Not having an industrial meat fridge in your home doesn’t mean you’re cut off from the joys of flavor-rich dry-aged steak.
Dry-age bags are easy to use, effective, and, as we’re about to show you, a great way to turn good beef into truly excellent beef.
What is dry-aging?
As you leave your meat to age, enzymes that are present in the meat will start the process of rendering down the tough collagen between muscle fibers.
This imparts a deeper, richer flavor and tenderizes the meat.
Dry-aging, as opposed to wet-aging, means the meat is usually uncovered in a temperature-controlled environment. Over time the meat will develop a hard, dehydrated crust that needs to be sliced off before eating.
If you’re interested in dry-aging your own meat, then we’ve already done a deep dive on the subject for you.
Many people prefer dry-aging because it lacks the metallic taste commonly associated with wet-aging and gives the meat a concentrated, almost nutty flavor.
Do dry-aging bags really work?
Since we’ve just stated that you need to leave meat uncovered during the dry-aging process, you might be a little confused as to how you can get the same effect in a sealed bag.
This is where things get a little contentious.
The most famous dry-age bag company, UMAi, say that their bags are designed for dry-aging and are made from a particular semi-permeable membrane that allows oxygen to reach the meat while also allowing moisture to pass through the bag.
Not everyone is convinced though. There are plenty of people who say using bags goes against the whole idea behind dry aging.
“Any process that does not allow for ‘natural enzymatic and biochemical processes’ also does not qualify. The primary aspect of dry aging is not simply the evaporation of moisture from the surface of the beef as the creators of the UMAi product would have you believe. The primary aspect is the allowance of circulated air, technically oxygen, which assists with the aerobic biochemical process”UMAi Dry Bag – Is it really dry aging?
Serious Eats has also done some tests using dry-aging bags and their results were underwhelming.
On the other hand, lots of people use UMAi bags and swear by them. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
You won’t rival the results you would get with a dedicated dry-aging setup, but using the bags is better than just leaving meat in your refrigerator!
What meat can you dry-age in a bag?
The best meat to dry-age in a bag is beef. Other meats, such as pork, don’t take as well to the dry-aging process (although it’s certainly possible, as you can see in this video from Bon Appétit)
Pork fat is more unsaturated than beef or lamb fat and is, therefore, more likely to develop rancid ﬂavors during aging. Coupled with this is the fact that pork and lamb are more likely to be taken from animals slaughtered at a younger age, meaning they are inherently more tender than beef and benefit less from dry-aging.
The exception to this is a combination of dry-aging and curing.
Suppliers of dry-age bags, including Umai bags, often combine their kits with curing salts that allow you to make air-dried old-world charcuterie in your standard home refrigerator, such as prosciutto, guanciale, bresaola, and even cured fish like salmon or mojama.
Dry-aging beef in a bag: a step-by-step guide
Now that you’ve gotten a better understanding of how dry-aging bags work let’s get down to how you start aging your beef.
#1 – Choose your cut
The first thing you’re going to do is choose which cut of beef you’re going to dry-age. We suggest a thicker, well-marbled cut, like a porterhouse. This is because the dry-aging process removes a lot of moisture from the meat, so having some good marbling will keep the end product from entirely drying out when cooked.
You’ll also want to pick a reasonably thick cut of beef. While dry-aging bags are great for aging a single steak in your home refrigerator, you’ll still have to cut off the crusted outer layer when you’re done. The thinner the steak, the less delicious meat you’ll be left with after you’ve finished trimming.
Try to avoid cuts that have a large bone in them. Not only does this cut down on the amount of meat you get, but the bone can puncture the bag when you vacuum it shut.
#2 – Vacuum seal your bag
In order for your beef to dry-age properly and not stink out your fridge, it’ll need to be vacuum-packed. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer yet, we strongly suggest you get one. They’re super handy, especially for storing leftover barbecue, and a good model doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg.
Seal your meat into your bag and place it on a tray in the fridge, ideally on own its shelf. As part of the process, some moisture may accrue on the outside of the bag, and the tray will stop it dripping on your other food.
#3 – Refrigerate your meat
In order for your dry-aging bag to do its best work, you’ll want to keep it between 36 – 41°F (2-5°C) for around 3-4 weeks. Turn your bag occasionally to make sure that both sides of your beef are getting the full dehydrating benefits of your refrigerator.
#4 – Remove the crust
After refrigerating for around 3-4 weeks, remove your beef from the dry-aging bag. You should notice that it has developed a much darker, harder crust on its outer surfaces. You’re going to need to trim that crust off before you cook your beef.
Be liberal with your carving, while the meat underneath is deliciously aged, the outer crust is not suitable for eating. Once de-crusted, cook and eat your dry-aged steak within 2 days.
How long should I age for?
If around 3-4 weeks of dry aging is good, more must be better, right?.
Well, the answer is yes and no. It’s an issue of personal taste. The longer you age your beef, the further away from the traditional beefy taste of steak it’s going to get.
Beef can be aged for up to 240 days, but the pungent taste and smell engendered by this length of aging draws a comparison with very pungent cheese (or perhaps that Swedish fermented herring that you have to open underwater). Some people love it, but it’s a very personal preference.
The industry standard, so to speak, is around 30 days of dry-aging, which is how long most store-bought steaks have been dry-aged.
This is because 30 days of dry-aging hits a happy medium between imparting a novel taste and additional tenderness, without producing such a strong change in taste that it’s off putting.
In terms of tenderness, studies have shown that aging is most effective during the first 28 days. After that time, the additional benefits of aging for tenderness become negligible.
If you’re dry-aging for the first time, 3-4 weeks is a good starting point, so you can build an understanding of the changes in taste and texture that aging causes. You can then increase or decrease the aging time to suit your personal taste.
Wrapping it all up
Dry-aging your beef is an excellent way to improve both its flavor and texture. Dry-aging bags are a great way to do this in your own home without needing to build an annex to house your giant meat-maturing fridge. You can build up to that.
If you’ve got any tips on dry-aging meat or some experience of getting the best out of dry-aging bags, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!