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  • Dry Aging a Dinosaur Bull

    Warning, this particular dry-aging technique requires either massive amounts of luck, or significant dry aging experience + lots of effort + considerable amounts of luck.

    After drawing my Delta either sex bison tag I began to scheme. As long as the weather was cooperating and I shot my bison during the fall, I was going to dry age the backstraps and tenderloins. Mainly, since I intended to shoot as old a bull as I could I figured the steak quality would be a bit subpar based on the chewiness of certain +12 year old cow bison and bulls I have had the opportunity to test my jaws against. When I ended up shooting a dinosaur bull estimated to be +16 years old, this absolutely seemed like the right approach.

    Dry aging is a very old preservation technique, and there have been a number of threads about it on the forum, with excellent information for anybody who is interested. There are two goals with dry aging: 1) improve/enhance the flavor of the meat; and 2) break down the tissue to have a more tender end product. Typically, it is recommended to dry age high quality cuts of meat that have lots of internal marbling and external fat where possible, to help avoid drying out the cut. Also, as there is trim loss you should use as large a primal cut as possible, and trim into steaks/roasts after the desired aging period is concluded.

    In order to properly dry age you need a space that you can consistently keep under the following conditions:

    --Under 40F but above the temp at which the meat will freeze
    (Depends on the thickness, but in my experience red meat in whole roast sized chunks usually doesn't completely freeze in temps over 25F)

    --Humidity between 60-80%
    (this is a huge factor as too dry and you'll lose too much weight too fast and it won't be as tender or flavorful as you want; too humid and you risk spoilage and unwanted fungal or bacterial growth; target moisture related weight losses between 10-40% are pretty normal depending on how long you are aging the cut)

    --Good air circulation
    (helps to develop the proper crust and regulate both moisture loss rates and fungal development)

    --Somewhere that doesn't already have harsh/unwanted smells, but is a relatively closed and protected environment
    (the meat is going to be "marinating" in that air for weeks or months even, if you have a lot of chemicals/etc that you can smell in the location you probably want to choose somewhere else)

    Most people, and as far as I know ALL commercial, choose to dry age in a dedicated refrigerator set up for this purpose, and it's pretty easy to google and see what people like to do for this. This allows for rigid control of the environment to ensure you don't lose the cut to spoilage. It's been about 12 years since I last did any serious dry aging, but between restaurant work and culinary school I have done quite a lot of it in the past, and all of it done in refrigerators/walk-in coolers. There are also some interesting products out there like UMAi bags that while I have not used myself, seem to work well enough I might give it a go sometime.

    This time, I wanted to go au naturale. It is a lot riskier and requires a greater level of effort to monitor the conditions and progress. However, it is something I have wanted to try for a very long time and I suspected that it would potentially yield a better/more unique end flavor profile--similar to the way that a sourdough starter/mother created in one place can taste radically different from one done somewhere else. While there are many products you can buy to do testing for presence of certain fungi or bacteria, I have elected to rely on a timeless method that is surprisingly reliable: the smell test and visual inspection. Good dry aged meat should smell pleasantly musky, nutty, meaty, and a bit funky--but in the best way like a sharp or hard cheese does.

    My Process
    Other than removing the backstraps and tenderloins from the spinal column, no additional trimming was done prior to wrapping and hanging the cuts. Due to bullet damage, one of the tenderloins was divided in 2 portions, but otherwise the loins and other tenderloin were kept whole. I began dry aging the cuts on 10/30/19, 4 days after I killed Ole Ugly. The tenderloin starting weights were 2lbs 4oz, 2lbs 12oz, and 5lbs 4oz; the loins were 18lbs 6oz and 18lbs even.

    I chose to loosely wrap each piece in cheesecloth to allow for additional dust/contaminant protection as well as to take the opportunity to impart some flavor by spraying white whine (a 2017 Matervitae Fiano that is very fruity with strong pear notes and has quickly become a regular in my cooking). I figured the initial spray with a follow up treatment or two would assist in controlling any rogue fungi/bacterial contaminants that I might encounter. As of now, I only did 1 follow up misting on day 7, using 2 oz of the white wine to spritz the pieces evenly. Before wrapping the cuts, I took a small slice of the raw tenderloin and gave it a chew test (I love raw red meat) to see what my baseline texture was on this tenderloin. Most tenderloins, even raw, are pretty easy to chew up--but this old bull was straight up rubber.

