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Review: How to Dry Age Steaks with Drybag

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I know we haven’t even reach one major holiday and I’m already going to ask you to start planning ahead for your next one, whether it’s Christmas, New Year’s, etc. By then, you’ll probably be turkey’d out, so let’s talk beef. Specifically dry-aged beef.

We celebrate Christmas or Chrismukkah with family and our neighborhood friends, and the one thing that’s on the dinner table every single year is steaks or standing rib-roast that I’ve dry-aged at home. I’m too cheap to buy it professionally aged (especially since we usually feed around 12 adults at these parties) and with a spare refrigerator in the garage, it’s not bad in terms of convenience and price.

Earlier this year, back in May, I contacted Thea, the owner of Drybag Steaks about their product. How did I find out about them? Well, Drybag came to my site and mentioned the product in the comments of this post on salting steaks. I was interested. Pissed that the comment was spammy. But, still interested enough to contact them. After emails and phone calls back and forth, they sent me their starter kit which includes a vacuum sealer and several bags, retail $119 to test out their product. I am NOT paid to write this review and I do NOT get anything whatsoever if you buy from them.

The bags are different — during the aging process, they turn into a membrane that allows moisture to escape but do not allow oxygen to come into the bags creating the perfect seal for dry aging steaks.

I’ve now tested this method 4 separate times over the past 6 months. Also, I conducted 4 separate tests…twice with ribeye loin and twice with strip loin. I took about 300 photos during the 4 separate tests. THREE HUNDRED PHOTOS. I’m using the best of the lot – which means that the photos below are a mish-mash from all of the tests. So if the steaks look a little different between photos, that’s why.

A note of caution – for successful dry-aging, you must keep a steady temperature of 34F-38F. If you have an old, rusty, broken refrigerator, please do not attempt. Or, if you only have one refrigerator in the house and your kids open shut open shut open shut the door to sneak finger swipes chocolate cake frosting, you’re better off having someone else do the dry-aging.

I’d like to introduce you to hunk-o-meat.

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And this here is the vacuum machine that they sent to me. But that’s not the secret weapon. Not yet…we’ll get to that in a minute.

This is how vacuum sealers used to look and work prior to Foodsaver. If you have one of these, you’ve probably have had yours for a long time. This one is called a snorkel vacuum sealer – it’s for the home market. You can also use a chamber vacuum sealer that commercial restaurants and butchers have (but it’s incredibly expensive, like $1000)

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First, I want to cut the hunk in half. Hey wait. My strip transformed into a ribeye somewhere down the way. So learn from my mistake: do NOT trim the outer fat and when you first take the hunk-o-meat out of the cryovac that you bought it in, do NOT wipe off all that gooey bloody mess — Here’s why, explanation from owner of Drybag:

“To create the best (and, ultimately, safest) bond between the surface of the meat and the DrybagSteak material, it is critical that the meat be well coated with proteins–i.e. bloody and gooey like right when you crack it out of the cryovac if you purchase meat from Costco or Sam’s Club.” ~Thea, Drybag Steak

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Put hunk into the secret weapon…the Drybag bag. Trim away excess, but leave some room, because you’ll need that extra space to insert into the vacuum sealer.

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Vacuum seal that baby up.

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Just a note – not all vacuum seals will work with this bag. i.e. my Foodsaver vacuum seal will not work (I tried.) The sealer that you want has the special nozzle doohickey in the middle that sucks out the air. See the nozzle? This is called a “snorkel vacuum sealer.” You can also use a chamber vacuum sealer that many commercial restaurants or butchers might have too. The reason why Foodsaver will not work is that these bags are very very thin (in order to let moisture out). Foodsaver will just burn right through the bag.

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Get it good and tight. Oh and also, only Drybag bags work – it actually becomes a membrane. Don’t try to do this with other brand of bags. It won’t work. Foodsaver bags are thick and the whole point of DRY aging is to release moisture. Foodsaver bags will not release moisture. You’ll get sick.

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Place it in the refrigerator. Important: you want air circulation, so place it on a heavy rack. Also use a thermometer in the refrigerator to make sure it’s between 34F-38F.

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In fact, for test run #2, I propped the rack up with some boards so more air can circulate around the meat.

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Notice that during one of my test runs that there is some trapped air inside the bag. This occurred part way through the aging process. This is not good. Trapped air = nasty stuff that gets in the meat. Remember I said I made a mistake– I trimmed the fat and wiped the bloody gooey goop from the loin? Well this is what happens. The membrane couldn’t get a good grip and cling.

