Cuts of dry-aged beef are the crown jewel of traditional steakhouse menus, easily costing $65 or more each. The meat is rich in flavor and buttery in texture, and when compared to unaged beef, noticeably deeper in color and fat marbling. It’s a carnivore’s luxury, but one usually restricted to high-end restaurants and butcher shops. The SteakAger is a new appliance that demystifies dry-aging, making it more accessible to home cooks. Carnivores everywhere will rejoice! They can swap the annual pilgrimage to a white-tablecloth restaurant for a leisurely stroll to a second refrigerator to retrieve a fine cut of dry-aged red meat. Or can they? Put another way: Does the SteakAger really translate professional dry-aging to your home kitchen?
“Everyone told me it wasn’t possible,” notes co-creator Frank Rizzo. “Even Pat LaFrieda said, ‘No, you can’t do this at home.’” As I found out in testing it, the SteakAger is far from a perfect product, and strategically it has some challenges — primarily, educating its foodie consumer base about the aging process. But ultimately, the SteakAger delivers on its promise: With some finesse, and a sizable investment in raw beef, it is indeed possible to create divine, succulent dry-aged steak at home.
The SteakAger is a basic tool. It is not particularly pleasing to the eye, but then again, dry-aging is an inherently uncomplicated process with no need for bells or whistles. It simply requires time and unique resources, namely, a refrigerated, humidity-controlled locker. The SteakAger essentially re-creates the conditions of professional-grade meat lockers at home. A small recessed fan within the box ensures consistent air circulation; a separate air-expulsion fan removes moisture from the compartment as the meat ages; and a germicidal light helps prevent microbes from developing. The whole box is then placed inside a refrigerator, which controls temperature.
I set up my SteakAger in about two minutes, and then spent an hour navigating the instructions to set up the Wi-Fi connection for the box’s intranet page, which displays the internal humidity level. This was a complete waste. The intranet page doesn’t actually control anything – you cannot adjust the internal settings of the box, though an app that would do just that is currently in development. As someone new to aging meat, I don’t want the responsibility of food safety. I don’t care to know the intricacies of humidity levels and temperature control or the rate at which my side of cow is slowly deteriorating. I want to put my meat in the box and walk away. And that is exactly what I did.
I abandoned the Wi-Fi features, checked that the “all-clear” light was blinking and shoved 11 pounds of beautiful rib eye into the box.
Meat + Time
The dry-aging process creates flavorful meat by forcing the meat through two specific changes: First, aging forces moisture evaporation. It’s not uncommon for meat to lose up to 30 percent of its initial weight to water loss, which concentrates its beefy flavor. Second, aging allows for prolonged tenderization. Naturally occurring enzymes in the beef have more time to break down tough connective tissues and muscle fibers. Together, these factors of the aging process create steak that is richer in beef flavor, deeper in color, and more tender than unaged meat.
On the flip side, it also creates waste. In addition to shrinking, aging meat will develop a crusty, oxidized, and at times moldy exterior as the outside decomposes. This exterior must be trimmed away in order to access the richly aged meat on the interior. As such, any cuts of beef that are to be aged must have the fat cap still intact. This fat cap provides extra protection for the interior meat and will become the waste that is eventually trimmed away. This extra layer of fat will also prevent the meat from dying out and will imbue even more flavor. (Bonus!)
Your local Whole Foods will probably not carry the ideal cuts of meat for this experiment. The average grocery store butcher likely receives their meat as primal cuts, which are then broken down in the store and cut into individual steaks for easy consumption. The fat cap so critical to successful aging is removed. Aging smaller pieces of beef or even single steaks will ultimately fail — there will be too much loss and no exterior layers to protect the meat as it ages.
To age meat at home, you need a section of a primal cut that hasn’t been fully processed. Ideally, a bone-in section of rib eye or large portion of New York strip are best, “although we’re getting comments back about [users] aging chuck roast and grinding it into burgers,” notes Rizzo. To find it, seek out a local butcher or purveyor. I strongly recommend calling in advance, and be prepared to make a sizable investment. My big slab of rib eye set me back nearly $200.
28 Days Later…
Over the course of nearly a month, I watched my lump of beef slowly discolor, shrink, harden and eventually develop worrisome pockets of mold on the crusty exterior.
“There can be mold, yes,” Rizzo says. Mold is normal. But if you’re not a savvy home cook hip to the ways of dry-aging, mold is usually an indication of rot and ruin. To combat these and related fears, the SteakAger has set up a community Facebook page for users to share information, advice and experiences — a grassroots venue for consumer education. This is critical: Without a minimal knowledge base, the SteakAger fails. At the first sign of mold or heavy discoloration, an amateur user will toss out the meat (and a hefty investment) and label the experience a failure.
I removed my rib eye and began slicing off the decayed exterior. I actually removed more than I anticipated and because of the mold, these pieces were unusable (though some users repurpose the shavings in traditional demi-glace recipes, for instance). After some very unladylike amateur butchering, I ended up with two humongous, delicious-looking steaks from the center of the cut, each two inches thick. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t perfect, but for a first attempt it was clear that the box does work. With some fine tuning, the SteakAger could deliver powerful results.
At a wallet-busting $250, I expect a better-designed product with functional mobile app integration. A white box made of entirely of food-safe plastic and stainless steel is not exactly an aesthetic gem. It monopolizes a decent amount of space (access to a secondary fridge is preferable) and requires a large grocery investment up front. Additionally, finding primal cuts with the fat cap intact can be a challenge. In all, it’s a large ask for a novice home cook.
But that isn’t the target market. The SteakAger is meant for more adventurous consumers: meat eaters who appreciate the nuances of dry-aged steak and are willing to experiment in the kitchen to create their own restaurant-caliber dishes.
Rizzo explains, “It’s a tool. There is a creativity to it, you try it, gain some knowledge from it, figure out what you like, and then you go back and try again. You can create something that is not accessible to the normal public.” The average grocery store doesn’t carry 45-day-aged rib eyes, but it is possible to create that caliber of meat with the SteakAger, assuming you have the patience and willingness to persevere over a few false starts and imperfect early attempts. There will be mold. There will be questionable discoloration. There will be at-home butchering. For some, this is terrifying. For others, this is a fun adventure with a delicious reward.