    After wrapping, I did some sloppy roast trussing as it was almost midnight, 30F, and I just needed to get it up in the shed. I did not have any good wire racks to set the cuts on, so I fashioned some rigging in a shelf of my shed and did my best to suspend the cuts in the space available, and lay out cardboard underneath to help with the cleanup afterwards. The pictures aren't great, nor was it ideal, but I was satisfied it was good enough.



    My shed is a simple, uninsulated, painted plywood and 2x4 10x12 shed with an aluminum roof. It is drafty and is placed in a spot that gets very little direct sunlight from November to January. I keep coolers, kid's yard toys, some hunting and fishing gear in there, but no chemicals/fuel. It generally smells like the air outside, and I figured that would be perfect as long as I could keep the temperatures in check.

    A couple weeks ago I got nervous as Anchorage had low temps in the low teens and highs in the 20s. At one point, the tenderloins froze completely and I figured I was done, but as the temps jumped up into the high 30s a few days later, I monitored the conditions of the cuts to see if there was any excessive moisture release, but there wasn't. So, on a whim I decided to continue the experiment and run a little buddy heater as needed to keep temps above 25F. So far my daily temperature checks have had a range inside the shed between 8 and 38F with an average of 33F. My average daily humidity has been steady at 70% with very little daily variations. My goal is to be able to push some of the cuts out as far as 90 days if I can manage, and I might need to find a new location here soon as temperatures have begun to drop.

    On 12/8/19 I decided it was time to see if this experiment has been a success or a failure. So I took the smaller of the two tenderloin chunks and brought it in the house. 40 days of dry aging gave it a weight of 1lbs 11oz, so a moisture related loss of about 25%. I was a bit nervous as its appearance in the cheesecloth did not look like what I was expecting, and I feared some spoilage had occurred even though the smell test was lovely.



    And after unwrapping it, my fears were entirely unjustified. The exterior was a lovely dark mahogany color, with a mostly dry but slightly oily/tacky surface.





    Relief quickly turned into excitement as I began to trim off the crust, revealing a deep purple/red meat color inside





    Trimming the crust caused a "loss" of 5 oz, with three final steaks in the 6-8oz range and one baby 2oz steaklet.





    With a liberal coating of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper I let a 6oz steak and the steaklet come up to room temp for 45 mins, vacuum packing and freezing the other two steaks for later.

    Gave it a hard sear in a little bacon grease on all sides:



    then finished it in the oven at 425F for 7 minutes until the internal temp reached 115F, then I let it rest for 5 minutes.



    This results in a fantastic "black-and-blue" rare steak that I prefer--but admittedly, black-and-blue can often come out too rubbery/raw if the steak isn't of high enough quality.



    Holy balls. This steak simply is perfect--and I am not a filet mignon/tenderloin guy anymore as I really "need" fat on a steak to enjoy it these days. The texture is unquestionably raw/extremely rare, but it still is only just barely holding together akin to a pot roast. Literally fork tender, and basically teeth not required, but without being mushy and still being "steak" textured. The flavor is intense. Very concentrated meatiness, with a hard parmesan/pecorino/padano cheese tone to it that is musky, nutty, and fruity even. Zero unpleasant gamey or off flavors, but also clearly not beef (nor like any of the bison I have eaten domestic or wild). I have yet to eat any beef or wild game that comes close to being this robust in flavor. I am floored.

    It took every scrap of will power I had to not cook up the rest of the trimmed steaks right then and there and gorge myself, and then grab the other chunk of tenderloin that is out there hanging still! I did manage to resist though, and the other chunks are still pleasantly aging away, but I do plan to grab the other tenderloin next weekend and see if day 47 somehow could possibly beat day 40. I expect it will be indistinguishable but we'll see. The loins, however, I'm really aiming to hit a minimum 60 days before I try one of them.

