At every steakhouse I’ve ever been to, they tout how their dry aged steaks are the best thing since Moses brought tablets off a mountain. Most of the time, they are reasonably good, but not worth the price of admission. For those unfamiliar, dry aging a steak is effectively partially dehydrating it, on the premise that less water in the steak means more flavor when you eat it.
After much Googling, the general idea behind DIY dry aging is to put your steak in the fridge, and let it pull some of the moisture out. Not satisfied with just a culinary experiment, I decided to do an actual A/B test, the same as I advocate with marketing. A couple of friends wryly noted this as well:
Yes, I A/B test my meat.
So here’s the basic setup for dry aging a steak:
1 or more steaks (I used a relatively cheap chuck steak cut)
1 teaspoon of kosher salt per steak
2 cloth kitchen towels
To start, lightly sprinkle a bit of the salt on each side of the steak, ideally using up 1/4 of the salt per side. You’ll salt twice each side total. Once you’ve salted, wrap it in the towel so that both sides are touching the meat and let it sit for 12 hours. After 12 hours, remove from the fridge, re-salt, change the towel, and let sit for another 12 hours. Do this and you’ve got dry aged steaks, or at least partially dehydrated ones that function the same as at a high end steakhouse.
To make it a true A/B test, I started another set of steaks in a salt and pepper brine at the same time the dry aging process started. Same exact cut of meat (from the same package), same treatment, same duration, except that it’s in a wet brine rather than a towel.
After the 24 hours were up, I put both sets on the grill.
You could see a visible difference in speed of cooking as well as how the meat reacted to high heat; the dry aged steak warped a little since the outer layers had less moisture content.
How did it taste, though?
There was a noticeable differential in taste, but to my admittedly untrained palate, one wasn’t worse than the other. The dry aged steak had more flavor consistently during chewing, but was less tender. The brined steak had more initial flavor and was more tender, but lost flavor faster during chewing.
Which would I choose? I think it’d depend on the cut of the steak as to which application is better suited for any given piece of meat. For a thicker cut, like a T-bone or a porterhouse, I’d probably go with a brine as it’d get the salt to the interior faster, and wouldn’t require 48-72 hours to dry out. For thin cuts like the chuck, a top sirloin, or a London broil, I’d lean towards dry aging.
The true A/B test, however, isn’t between wet brine and dry age, but between dry age at home for the price of the meat vs. a 300-900% markup at the steakhouse of your choice. You absolutely can get the same results at home for a price tag that is significantly less…
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