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It should be nice and tight like this:

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After 7-21 days (I aged for 14 days) the steak is ready! See how the Drybag bag clings? You should have to peel it away like a membrane. It comes off easily.

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Trim away the outer, tough layer.

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Do that all the away around the loin.

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Trimmin’

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Now slice the steaks into whatever thickness you’d like. Look at the nice, deep red color that’s typical of aged steaks.

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That’s some good lookin’ steak.

As for the taste? Fantastic.

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Like most well-aged steaks, it had incredible depth of flavor, deep beefy, earthy, complex flavors that hit every part of the mouth.

And like all steaks, taste and flavors depend first and foremost on how long you’ve aged the steaks, how well you cook the steaks, the breed of the cattle, what they were fed, how they were raised and where they were raised. In fact, you should probably read up on Artisan Steak Tasting.

But take your favorite steak and amp up the flavor and beefy-ness by 10x.

I think what you want to know is:

Q) Does it taste better than professionally aged steaks?

A) About the same. But that also depends on how long the professionally aged steaks were aged. And also results depend on making sure you follow the directions of Drybag (correct sealing, correct/steady temperature, air circulation) and the type of beef you are starting with. Good restaurants and butchers might be aging PRIME steaks…and I tested with CHOICE steaks. That makes a pretty big difference. But I’ll take affordable home-aged steaks over pricey butcher or restaurant steaks any day.

*

Q) Is Drybag more effective than home-aging without Drybag?

A) Both yielded same results for me, tastewise. When I dry age without the Drybag, I cover the meat with several layers of cheesecloth – which I have to clean every few days. The cheesecloth ends up getting dirty, bloody and crusty. I know, that sounds gross. The Drybag saved me time over changing and washing cheesecloths and worrying about exposed meat in the refrigerator. But it is an expense. The machine with bags plus shipping will set you back $130. Cheesecloth is cheap.

*

Q) Can I use my current Vacuum sealer and bags and do the same thing?

A) No. Don’t try it. The bags are special bags that turn into a membrane to allow moisture to evaporate away. And the Drybag bags do not work in other vacuum sealers like the Foodsaver (the material is too thin.) They will work with vacuum sealers that have the nozzle thingy that I’ve shown in the photo above. If you have one of those vacuum sealers – a retractable snorkel sealer OR a chamber vacuum sealer, just buy the bags.

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FINAL THOUGHTS:
I did have a little bit of trouble getting used to the vacuum sealer that Drybag sent to me. But that’s probably user error more than anything (I hate reading instructions.) The vacuum sealer doesn’t work as well as my Foodsaver in terms of sucking all of the air out — I had to try 2-3 times to seal and reseal the bags. My biggest advice to you in terms of using the machine is to leave yourself PLENTY of bag space in case you need to snip and reseal.

Also, part-way through the dry aging, I had to resuck and reseal the bags as I noticed air pockets as shown in the photos above. But this is minor compared to the ease over dry aging the steaks with cheesecloth.

I can see myself dry aging with Drybags probably 4-5 times a year – remember you have to dry age whole loins, not individual steaks. And a whole loin is massive. In fact, I’ll be dry aging the standing rib roast that we’ll have for Christmas dinner.

For $119 (which includes the vacuum sealer, instructions and the bags) it’s totally worth it. But also remember that Drybag is in the business of selling the BAGS…not the machine. You can get a few bags for $20.

Target market would be small restaurants and families who have an extra refrigerator/freezer. Since you’re dry aging an entire loin, you better have a lot of friends over to eat…or have the freezer room to store the cut steaks! Totally not recommended if you don’t have an entire shelf in your refrigerator to dedicate to this roast. If you’re refrigerator is slammed already for space and you have a family that constantly opens/shuts, I just wouldn’t recommend dry-aging at home anyways. NOT SAFE as the temperature fluctuates too much.

I use the refrigerator in my garage where I store drinks and booze…and it only gets opened when I want drinks and booze…which…is…um….quite…often. ;-) But still, it doesn’t get opened very much, and I have a fridge thermometer right on the shelf that I’m constantly aware of.

Once I’ve dry aged the loin, I cut them into 1 1/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch steaks and vacuum seal (with my regular Foodsaver vacuum sealer) each steak individually to store and freeze. For my Christmas standing rib roast, I’ll leave it whole.

In terms of number of days to age, I’ve tried 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. The 14-day aging was my sweet spot. Not that 21 days didn’t taste better (it did!) but I’m just impatient like that and it’s hard for me to wait the full 21 days. For Christmas, I think I’ll do the full 21 days. But that’s just because impatience can’t get in the way. Don’t think my family will stand for having Christmas dinner 7 days earlier just because I wanna eat the damn roast.