    As for the trimming scraps, I have saved those and will use them up in a few ways. Some of it I will pack in kosher salt and then grind into a powder to use as a seasoning salt, and the rest will likely find ways into burger grinds, sausages, and as flavoring agents to sauces and soups. Basically, all things that I want the flavor of it, but am able to mitigate the tougher/dry texture of the trim.

  • #2
    Dry Aging a Dinosaur Bull

    Awesome write up.

    Years ago (statute of limitations up...and heís dead), an uncle of mine poached a rank, monster mule deer buck heavily in the rut. He was a driller in UT. Weíre talking 60ís here. Anyway, he said you couldnít even be near it smelled so bad. Anyone who has shot a rutting Muley thatís been eating sage brush knows what I mean. So he skinned it and hung it in a drill shack. He said it froze and thawed several times over probably 3 months. One day he figured heíd better go get it out of there and bury it. Said it was pure green but didnít have any smell, rotten or rut. So he skinned off the mold and green and cooked up a piece. Now he had a stomach like a dog, but claimed it was excellent.

    Iíve always wondered if it was BS or real. Must have been some truth to the tale.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by johnnycake View Post
      Warning, this particular dry-aging technique requires either massive amounts of luck, or significant dry aging experience + lots of effort + considerable amounts of luck.
      Wow.....good job, and thanks for sharing your "experiment". Sounds like the word "floored" was the right word for sure, as you really had me wishing I could taste it! I know you mentioned restaurant work and culinary school, but are, or were, you a chef? Definitely put some thought into it, and I'm really surprised at the results from doing it all in your shed! But tell me, temperature and such I understand, but how do you go about regulating the humidity? Also, instead of cooking it like you did, what do you think smoking it would be like, have you ever tried that? Thanks again, really appreciate your writeup. Very cool! :topjob::topjob::topjob:
      Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

      Comment


      • #4
        That sounds incredible. I am absolutely inspired to give this a try the next time I get a late fall/early winter animal. Fantastic!

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by 4merguide View Post
          Wow.....good job, and thanks for sharing your "experiment". Sounds like the word "floored" was the right word for sure, as you really had me wishing I could taste it! I know you mentioned restaurant work and culinary school, but are, or were, you a chef? Definitely put some thought into it, and I'm really surprised at the results from doing it all in your shed! But tell me, temperature and such I understand, but how do you go about regulating the humidity? Also, instead of cooking it like you did, what do you think smoking it would be like, have you ever tried that? Thanks again, really appreciate your writeup. Very cool! :topjob::topjob::topjob:
          Once upon a time I was a chef at a high end resort's 5-star restaurant, then I had my own catering company and worked as a scratch baker for several years. But then I finished undergrad and went to law school--way better hours and better pay!

          Now I just cook for fun. But the real proof that the universe has a sense of humor is that my wife and kids are all literally the pickiest eaters that I've ever encountered, basically living in cheddar cheese, pasta (gluten free though now since my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease), and junk food. None of them will even try 99% of what I cook.

          One of the reasons I was willing to try the dry aging au naturale, is because Anchorage historically has the right humidity conditions this time of year. This is probably the biggest factor why you rarely see anybody dry aging outside of a refrigerator, as controlling the humidity in an open environment can be challenging if not impossible. If it is too humid you can try to put enormous quantities of salt in the area and that can help a bit. If it is too dry you place trays of water in the area. But those methods rarely can swing the humidity more than 10%. In a refrigerator, it is much easier to modify that. For this, all I did was monitor the levels in case it got too far out of the safe zone and I needed to pull it.

          I have cold smoked dry aged steaks before followed by a standard cook, and it can make it taste smoky on top of everything else. For me, smoke has its places, but dry aged meat isn't one of them as the flavors get too confusing. Kind of like dumping too many different sources l spices and seasonings into the same pot, at some point you just end up not tasting many of them. Smoke works best and really shines for meat that is more bland, elevating the end result. Putting smoke into the mix for dry aged meat in my experience drowns out a lot of the tastes that you worked so hard, waited so long, and/or paid so much more for.

