Dry-aged steak has superior flavor and texture, but it's expensive. Is it possible to dry-age steaks at home?
In commercial dry-aging, butchers hold large primal cuts of beef (typically the rib or short loin sections) for up to 30 days in humid refrigerators ranging between 32 and 40 degrees. (The humidity is necessary to prevent the meat’s exterior from drying out too much.) As moisture evaporates, the fat becomes more concentrated, increasing meaty flavor. The dehydration process also triggers the breakdown of muscle proteins, resulting in a dense, more tender texture. At the same time, the breakdown of muscle encourages the formation of amino acids and peptides, which impart a meatier, smokier taste.
To try replicating these results at home on a smaller scale, we bought rib-eye and strip steaks (each $10.99 per pound) and stored them in the back of the refrigerator, where the temperature is coldest. Since home refrigerators are less humid than the commercial units used for dry-aging, we wrapped the steaks in cheesecloth to allow air to pass through while also preventing excessive dehydration and checked them after four days (the longest length of time we felt comfortable storing raw beef in a home fridge).
Their edges looked appropriately dried out, so we pan-seared the home-aged steaks and tasted them alongside a batch of the same commercially dry-aged cuts costing $19.99 per pound. Our findings? Sure enough, four days of dry-aging in a home fridge gave the steaks a comparably smoky flavor and dense, tender texture. As long as you remember to wrap the meat in plenty of cheesecloth, place it on a wire rack for air circulation, and store it in the coldest part of the fridge, you can skip shelling out extra money for commercially aged cow.