Another note on the company who distributes Drybag. The company is called MacPak LLC. The woman who owns this company is Thea, not really the expert on the technology behind how the bags work nor on beef/steaks nor that I was expecting. She passed me onto another gentleman who was a consultant to answer my tough beef questions and the science behind how the bags work. I think MacPak is just a distributor of these bags. I wish the vacuum sealer that they are selling was a better quality sealer, but I would have no idea where to buy a vacuum sealer with the nozzle doohickey nor do I have the time to test them. But despite this, the bags work. Foodwishes also reviewed and tested Drybag.

I’m still unclear on the science of how these drybags work – how does the bag let moisture out and keep oxygen from coming into the bag? Hmmm…if you have an explanation, please let me know! I’ll enter into this post. If you know of other companies distributing similar bags, I’m happy to contact them and test to offer options.As whether I recommend that you buy or not, that’s really up to you. It’s expensive. An entire loin to dry age is expensive. But if you’re a steak whore like me, and can afford it, go for it. I like it and I’ll continue to use it. I am NOT paid to write this review and I do NOT get anything whatsoever if you buy from them.

You might want to look on eBay or garage sales for the chamber or snorkel vacuum sealer if you are bitching about having to buy another vacuum sealer. I see from the comments below that some of y’all are hung up about the fact that it’s a vacuum sealer machine and that you can’t use your Foodsaver machine. Fine. Let’s call this machine something other than a vacuum sealer. Let’s call it a “Magical Steak Aging Sucker Pucker.” All better now? ;-)

And if dry aging steaks doesn’t appeal to you, how about tenderizing and flavorizing your steaks using this post on salting steaks!?

UPDATE #1: Commenter Bruce has the best explanation I’ve heard so far:

“I’m guessing that the bags work by having tiny holes of just the right size. Oxygen molecules (O2 – two oxygen atoms stuck together) are a bit bigger than water (one oxygen with two hydrogens, but hydrogen is really, really small)”

UPDATE #2: I love my readers! This is from Ron, who’s a regular participant in the Big Green Egg Forums. He uses a 4-inch sleeve of the Foodsaver bag OVER the Drybag bag — and then seals with this Foodsaver. I haven’t tried this method….curious to find out how that works. See his photos and his videos.

UPDATE #3: The owner of DrybagSteaks has emailed me more information about the science and testing of these bags.
Dry aging of beef in a bag highly permeable to water vapour
Effects of dry aging of bone-in and boneless strip loins using two aging processes for two aging times

Comments 100

  1. "C~W"

    Bill, what was your refrigeration method on THIS one, and time and temperatures? I feel I have missed something here. My personal feeling is that if one over dry’s the meat with the drybags, you may have bad effects.
    I believe I will stop at 3 weeks maximum, and perhaps earlier in the drying process.
    My refrigerator ran at 34 degrees with humidity of 25 to 30 percent.
    The drybagged meat was on wire drying racks with good air circulation.
    Regards..
    “C~W”

  2. Thea

    First of all, as owner of DrybagSteak, I am sorry to hear this customer is unhappy with the results of his DrybagSteak aging process. We hope he knows we appreciate his feedback and would like to respond to his concerns directly.
    Second, his description of unpleasant taste after aging in DrybagSteak material is unique and surprising. In the two scientific studies with professional taste panels, there was no mention of off flavors resulting from aging in DrybagSteak material. In all restaurant tests, there has been no mention of unpleasant flavors. If anything, the LACK of the funky, oaky, musty flavors one gets with traditional open air aging has been the only consistent comment regarding unsatisfactory results in flavor.
    Regarding aging time, the website only mentions aging times as standard to common practice. In fact, DrybagSteak has been used with aging at all of the generally accepted lengths of time with equal or better results to traditional air aging in controlled studied. Whether 14-, 21- or 28-day aging periods, DrybagSteak aged beef has produce excellent results, with most steak house chefs preferring the 21- to 28-day aged flavors.
    One last note on the scientific side, DrybagSteak material is not a plastic bag, and defies many of our assumptions about plastic. It will allow a vacuum to be pulled, but is highly oxygen permeable. It will not “leak” moisture, but will release it from the inside area of greater moisture to the outside area of lesser moisture as a membrane would allow for osmosis. The microbacterial studies done by Kansas State University and twice published in Meat Science have shown that the material does not create a dangerous anaerobic environment on the surface of the meat inside the material. Strangely enough, the microbacterial activity on the surface of a traditionally open air aged piece of meat has greater diversity and potential for danger–particularly in an aging environment that lacks ultraviolet lighting to keep down mold growth. In other words, if you want to dry age “clean” and safely in any refrigerator or cooler, excellent air flow and the application of DrybagSteak material is the combination most likely to give you excellent results.
    Please let us at DrybagSteak know if your results are otherwise.