          Comment


          • #6
            Great write up. I love good dry aged meat, as noted it is difficult to do and even more difficult to do right. I've been wet aging for a while and while it is good, it is not dry aged.
            ďI would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.Ē Physicist ― Richard Feynman

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by johnnycake View Post
              Once upon a time I was a chef at a high end resort's 5-star restaurant, then I had my own catering company and worked as a scratch baker for several years. But then I finished undergrad and went to law school--way better hours and better pay!

              Now I just cook for fun. But the real proof that the universe has a sense of humor is that my wife and kids are all literally the pickiest eaters that I've ever encountered, basically living in cheddar cheese, pasta (gluten free though now since my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease), and junk food. None of them will even try 99% of what I cook.

              One of the reasons I was willing to try the dry aging au naturale, is because Anchorage historically has the right humidity conditions this time of year. This is probably the biggest factor why you rarely see anybody dry aging outside of a refrigerator, as controlling the humidity in an open environment can be challenging if not impossible. If it is too humid you can try to put enormous quantities of salt in the area and that can help a bit. If it is too dry you place trays of water in the area. But those methods rarely can swing the humidity more than 10%. In a refrigerator, it is much easier to modify that. For this, all I did was monitor the levels in case it got too far out of the safe zone and I needed to pull it.

              I have cold smoked dry aged steaks before followed by a standard cook, and it can make it taste smoky on top of everything else. For me, smoke has its places, but dry aged meat isn't one of them as the flavors get too confusing. Kind of like dumping too many different sources l spices and seasonings into the same pot, at some point you just end up not tasting many of them. Smoke works best and really shines for meat that is more bland, elevating the end result. Putting smoke into the mix for dry aged meat in my experience drowns out a lot of the tastes that you worked so hard, waited so long, and/or paid so much more for.
              Excellent write up!!

              BTW, if your looking for a family member to share a meal with I'm willing to put myself up for adoption

              Comment


              • #8
                Saturday was Day 46 and it looked pretty great on the bison tenderloin.





                This piece started out at 2lbs 12oz and weighed 1lbs 15 oz when I pulled it, so about 30% water loss. The color of the meat is noticeably more purple than red, and I had more trim loss proportionately to the cut from day 40. Trim losses here were 7.5 oz. There is a very slight difference in aroma, and flavor versus the cut from day 40. Day 46 is slightly "more" everything taste wise, but there was not a noticeable difference in tenderness. It is simply excellent.

                I meant to pull the other whole tenderloin Sunday Day 47, but got distracted/lazy. I plan to grab it tonight on Day 48. I think for the tenderloin I've achieved maximum improvement, and with humidity levels falling into the low 60s as winter sets in I will just be increasing weight losses without much/any improvements to flavor or texture.

                I plan to pull one of the backstraps this coming weekend, and depending on the results there I will decide whether or not to continue aging the other one.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Day 48 Dry Aged Tenderloin

                  I was gonna pull this on Day 47, but I was just too tired and lazy. So I grabbed it last night instead. This tenderloin was kept intact from start to finish and had an initial weight of 5lbs 4oz.


                  After unwrapping, but before putting it on the scale, it was very obvious that this cut had dried out much faster than the other two pieces.





                  Putting it on the scale showed it weighed 4lbs 7oz after 48 days, so about a 35% weight loss. I had a much thicker crust to trim off it as well.

                  When I first wrapped it I failed to notice there were some areas with blood pooling in the tissue due to bullet damage, but it was readily apparent during the trimming process. This led to additional trim loss as the blood did not drain properly and caused unpleasant off-odors to develop in that portion of the meat. Thankfully, that area was mostly isolated to the "chain" of the primal cut which has a lot of connective tissue and small pockets of meat here and there. You can see the small random chunks that I recovered from this region in the upper left corner.



                  Total trimmed weight of the steaks came out at 2lbs 4oz. As this trim had a lot more connective tissues and the off-odor blood pooling I did not salvage it.

