My first encounter with dry-aged beef was at a fancy farm-to-table restaurant where the decor included a view into their meat locker. The beef was so deep in color with such a curious-looking crust that I had to taste some for myself.
So what does dry-aged steak taste like?
I got a ribeye at that steakhouse, and it was heavenly. (My partner expected to get my leftovers, and there weren’t any!) I’ll tell anyone that will listen about the virtues of dry-aged steak versus regular steak.
By the end of this article, you will know:
- What dry-aged beef tastes like.
- How this flavor is created.
- Where to buy dry-aged beef for yourself.
What Does Dry-Aged Steak Taste Like?
Dry-aged steak has an intensely beefy flavor with nutty, buttery undertones. It has a melt-in-the-mouth texture caused by the connective tissue breaking down during aging.
The flavor will vary slightly depending on what cut is used and how long it has been aged, but I betcha it’ll be the most flavorful steak you’ve ever tried.
What is Dry-Aged Steak?
Dry-aging involves placing a large primal cut of beef (that hasn’t been portioned down yet) in a controlled environment that keeps the humidity and temperature consistent. The cuts are hung or placed on wire racks so there is even airflow around the meat.
In the Youtube video above, “Poor Man’s Gourmet Kitchen” recommends dry-aging for 35-45 days to achieve the best flavor and tenderness balance. The signature dry-aged flavor will only start to develop in the beef after 30 days, so the longer you can wait, the better, within the 45-day maximum.
This process results in a steak with a deep color that is full of intense beefy flavor – similar to eating rare steak – with an irresistibly tender texture. (Check out the video below of side-by-side comparison of rare vs. dry aged steak.)
If you get a chance, try regular steak alongside a dry-aged one so you can appreciate the difference. It is a common misconception that the taste of the beef intensifies due to moisture loss, but, in fact, this loss mostly comes from the very outer layer of the beef that is going to be trimmed off anyway. Instead, the flavor mainly comes from the fat oxidizing as it is exposed to the air as well as bacteria acting on the surface, which ages the beef in a similar way to cheese. The longer these bacteria get to work, the more intense and funky the flavor will be.
Many people ask: but why doesn’t the beef go bad sitting in the fridge for so long? And that’s an excellent question! At face value, it sounds gross to eat a steak that is over a month old. But the reason is the controlled environment in which the meat ages. The air temperature is kept perfectly cool with the humidity at the ideal level to resist harmful bacteria growth from invading the meat.
As the cut dries, it will shrink, and a thick crust will form on the outside. This is crust is actually a fungus! It sounds nasty, but it won’t spoil your beef. In fact, it blocks bacteria from getting in and helps break down the connective tissue to make it more tender. And don’t worry – the chef will trim this crust off before cooking your entree.
Which Steaks Are Best for Dry Aging?
It is possible to dry-age a single cut of steak – but it’s rarely done. Most beef is dry-aged in large, whole cuts. Since chefs have to trim the outside of the piece of meat when it comes out of aging, aging larger potions reduces waste. After trimming off the crust, the meat is usually sliced or portioned just before cooking or selling to the customer.
You can dry-age any kind of steak, but you get the best results from are high-quality cuts with good marbling. Since dry-aging steak does dry out the meat to a certain degree, cuts of steak with a higher fat content won’t suffer as much from moisture loss. The action of the aging enzymes on the fat also means you’ll get a stronger dry-aged flavor on a marbled cut than a lean one.
When it comes to specific cuts, I recommend dry-aged ribeye, T-bones, New York strip, and Porterhouse for a melt-in-the-mouth texture. These are premium thick-cut steaks that work perfectly for dry aging.
Personally, my favorite dry-aged steak to try is ribeye. It’s a nice thick, succulent cut with beautiful marbling that will become so tender and delicious with a 30-day age on it. My butcher dry-ages the whole rib eye and then portions it into 1 ½ inch steaks for me to take home.
