To the average joe, aging their own meat seems like a daunting task, reserved for fancy steakhouses in the inner city. In reality, there is no need to be intimidated by this task. You can produce restaurant quality cuts of aged meats in your own home. Producing a product that you can take pride in knowing you had a hand in, start to finish.
Aging is a complicated process involving bacteria, fungi, and acids. While that may sound like these things are going to harm your meat. Think of it similar to a well aged cheese, tasting sharp and delicious. These organisms, with a little help from you, help your meat in a tremendous way. Without getting too sciency, the bacteria found inside your meat is creating acids that help to break down the proteins. This results in a significantly more tender, flavorful product. The longer you age the meat, the more noticeable these effects will be.
Of course, there is a downside to aging your meat. Aging dries out the meat and renders the outer layer of your cuts inedible, sometimes even covered in mold. For this reason, if you are wanting to age your meat for a long time, it is better to leave it in whole, large muscle groups. If you were to age a single steak, after long enough the entire steak would dry out, but age an entire back leg, or a large rump roast and the interior meat will be tender and juicy after many months.
There are two ways to age a cut of meat, wet and dry aging. Wet aging is very simple. Basically, you take your cut of meat and cut off it’s exposure to oxygen (vacuum seal it) and age it in your fridge. You can wet age fresh meat for about two weeks, maybe even more if the conditions are perfect. Wet aging does not cause your meat to dry out and your yield is 100% of the original cut. However, wet aging can be much more dangerous after short periods of time. The wet environment, even without oxygen, is enough to harbor some harmful bacteria after a long enough period of time. For this reason, I use this method on small cuts of meat. Individual steaks or small roasts work best. Usually I freeze a steak right after processing and pull it out to thaw 1-2 weeks before I eat it, with right around 10 days giving me the best results. That’s it. Wet aging is very simple.
This is the one that comes to mind when people think of aged meat. Dry aging is a fermentation process, similar to cheese or beer. Your job in dry aging is to create the perfect environment to keep the external bacteria away while allowing the enzymes and bacteria within the meat to do it’s work. This environment is a cold, dry, well ventilated space. A temperature range between 32 F- 40 F is ideal, but a few degrees on either side is okay. The most important thing is to keep the meat dry and well ventilated. A good setup for this is an empty fridge with the meat hanging in the middle and a desk fan pointed at it. After a few hours of hanging in a (once again) dry, well ventilated area, the meat will begin to develop a crust (similar to if you had hung it in a tree overnight). At this point, the meat should be safe as long as you don’t puncture the skin and keep it under the right conditions. Periodically check on the meat and make sure that there is no off coloring, oddly colored mold (white is okay), foul odor (it may smell musty, but shouldn’t smell sour), and there are no wet or soggy spots. I have heard of people keeping it under these conditions for a year or more. When you are ready to eat, cut off the outer crust and enjoy your aged meat.
What are the best cuts to age and how long to age them?
Well, first of all, aging can be advantageous to all cuts of meat. I won’t eat anything I harvest for at least three days after rigor mortis. This gives the muscles time to fully relax and the aging process to just begin to take place. Here is how I would age my meats:
Small game: Keep animal whole, skinned if wet aging, skin on if dry aging. Age for 3- 5 days.
Big game, “family” or single servings (< 2 lbs): Wet aging, 5 to 12 days
Big game, “party” servings (>2 lbs — <10 lbs): Dry age, 2 weeks to 2 months. Wet aging on cuts this big hardly allows enough time to be advantageous
Big game, primal cuts: Dry age 1 month to 1 year
Is aging meat dangerous?
Most people believe that if they age their own meat they are going to get sick. It’s true, you could make a mistake and get sick from aging your own meat. I am going to argue that that would be very hard to do. Nothing smells worse than meat that is rotten, and there is no mistaking the odor. Aged meat should smell sweet and deeply meaty, but never sour. A sour smell is a dead giveaway that the meat is bad. Any green spots, blue spots, anything that doesn’t look like meat should look like, usually point to meat that has gone bad. As they say in foraging “when in doubt, throw it out”, yes it sucks to lose meat, but if it’s already lost anyway making yourself sick over it doesn’t do you any good. Practice on some smaller cuts, take it slow. Age for a week, then 2, then a month. Once you are comfortable, move on to longer aging times. There is no shame in dipping your toes in the process before you jump in.
Aging meat is fun and rewarding, try it out for yourself and you will see. If you have any questions feel free to contact us on instagram ( @fieldtotableoutdoors ) or email us through our contact page.