Living in Montana has spoiled me on steaks. With so many ranches within 100 miles of me, I not only have my choice among several local purveyors, but I’m often able to buy directly from the rancher. (More often than not, that rancher is Oxbow Cattle Co. in Missoula.)
Such high-quality meat demands proper preparation and cooking. Generally, I’ve stored steaks in my refrigerator in the butcher paper or the foam container they came in. But I learned I could be replicating the dry-aging process—usually the purview of fancy steakhouses—in my own refrigerator. I thought my steaks were delicious before, but dry-aging has taken them beyond that baseline.
Why dry-aging? Experts know it makes beef more tender and flavorful—butchers aren’t just hanging quarters of beef in refrigerators for aesthetics. When beef is exposed to air at low temperatures, its flavors become more concentrated as muscle protein transforms into amino acids and peptides. Enzymes break down connective tissue during this process as well, making each bite more tender.
By contrast, wet-aged beef—the kind that’s sealed in plastic—isn’t losing as much moisture. So if a home cook wants the benefits of dry-aging from a regular, packaged steak, they’ll have to replicate it in their kitchen. The technique is best applied to any cut of steak on which you’d want a browned, seared crust: tenderloin, porterhouse, rib-eye, top loin, and strip steaks.
“Surface drying that happens over a few days in the fridge will greatly improve browning, and thus flavor,” explains Paul Adams, science editor at America’s Test Kitchen.