If you are dry-aging your own individual steaks, the inevitable shrinkage means they’ll be thinner by the end than you are used to with thick-cut steaks. But they will make up for that in the sheer intensity of flavor.
Can You Dry Age Your Own Steaks at Home?
I don’t know about you, but all this talk of dry-aged steak makes my chef’s senses tingle, wanting to make some for myself! Luckily, you don’t need any fancy equipment or experience with butchery to dry age your own steaks at home; all you need is your fridge, a vacuum sealer, and special dry-aging vacuum seal bags.
That’s not to say that this is not a hotly debated topic. Many professionals say that it is impossible to age beef at home safely, while others, like chef Alton Brown, argue that it’s completely possible with the right technique.
More old-school chefs, like Alton Brown, use cheesecloth to wrap the steak in cheesecloth and then place them in the fridge. But this can only be done for half a day before the steak starts absorbing all the smells from inside your fridge and the meat starts going bad. This brief dry-age will brown your meat – and possibly tenderize it a bit. But you won’t get the signature dry-aged flavor, as it only occurs after a minimum of 21 days of aging. So, all in all, I think this technique is a waste of time.
The consensus from across the industry seems to be that you can only age beef safely at home by using vacuum sealer bags. This will protect the beef from the smells in the fridge and allow you to safely age the meat for the full 30-45 days.
I recommend dry-aging individual steaks unless you have a lot of extra fridge space. All you’ll need to do is place the steaks in the special vacuum sealer bag and seal it up using a vacuum sealer. These bags are specially designed for dry aging meat because it is fitted with a one-way valve that will not let any air in but will allow air out as the beef ages. Then simply pop it in the fridge and wait for 30-45 days.
If you are serious about smoking your own steaks, then I highly recommend this UMAi Dry Aging Kit. It comes with everything you need including the specialized dry-aging vacuum sealer bags.
Where to Buy Dry-Aged Steak
So now that you’ve read all about how dry-aged steak tastes, I’m sure you’re eager to try some yourself! If you’re not up to the laborious process of doing your own dry-aging, you’re probably wondering where can you buy steak that’s already dry-aged?
Unfortunately, most grocery stores will not stock dry-aged beef, so you’ll have to look further afield.
Before I get into the recommendations, I must warn you that dry-aged steak is more expensive than a regular steak. This happens for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s due to a loss in yield caused by shrinking and trimming, as we discussed above. Secondly, the aging process is labor and time intensive, which is reflected in the price.
As long as you’re going into it with the right expectations, here are my top three suggestions for getting your hands on dry-aged beef:
A great local butcher is a wonderful source of dry-aged beef since it can be hard to find in grocery stores.
If you are lucky, your butcher will even do the aging themselves in-house, as mine does. The butchers will likely dry-age large cuts and portion and trim them for you. I recommend asking for some of the fat trimmings so you can render them down to cook the steak in; it’s an absolute game-changer.
I love singing the praises of local butchers, but depending on where you live, you may not have access to one that stocks your coveted dry-aged steak. But never fear; online butcheries are here to save the day!
I recommend searching for online butcheries that work with beef local to your area so you get the highest quality, sustainable beef.
Here are a few online butchers that stock dry-aged steak:
Delivery is usually very quick with these companies so that you can have your first taste of a dry-aged steak in just a few days!
Since finding dry-aged beef in a shop can be challenging, one of the best ways to taste these sought-after steaks is in a steak house. I especially love going to a restaurant with its own butchery and aging because the flavor will be completely unique to that location.
A good steak house will have a selection of dry-aged steaks to choose from, so pick your favorite cut and give it a try! I can almost guarantee that once you’ve tasted a dry-aged steak at a restaurant, you will be chomping at the bit to cook one for yourself at home.
Dry-aged steak has a deep beefy flavor that you have to try if you get the chance. The next time you’re at a steakhouse and feeling generous, why not get yourself a delicious dry-aged steak?
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