It's grilling season and I am always in search of the Holy Grail...a dry-aged, USDA Prime, bone-in ribeye...about 1-1/2 inches thick and tipping the scale at around 20 ounces. It's not easy to find dry-aged beef in a grocery store....Lunds/Byerlys are the only ones that carry it on a regular basis in the Twin Cities. But dry-aged beef is actually quite easy to source online.....for roughly the cost of a kidney or one year's board and tuition at an Ivy League college.
Dry-aging beef is indeed an expensive proposition. First, you need to have a special temperature/humidity controlled room where the air is constantly flowing around the meat. And it takes a lot of time...those steaks are in that room for 30 to 60 days. By exposing the meat to air, moisture is pulled out and the natural enzymes break down the muscles, making the beef more tender.
As the steak dries out, the fat portion retains more water than the lean portion. Accordingly, the fat becomes more pronounced and as we all know, fat = flavor. Bacteria formed in the aging process produces a robust flavor profile that gives dry-aged beef it's extraordinary taste. It's much like aging a cheese...the meat becomes very rich and intense.
There's another aspect that contributes to the high cost of dry-aged beef. The steak that comes out of the aging locker is smaller than the one that went in. Moisture loss shrinks the steak and often the surface mold must be scraped away. So that 20 ounce steak I want to grill probably went into the storage room weighing about 24 ounces.
It would be nice if you could dry age your beef at home. But few of us have a temperature/humidity controlled environment that provides constant air flow. But there is a way to enhance the taste of your beef at home through a process called dry-brining. It's really easy to do and you just need your refrigerator to make it happen.
The first step is you have to start with a quality steak. It needs to be USDA Prime. That ensures that there will be enough fat where the moisture can be drawn from the muscle and concentrate in that gorgeous marbling. The second step is to season the steak only with salt. You will need to use Kosher salt, using less than you normally would when grilling, as the salt flavor will also get concentrated as the steak sits. You need to put the steak on a screen so that the air can flow all around the steak and then let it sit in your fridge, uncovered, for three days.
I like to buy my USDA Prime steaks at Costco, where they are a heckuva bargain. So for not much money and a little bit of time, I can get a dry-brined steak that starts to get close to a dry-aged steak.....and for just $15 a pound...whereas scoring a dry-aged steak in the wild will cost $30 to $80 a pound.
- Remove steaks from store packaging. Pat dry with paper towels. Place an elevated screen or rack inside a sheet pan. Place steaks on screen and salt both sides, using just a little less salt than you would when you grill them (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon per side). Do not over salt.
- Set sheet pan in refrigerator where it will realize good airflow. Let steaks dry-brine (uncovered) for 3 days.
- Remove steaks from refrigerator 3 hours prior to grilling and set on counter, allowing them to come to room temperature.
- Prepare your grill for both direct cooking over high heat and indirect cooking over no heat (two-zone fire).
- When your coals are white hot, grill the steaks over high heat for 4 minutes with the grill covered. Then flip and grill for 4 minutes more, grill covered.
- Then move steaks to the indirect side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook for 4 minutes more.
- Remove steaks from grill, tent them with foil and let them rest 5 to 10 minutes. Remove foil, season steaks with fresh cracked black pepper and serve.