  3. "C~W"

    Nicely done Thea, nicely done. Concise and factual.
    I had my first ribeye this evening from my first ribeye loin, drybagged for approximately 20 days. It was the most delicious ribeye I have eaten, and I am looking forward to the next, and the next, and more after that. Wow.
    Thanks for making both the snorkle vacuum and the bags available.
    “C~W”

  4. Stephanie Manley

    Wow what a fabulous and informative post. I didn’t even know you could age steaks yourself. I look forward to giving this a try and making my steaks taste like they came from a high end steakhouse.

  5. Barclay Terhune

    I used the heavy salting technique with some trepidation…it works. Until about 8 months ago my steaks where consistently lousy. Other than salt I do the following: let steaks get to room temperature, heat an iron skillet to a very high temperature, put olive oil and pepper on steak, sear the steaK on each side (ABT 4 MINUTES), put on a cookie cooling rack and let rest for 15 minutes. Have the oven heated to 425 put the steaks back into the iron skillet, cook in oven for 12 minutes, take out and let rest 10-15 minutes…I usually last 5-8 minutes. Really turns out well.

  6. Finnegans Wake

    Someone earlier on mentioned ordering grass-fed beef. I’ve been buying grass-fed from local producers for a number of years, but always just a few cuts at a time. This month, some friends and I are splitting an entire cow (!).

    Without getting on my grass-fed beef soapbox, let me just say that you can order in bulk and get great savings, not to mention that a lot of tradional butchers dry-age their beef anyway. Best of all worlds, IMO.

  7. michael smith

    I didn’t read this whole blog but a comment on the vacuum pumps. Zip lock, maybe others too, have started making a manual hand pump you may want to look at. It doesn’t have a nozzle but a gasket that encompasses the seal on their vacuum bags. It would be easy to adapt to a nozzle. Mickey

  8. William

    What you decribed is not dry agging but cryoc=vack aging which is putting the meat into a plastic pouch and vacume pacing the meat. Then the vacume created insid the pouch drows out the excess mousture from the meat.

    To dry age you must do it the following way.

    1)It must be done in a separate refrigerated box
    2)It must be held at temperature for 28-32 days
    3)It must be held at 34-38 degrees F. This will require an accurate thermostat
    4)It must be held at 50-52 % humidity
    5)No saw dust on the bottom of the cooler as this introduces other bacteria to the cooler
    6)put paper towels on the bottom and change every day. The blood or moisture drips onto the towels more at the beginning less after a few day
    7)The meat should be placed on racks not on shelves as you want air circulation around the meat.
    8)It would be best to have a very small fan in the cooler to circulate the air inside of the cooler, i.e. not a fan drawing air into the cooler but to circulate the air that is already inside of the cooler.

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  10. Jan Klincewicz

    I have been dry aging with DryBags for about a year now (over 20 primals.) I mostly do NY Strip, but occasionally rib eye, and am no trying a Sirloin. I have done from 14 – 28 days, average is 21, and never had one screw up even of there were some small air pockets.

    I have heard from fellow users who have skipped the snorkel vacuum and just squeezed most of the air out and used a twist tie and had good results. I think there is no need to be anal about this. I know other folks who dry age their meat “commando” and don’t get sick.

    I’m a little conservative, but just do my best to get a decent seal, and put it out of my mind. Several hundred steaks later, I am still going strong. Cheesecloth is cheap, but time is not.

    Once I put one of these puppies in the “beer fridge” it is forgotten about until three weeks is up. I mostly use Angus (like upper Choice) but occasionally do a Costco Prime. The family agrees Prime is best, but anything dry aged beats the best of the supermarket case by a mile.

  11. Kiki

    Wow, this sounds great. I’m inspired now to learn more about doing it the old-fashioned way – I’m a big fan of traditional techniques. Great info on the bags as well!

  12. THea

    Although you use a vacuum sealer to facilitate the application of DrybagSteak, it is nothing like a vacuum bag. If you are going to dry age with DrybagSteak, bear in mind that the material is oxygen permeable. This means that, unlike regular vacuum bags, any small pockets of air will not develop dangerous anaerobic bacterial environments. Wherever the DrybagSteak material does not bond completely with the surface of the meat, you will find that the age will go slightly deeper requiring you shave off just a couple millimeters more “bark” in those spots at the end of aging. As Jan says, there is no need to be too careful. A nice vacuum and seal simply makes for the easiest aging with the least waste. No matter how perfect or imperfect your bond, you are bound to have more consistent flavor results with DrybagSteak than by going “commando.”

