to test out a few scenarios. Most online guides will recommend dry aging steaks for a minimum of 21 days. Any less and the benefits of dry aging (tenderness, flavor, etc.) are unlikely to have happened. I also decided to use my favorite source of beef: Costco. Costco sells USDA Prime and USDA Choice beef and both are fantastic. They even sell A5 Wagyu and my long time dream was to try it and I finally did last year. It was amazing! P.S. I'd never dry age Wagyu. You'd have to discard so much of the precious meat.
Here were my three test samples:
45 Day Dry-Aged Steak
Costco USDA Prime
Boneless Ribeye Roast
|Costco USDA Prime Boneless Ribeye Roast|
30 Day Dry-Aged Steak
Costco USDA Prime
Bone-In Ribeye Roast
|Costco USDA Prime and Choice Boneless and Bone-in Ribeye Roast|
21 Day Dry-Aged Steak
Costco USDA Choice
Boneless Ribeye Roast
21 Day Dry Aged Steak
Costco USDA Prime
I was very happy with the results. My budget setup dry-aged the steaks well and each steak, whether 21, 30, or 45 days, looked and tasted different than a non-aged steak. Moreover, with the great prices on USDA Prime and Choice from Costco, I was spending less than I had paid for dry-aged steak from the grocery or from an online vendor or local butcher.
That being said, because you need to trim each steak until you can see fresh meat, you are losing volume and adding to your cost. I think it's worth it and the pictures (and results) speak for themselves.
|45 Day Dry-Aged Boneless Ribeye Roast|
|21 Day Dry-Aged USDA Choice Boneless Ribeye Roast|
|30 Day Dry-Aged USDA Prime Bone-In Ribeye Roast|
Couple of final notes:
- 45 Days seems too long. It had a strong blue cheese-like aroma and the beef had a taste similar to prosciutto. I've seen people do 100 days or more and that just seems insane to me. 21 days was very good, but I do think 30 days is a longest you can age before you get the funky taste and aromas of steaks that have been dry-aged too long. Several people I shared steaks with preferred the 21 day aged steaks to the stronger aged 30 day aged steaks.
- I expected there to be a significant difference between USDA Prime and USDA Choice but it was less than I expected. I think if you are on a budget, you can't go wrong with USDA Choice. Yes, it has less marbling, but the dry-aging improves the flavor AND tenderness. I was very happy with my 21 Day Dry-Aged steak.
- I rarely see Bone-In Ribeye Roasts at Costco, but I will always jump at the chance to buy it. One, I think it improves the flavor. Two, since bones are on one side of the roast, you trim the bones away and actually trim less quality and fresh meat. I liked my Dry-Aged Bone-In Ribeyes the best.
Hope this helps! For home cooks and steak lovers out there, I know this was long, but hopefully, you have fun like I did!