Your Guide to Dry-Aged Beef

What is dry-aged beef? Why is dry-aged steak so expensive? Here's what you need to know.

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If you judge a steak by its price tag, it stands to reason that dry-aged beef must be the best. It’s the most expensive item at the best steakhouses in the U.S. and it’s not exactly cheap at the butcher shop, either. But how is it different from regular beef and why do dry-aged steaks cost so much more?

For starters, it takes extra time and effort to create them.

What Is Dry-Aged Beef?

During the dry-aging process, large cuts of beef are aged for weeks (or even months) in temperature- and humidity-controlled refrigerators. Unlike wet-aging (where the beef is contained inside a vacuum-sealed package to age in its own juices), dry-aged beef is left uncovered.

As the surrounding air drys out the meat, the beef loses moisture, shrinking in size and concentrating its flavor. The beef’s natural enzymes also go to work, breaking down connective tissue to make the meat more tender. During the process, a layer of white mold grows on the surface of the meat. This mold is an indicator that the beef is aging safely, but don’t worry; the outer layer is removed long before the steak makes its way to your plate!

After two weeks, you’ll start to notice a textural difference in the steak. Age it for longer than 21 days, and the flavor will start to change, too. A 30-day aged steak has a very beefy flavor with a hint of buttered popcorn. If you continue to age it for more than 45 days, it will start to take on a funky, blue cheese-like edge. Keep going for 60, 90 or 120 days and the flavors will intensify. It can become so tender that you barely need a knife to get through it.

Do dry-aged steaks really taste better? Here’s our opinion on that.

Dry-Aged Beef vs. Regular Beef

There’s an obvious price difference, of course. But there is also a notable physical difference between dry-aged beef and a regular steak. While a fresh steak is bright red and juicy, a dry-aged one is dark brown and looks a bit shriveled. If you had the opportunity to give each steak a poke, you’d find that your finger will leave a tiny indentation in the regular steak, but the meat would bounce right back on the dry-aged beef.

It might be difficult to find dry-aged steaks at the grocery store, but they’re available at many specialty butcher shops. If you want to give the dry-aged steak a try, you’ll want to cook it the same day you pick it up from the store—it won’t age well in your refrigerator. From there, keep things simple. Season dry-aged beef with salt and pepper before cooking it to medium-rare using a cast-iron skillet. You won’t want to use any fancy sauces or compound butters here, which will cover up the flavor of the very expensive beef.

Can You Make Dry-Aged Beef at Home?

Dry-aged beef can be made at home with care and patience, but it can get intense. You’ll have to pick up a larger roast (like a rib-eye roast or strip loin) for their higher fat content. Then, you need a space to store said roast—like a small refrigerator set to 40° F. Inside the fridge, you’ll need to set up a fan to circulate the air and figure out a way to regulate the humidity. It’s a lot!

But there’s a hack that can create a shortcut version of “dry-aged” steak. It involves a fungus called koji—a mold that grows on rice that’s responsible for creating soy sauce, miso paste and sake. Pick up a bag (it’s available on Amazon), pop the grains into a blender and coat a steak with the koji powder. Put the coated steak on a wire rack in the refrigerator and let it sit uncovered, for 48 hours. Then, rinse the steak well to remove the koji coating, pat it dry with a paper towel and season it with salt and pepper. Like dry-aged steak, we recommend cooking your faux version over high heat for three to five minutes a side until it reaches medium-rare.

Next: See the types of steak that every cook should know.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.