Sitting down to a meal of quality steak is the result of many different factors. Everything from the cut of beef, your cooking method, to the seasoning plays a part. However, the real secret that can elevate even a modest, grocery bought cut of beef to the level of something you’d taste at a high end steakhouse is dry aging. This specialized process involves taking precise control over the conditions in which you store your meat prior to cooking. Temperature, moisture level, and air flow are all monitored and adjusted in a way that encourages the development of rich flavors and tenderized texture while preventing the growth of bacteria that could cause the meat to spoil.
In a restaurant setting, dry aging often takes place in dedicated rooms where large cuts of beef hang from the ceiling under the watchful eyes of a staff making expert adjustments over a period of at least 28 days. However, it’s now possible for DIYers to develop uniquely flavorful steaks at home without going to the extreme lengths of customizing a refrigerator or turning your whole garage into a dry age chamber.
We tried our hand at dry aging beef using The SteakAger, a deceptively simple device that sits inside your average home refrigerator and takes all of the guesswork out of the once intimidating task of creating the perfect steak.
On the surface the SteakAger just looks like an ordinary box, because it is a box. The minimalistic, six-panel design neatly conceals all of its bells and whistles into a single compartment and allows for easy assembly.
To function properly the product needs to be placed in a refrigerated environment, ranging from 35 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This ideal temperature range allows the enzymes in the meat to slowly break down the bland proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into complex fatty acids and amino acids.
A traditional refrigerator is perfectly capable of housing your SteakAger to produce these conditions, though be wary of the dimensions listed on the SteakAger website. In practice you’ll need some additional buffer space to keep the device’s power cord accessible and more importantly, to ensure the exhaust fan at the back of the device is not blocked. In our experience, a physical space that was 12 inches tall, 15 inches wide, and 13 inches deep was enough to comfortably accommodate the SteakAger while still leaving enough room for our hands to reach in and maneuver the device around to make adjustments.
For our first dry age, the cut of beef we selected was a 13.5lb ribeye roast. This is a pricier cut, but the beauty of dry aging is that even a less expensive cut of beef like a top sirloin, bottom round roast, or beef ribs can take on the signature, savory flavors of a prime steak. To be clear, despite the name SteakAger, this product and all forms of dry aging are intended to be used on large cuts of meat and not individual steaks. So be sure that you’re inserting something like a roast or a rack of ribs, which can then be cut into individual steaks once the aging is complete. Beyond making sure that your meat fits inside the confines of your SteakAger, the ideal weight that yields the best results ranges from 10-22lbs.
It’s a good idea to have a game plan when selecting your beef. At the end of your efforts, if everything is successful, your beef will have shrunk a little due to moisture loss and developed a hard coating called a pellicle. So knowing how large you’d like your individual steaks to be and whether or not you’re going to carve through bone to get bone-in or boneless steaks will allow you to assemble all of your tools ahead of time while the aging is taking place.
Perhaps the most difficult part for a novice to dry aging is simply having the patience to let nature run its course. Many of the visual and olfactory traits that are associated with an aging that’s going well, such as a moldy black and white crust that builds up on the outside and a pungent odor would be reasons to label any other piece of meat rotten and throw it out. If sight or smell is suggesting your meat has spoiled on Day 5, it will still be spoiled on Day 28 just as it will be on Day 60. So in the likely event that your meat is just fine, panicking and taking it out too soon will actually do more to ruin your dry aging than anything else. Don’t make this mistake by assuming the worst.
During one point in our aging effort, we got pretty worried over a funky smell that was coming off of our roast, but after consulting The SteakAger Family Facebook group as well as getting some very thoughtful input from SteakAger founder Scott Kobryn and Chef Eric Eisenbud, it was determined that our roast was actually aging wonderfully and that the odor was the result of poor air circulation due to the exhaust fans being cramped against the interior wall of our fridge.
As we discovered, so long as you store your beef at the proper temperature and keep the fan powered on to maintain airflow, it’s very unlikely that your meat will truly spoil. Primarily because the SteakAger has one very unique feature, a germicidal Ultra Violet-C (UVC) light that bathes the interior of the aging chamber with invisible UV rays to kill any bacteria that may be present or growing on your meat. The last feature that should help put your mind at ease is The SteakAger's wi-fi capability. By connecting your device to the internet, you can monitor the internal temperature and humidity percentage in real time from a phone or computer and get a clearer picture of if and when adjustments need to be made.
Many dry aging enthusiasts recommend that you limit your first attempt to a length of 20-30 days, but we were excited to see just how far the muscles and connective tissue could tenderize so we wound up aging our ribeye for 72 whole days. Our patience paid off as the surface had a dry, smooth pellicle approximately ¼ inch thick and the 13.5lb roast had condensed down to a 10.8lb hunk of dry aged goodness. Carving through the pellicle and the beef bones wound up being a two person job that required the use of a Sawzall with a grit reciprocating blade attachment, but when all was said and done we managed to slab nine steaks from our single roast, each roughly one pound in weight. If you use similar tools, be sure to do your carving on a clean and sturdy surface, and use safety gear such as eye protection to avoid shards of beef bone that could break off in the process.
As foreign as the outer surface of our roast looked throughout the 72 days, the deep red color of the carved up interior looked like classic, raw steak and was a good indicator that our dry age had successfully developed high levels of glutamate and a rich umami flavor profile. This is what gives dry aged steak its juicy texture and concentrated beefy notes.
Once you carve off the tough pellicle from the edges of your individual steaks, you can cook them however you please. Despite the incredibly beefy, powerful, and even funky flavors that aged steaks can have, they still cook like regular steaks, so sear and season according to your own tastes.
Since we spent over two months aging our beef, we didn’t want to take any chances on hitting the right temperature for our cook. As a result, we used a sous vide method to get our steaks up to their desired internal temp followed by a short reverse sear in a cast iron pan.
Our steaks turned out delicious and were hands down the most flavor-packed, beefiest steaks any of us had ever eaten. After having finished a successful dry age once, the most difficult part about our next run isn’t going to be the technique but rather having the patience to wait for the magic to happen again.