  13. Thea

    DrybagSteak is no at all like “cry-o-vac” type laminated vacuum material. It is a moisture permeable material, like a membrane. Think Gortex for meat.

  14. Arthur

    do you sell the bag material in bulk rolls? so the user can make their own bags to the size they want?

  15. Beverly

    One thing that struck me was the amount of meat wasted in this process. Would you be able to use the beef trimmed off to make beef broth, stock or bullion? I make homemade stocks all the time to enhance flavor in dishes, would there be any reason this would not be an acceptable way to use the trimmings?

  16. Greg

    I truly hope someone has already replied regarding “using” the trimmings.
    DO NOT do ANYthing with them other than throw them away, regardless of how the seemingly HUGE waste of an expensive piece of meat. The amount you toss will cost far less then the hospital visit and likely stay.
    Cheerio

  17. Yum Hwa

    I have tried dry bags and they work well. I think they are really useful if you have very little patience or courage to do it the traditional way or so-called “commando” style. I suppose the real upshot for drybags is that it doesn’t allow oxygen to be in contact with the meat, and so ensures a relatively safe process. It is only through the exposure to oxygen that encourages bacterial growth etc. which causes spoilage. And i suppose that allows u to open the fridge a little bit more often than if you were to leave an exposed meat in the fridge. I personally can attest to that as i live in a humid tropical country, Singapore (no we are NOT in China), and each time the fridge is open, it allows a large drop in temperature and a whole load of humidity in. You can imagine that isnt too good for the meat. However, even having said all this, i personally dry-age my meat commando style. But this is only because i’m a little bit mad or perhaps courageous would be a better way to put it. But yes, i do have a designated fridge solely used for dry aging. I practically never open the fridge except to check on the meat which is approximately once every 5 days or so. I have done a 21 day striploin so far and it turned out pretty well. currently doing a 5-rib with the chine bone and a whole lot of fat cap left on as well as a 10lb porterhouse.

  18. Bruce

    has anyone tried to take a snip off a conventional sealer. put it over the end of the bag and then seal…bet that would work just fine.

  19. Jan

    We live in Mexico and the meat here is very very tough and usually very disappointing. Me think the cows are very tough cattle that exercise a lot! Anyway, thank you so much for this article. I cannot wait to try this. Tonight we are trying your salt cure to break down the protein in the steak and suck out the moisture.

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  21. Nijum

    nice inforamtion site.i find my best topic here.i never seen a best site before.lot of thx admin for create this awsome site

  22. Jan

    I used to trim the whole sub-primal. Now, I have found it easier to just trim the ends, slice into steaks, and trim the individual steak. Also found this to be more thrifty in not cutting away edible hunks.

  23. Jay

    I know this is an old post, however i was looking at Drybag, and they now offer a VacMouse adapter for foodsaver type sealers. I haven’t tried any of this yet, but I like this concept better than “old school” dry aging for at home use from a safety perspective. Ill be giving it a try anyway. AFTER I finish building the new smoker….one thing at a time!

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  27. Ron Oakes

    About the dry aging can you marinate the meat before you put it in the bag to seal it up ?
    Or do you have to age it first then marinate it after it has finished aging?

    Thank You for your reply

  28. Sally Luttrell

    I have my first striploin blackening nicely on a rack in my fridge. It will be 28 days by the time we eat it next week. So exciting! I am Australian and generally I would buy prime meat from a butcher shop,not a supermarket, and they would have removed all the enzymes and “gunk” on the outside. Does this matter? On some videos about this dry aging, they say to pat the meat dry with paper towels. It can be a bit confusing! I would appreciate some feedback. By the way – you Americans pay next to nothing for your meat – I would pay 3 times as much. Lucky you. :)

  29. NMJan

    Wow, so much work and time (both the DrBag method & the salting)! Why don’t meat markets/grocery stores sell aged beef anymore? I would pay double the price & I am sure a lot of other people would, too.

  30. Chef Doru

    I am dying to try this drybag and to do some real good steaks. I have one question: how come the meat doesn’t spoil even if sitting in the fridge? I know that for charcuteries, everybody (even Umai) uses curing salt to prevent botulism. Thanks in advance.

  31. Francisco Noriega-Panama

    I went to DryagSteak website and guess what, they offer a new bag version for Foodsaver units, they call it UMAi VacMouse® adapter strips for use with FoodSaver-type sealers.
    BR
    Francisco

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