When it comes to beef, fresher isn’t always better. In On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, food scientist Harold McGee wrote that like wine and cheese, meat benefits from a certain period of “aging” before consumption. Grocery store steaks are often “wet aged,” while high-end steak houses and quality butcher shops carry a variety of dry-aged beef.
“I have never been one for wet aging. You don’t receive the same tenderness or that good funk that comes along with dry age,” says Eataly head butcher Peter Molinari. “When you dry age, natural enzymes start to break down all of the connective tissue and leave the meat extremely tender. On top of that, you lose about 20 percent of the water weight, which helps concentrate the flavor.”
Dry aging beef is a complicated, time-consuming process, which directly correlates with its extravagant price tag. “It’s tricky to do because of the specialized equipment you need and the variables you have to manage like PH of the meat and humidity,” Molinari says. “At Eataly we have specially designed fridges that help us with all of this, as well as multiple devices to ensure humidity, wind speed, and temperature are properly controlled.”
Dry aging your own meat is a brag-worthy experiment, but it has inherent health risks. If you’re up for the challenge, here are some tips from Molinari to get you started.
Time: Meat can be aged anywhere from 10 days to 60 days, with the average minimum around 21 days. “I have had pieces that are over 100 days, but those are usually sold by the inch and are very close to eating blue cheese,” Molinari says.
Meat: Layers of fat and intact bone are essential to help “protect” the meat during the aging process, so opt for uncut rib sections. According to McGee, storing meat in 34 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit limits the growth of microbes.
Tools: “If you were to age at home, you would need a separate fridge, because once you age meat in a fridge, there will be mold present from that point on,” Molinari says. “Also, your entire fridge will smell of dry age because the odor winds up in the condenser and filters.” Other essential equipment: a supplemental fan to keep the meat dry and age it properly, and a humidity control to keep your humidity around 80 percent. “This helps for an even age all the way through the meat,” Molinari says. “You don’t want the meat to develop ‘bark,’ which means the outside hardens too fast and the middle winds up spoiling.” Serious meat lovers might consider investing in a dedicated aging fridge like the Steak Locker, which costs $1,449.
Aging: Place the meat on a rack and leave it in the fridge for one to two weeks. Patience is the key ingredient. Opening and closing the fridge frequently would interfere with the temperature and humidity. Once the meat is ready, trim off the fat, cut into steaks, and sear the perfect steak.