                  The steaks came out beautiful: deep purple, bold cheesy/meaty aroma, with a pleasant but assertive tang to the taste. This is meat for the true meat lover, and even then it is a steak that you take your time eating to avoid being overwhelmed by the flavor. Tenderness is excellent and seems to be identical to Days 40 and 46.



                  I would struggle to say I like Day 40 vs 46 vs 48 more than any of the other days (46 and 48 taste indistinguishable). However, based on Day 48's tenderloin I will probably pull the first backstrap before this weekend. I'm confident the flavor and tenderness is where I want them to be, and am curious where the drying weight loss is for the backstraps. There's no sense in decreasing the yield if I'm already satisfied with the results. Plus, we're supposed to get into the mid-teens later this week and I'm getting tired of getting up in the middle of the night to turn the buddy heater on!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Day 52 Sirloin

                    Whelp, I got over some laziness and grabbed one of the backstraps Friday night on Day 52.

                    This piece started out at 18lbs even. I was expecting some pretty significant drying loss based on the tenderloin I pulled on day 48, but was surprised to see I only had drying losses of 25% on this cut. Not really sure why, but maybe it has to do with the thicker layers of connective tissue/silverskin on the the backstrap retaining moisture better?



                    It's a beauty no doubt.





                    Trim losses weren't too bad either, totaling 1lbs 2 oz leaving me with about 12lbs 8oz in steaks ranging from 4 oz to 16 oz.





                    The little steaklet I seared up and sampled was unsurprisingly excellent. Tender, but toothsome. Deep meaty flavor with a pleasant tangy-musky-cheesy tone to it.

                    I don't know that I'm going to be able to go back to un-aged meat after this. I should end up with close to 30lbs of dry aged steaks from Ole Ugly, hopefully that will get me through the winter! I decided to keep pushing the other backstrap and get it past 60 days at least. The temps have dropped into the single digits/low teens the past few days and I'm going through a lot of propane to keep that cut from freezing though. It's almost time to call it done. Almost.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by johnnycake View Post
                      I don't know that I'm going to be able to go back to un-aged meat after this.
                      I don't blame you a bit! In the other thread about cured meats, I think the guy had an old fridge or walk in cooler he did his meat in. I wonder if building something like that so you could control things a bit easier and take a little of the effort away would be something to consider? You've got me thinking about it for sure. :topjob:
                      Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by 4merguide View Post
                        I don't blame you a bit! In the other thread about cured meats, I think the guy had an old fridge or walk in cooler he did his meat in. I wonder if building something like that so you could control things a bit easier and take a little of the effort away would be something to consider? You've got me thinking about it for sure. :topjob:
                        We are hoping to buy a single family home this year, and one of the things I want is space for a dry aging refrigerator. While the method I'm doing now has a superior flavor to any refrigerated dry among I've done, I'll gladly trade the ease and convenience of set it and forget it.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I make cheese and temperature and humidity control the old fridge I use as a cave. It looks to me like this would work for dry aging meat from what I'm reading on this thread.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Yanert, yes. You just need to keep the temps under 38F (and above 32f for ideal conditions) and humidity in the 60-80% range.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by gbflyer View Post
                              Awesome write up.

                              Years ago (statute of limitations up...and heís dead), an uncle of mine poached a rank, monster mule deer buck heavily in the rut. He was a driller in UT. Weíre talking 60ís here. Anyway, he said you couldnít even be near it smelled so bad. Anyone who has shot a rutting Muley thatís been eating sage brush knows what I mean. So he skinned it and hung it in a drill shack. He said it froze and thawed several times over probably 3 months. One day he figured heíd better go get it out of there and bury it. Said it was pure green but didnít have any smell, rotten or rut. So he skinned off the mold and green and cooked up a piece. Now he had a stomach like a dog, but claimed it was excellent.

                              Iíve always wondered if it was BS or real. Must have been some truth to the tale.
                              years ago when I lived out west, the guy that taught me how to properly butcher told me something similar. He lets his mulies hang, in his shack mind you, until it grew a mold then he cut and wrapped. Every cut was fork tender in his words. I've never let them hang that long.

                              Comment

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