There aren’t many things I find more enticing than a good, dry-aged steak. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed them occasionally from restaurants or one of the few Philadelphia butchers that offer them. But the notion of trying the dry-aging process at home had also bounced around the back of my mind for a fairly long time. About six months into the pandemic, I was bored and motivated enough to give it a shot.
The traditional dry-aging process, which is still used by butchers that sell dry-aged beef, involves hanging large cuts of meat in a very dry, cold space. Home dry-agers generally aren’t able to do that and settle for placing a roast – typically a rib or strip roast or porterhouse – on a rack in their refrigerator and flipping it over regularly throughout the process, which will generally last anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. The meat is uncovered and I imagine causes some interesting odors inside the refrigerator in which it ages.
Neither my wife nor I relished that prospect, nor did we have the space for it. But I had seen online ads for dry-aging short-cuts that are less messy and stinky than the traditional method and which can be used with slightly smaller cuts of meat. The most popular one of these is the use of a specially designed dry-aging bag or wrap. After doing some research and watching several YouTube videos on how the process works, I decided to give a shot to both Umai Dry Age Bags and Sausage-Maker Dry Age Wraps.
At first glance, the Sausage-Maker wraps appeared to be easier to use. They are simply wrapped around the meat, which is then shoved into rope netting that comes with the kit. The netting is used to maintain the roast’s form throughout the process. The Umai bags require the use of a vacuum sealer to force out any air pockets. I did have one of those, but the process of using them to seal an Umai bag did not appear to always go smoothly based on the videos I had watched. It turned out the wraps weren’t a piece of cake either.
I had three each of the Sausage-Maker wraps and Umai bags. All three of the wraps ripped as I tried to shove the wrapped meat into the rope netting, rendering them unusable. It sure looked a lot easier on YouTube.
I moved on to the Umai bags and the dreaded vacuum sealer, which I had bought in anticipation of eventually trying dry-aging bags, but never actually used. The bags turned out to be much bigger than I needed for the 7.75-pound USDA Prime rib roast I had purchased from Lombardi Prime Meats in South Philly. I cut one down to size, placed the roast in it and went to work with the vacuum sealer. It didn’t go well. Same with the second bag. I was down to my last shot. I had wasted three wraps and two bags and had only one bag left. If I didn’t get it right with that one, my Plan B was to cook the rib roast immediately without dry-aging it. Resorting to that would have been deflating.*
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. With help from my wife – the more mechanically-inclined member of our household – I managed to properly seal the rib roast in the final Umai bag.
The great thing about using a dry-aging bag is that you have nothing left to do once the meat is sealed in the bag but place it in the fridge and let it age for your desired length of time. I put it on a rack to allow air to pass underneath the roast and just flipped it once, at the half-way point of the dry-aging process. As the days and weeks went by, I noticed the outer layer I had always seen in photos of dry-aging meat developing. It was a positive sign.
I decided to let it go for a month. It’s become trendy to dry-age beef for a couple months or even longer, but that leads to funky flavors that didn’t interest me. Several descriptions I’ve read of the flavor of steaks that have been dry-aged for a very long time depicted them as having a blue-cheese like quality. I can’t stand blue cheese. I wanted the flavor of the beef to be intensified; not to remind me of something else entirely. A month seemed like the perfect length to achieve that.
I was correct on that count, as the final result could not have pleased me more.
Upon weighing the final product, I discovered that it had dropped from 7.75 pounds to about 5.9 pounds. That’s right in the ball-park of what I was looking for; the purpose of dry-aging being to drain moisture from the meat, resulting in condensed and intensified flavor.
I carved off the outer layer that had developed during the dry-aging process and cut the roast into individual ribeye steaks. I have to confess to being a very poor carver of meat. I should have done a better job at cutting the steaks evenly.
Nonetheless, the most important test would be how the meat tasted, and it surpassed my highest hopes. I decided to cook one of the steaks right after carving the roast. I wrapped the others individually and froze them for later enjoyment.
The one I ate immediately probably tasted as good as any steak I’ve ever eaten.
I highly recommend cooking steak in a very hot cast iron pan. It results in a beautiful outer crust.
You can see I had the steak a bit on the rare side. I generally prefer medium-rare, but I had zero reason to complain about this ribeye.
(* I am not the best with machinery that is new to me and have a fairly inexpensive vacuum-sealer. Please don’t assume you’ll have as many problems as I did with getting the meat wrapped or sealed.)