You may have seen dry aged meat for sale in upscale restaurants and grocery stores. It's a pricey treat, highly sought after for its rich flavor profile and delicate texture. The process of dry aging breaks down some of the muscular tissue, making the end product both tastier and more tender. In the dining world, this method is considered superior to wet aging, which can leave meat saturated with undesirable additives.
Because dry aged meat is more highly regarded than wet-aged or non-aged meat, and because the process involves cutting down a larger piece of meat into what will ultimately be the edible finished product, these tasty products cost a pretty penny. Luckily, you can dry age at home for almost no extra cost! If you're a meat afficionado, you should understand this process. It may be easier than you think.
Step 1 - Pick a High Quality Meat to Dry Age
If you're going to the trouble of dry aging your meat, you want it to be good enough to merit the investment. The highest grade of beef in the USA is USDA certified "prime."
Other meats, like pork, poultry, venison, and even fish can be aged, too. One limiting factor is size—since you'll end up cutting off parts of your meat at the end, you'll want to start with a fairly large chunk. A small bird or fish might not be worth the bother, but a large rib roast is a perfect starting ingredient. If you try to dry age an individual steak, you'll end up disappointed by how much it shrinks and how much you have to cut off.
Step 2 - Cut Off the Fat
Don't break the meat down into steaks yet, just trim the outside fat as much as possible. Cut slowly and carefully so you remove just fat, not meat.
Step 3 - Set Up Your Fridge
It's a good idea to pick a dedicated refrigerator for this job, maybe a small or medium sized fridge you have hanging out in your garage or basement. You don't want to put your meat in your main fridge to age because it can pick up flavors from other foods, and this will affect the taste. Trying to dry age meat in a regular fridge can also make the moisture levels unbalanced.
Place a small, electric fan inside to provide a steady airflow inside the fridge. Run the cord out the front door along the bottom liner, keeping it as flat as possible.
The fridge temperature should be between 29 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 4 - Prep Your Tray
Place a wire rack on top of a large, flat tray. The tray will collect drippings that will fall through the rack. The bottom of the rack needs to sit up off the tray to encourage this process. Otherwise, your meat will end up sitting in its own drippings and this will ruin the drying.
Step 5 - Position Your Meat
Put the meat in the middle of the rack. Make sure it's solidly in place and that the rack and tray fully support it all the way around.
Step 6 - Begin the Aging
Place the meat, rack, and tray inside the fridge. Just like that, and you have started to dry age your beef. In a matter of weeks, you'll be feasting.
How long should you dry age meat after it's in the fridge? That all depends on the result you want. The beef will be noticeably more tender after two to four weeks. You can test a little piece after the first couple of weeks to see how the flavor is developing. After about four to six weeks, the meat will have a distinct dry age taste.
If you really want the flavor profile to develop, wait six to eight weeks. You can nibble every now and then to taste test, but remember that you will affect the moisture level inside the refrigerator every single time you open the door. Try to avoid too many taste tests, or you will affect the final result. Remove your meat when it has the rich flavor you're looking for.
Other kinds of meat will age faster. Fish, turkey, and duck might max out after three or four days, chicken can dry between one and two weeks (brine first for best results), pork and venison should dry between three and four weeks. Some kitchens flash boil especially sensitive meats like duck before dry aging, to reduce the danger of bacteria. Another approach, especially useful with fish, is to remove and clean the meat each day to discourage bacterial growth.
Step 7 - Trim
Once your meat is ready to cook, take it out and remove any parts that are now moldy or tough. A little mold is very normal and relatively harmless. Simply remove it—the rest of the meat can be consumed safely. While trimming the mold, you might want to remove any fat still remaining on the meat as well.
Step 8 - Cut Your Servings
Cut your meat into steaks of your preferred thickness and shape—you're ready to cook!