Having been in the meat business, one way or the other, for the past forty years, I am constantly asked "How come the steaks at a steak house are so much better than the ones I buy at the store?"
That's an easy one. High end steak houses either buy or age their own beef. Some of them "dry age", others "wet age" and some don't age at all.
"What is the difference between the two aging processes?"
Dry Aging: Beef that is dry-aged is allowed to hang unwrapped for a period of time under controlled humidity, temperature, and airflow in a professional grade refrigerator. The meat loses a large quantity of moisture, which concentrates the flavor, reduces the original weight by nearly a fifth, and tenderizes the meat. Only the best cuts of beef graded Prime or Choice are aged in this manner, so the cost can be quite high.
Wet Aging: Wet aging is similar to dry aging except that the beef is wrapped in heavy plastic wrapping (Cryovac) while it ages in order to prevent the loss of moisture. It is aged in controlled conditions in a professional refrigerator. Because there is no loss of moisture, the flavor does not become as concentrated as with dry aging.
Aged beef should not be confused with old beef, which refers to beef that has come to the end of its shelf life in the supermarket meat case. A green or brown steak is NOT aged...it is OLD! Proper aging is done with whole primal cuts, not individual steaks.
"Is it possible to age beef at home?"
Yes it is, but I suggest that you use a dedicated refrigerator (one that is not being opened several times daily) and one that works properly and has no problem maintaining a steady temperature between 32° and 38° F.
Beef can be aged so that the flavor and tenderness are enhanced. As the beef ages, enzymes in the meat are released which help to soften the tough, connective tissues.
Wet Aging Beef
This is my preferred way of aging beef, 1) it is relatively easy and 2) I do not care for the heavy 'beefy' and sometimes musty flavor of dry aged beef.
Purchase a whole NY Strip Loin, Rib Eye, Tenderloin (Filet Mignon) or Top Sirloin and make sure the cryovac is still tight. These can be bought at Sam's Club, Costco, BJ's or even your local butcher, if you should be so lucky to have one. Ask the meat department for the "packing date" on the box that it came in. This is VERY important! You don't want to know the date on the price sticker or the date they got it in....you want the packing date on the box that it came in. If the date can't be determined, then find another place to get the meat or wait until their next order and ask them to save the packing box. Once you know the packing date you can put the meat in your extra refrigerator at approximately 35-36° and leave it alone until it has aged a total of six weeks. Not six weeks from when you bought it, but six weeks from the packing date. Check it every few days to make sure the wrapping is still intact and no air or liquid loss. It's a good idea to place the meat on an upper shelf, that way there will be an even air flow all around.
If you notice liquid leaking or the cryovac is starting to get puffy, you have a leak and you will have to cut the meat up immediately and freeze or use.
At the end or your determined aging time, place the meat in a sink and open, being careful not to slice across the meat with your knife. More than likely, an odor will greet your nose. This is normal, as the enzymes I mentioned earlier are reacting with bacteria inside the cryovac. Rinse the meat off with COLD water and pat dry. All, most or part of the odor will be gone. A short time, 30 minutes, of 'air' drying back in the refrigerator should also help to dissipate the odor. You may, or may not, still have a slight odor, but don't worry about it. Dry aged beef has a 'musty' odor that's hard to get rid of also.
Cut your steaks and enjoy! Remember.....ONLY whole primal cuts can be aged, NOT individual steaks. Trying to age a steak will end with an old steak.
Dry Aging Beef
I really don't encourage any one to attempt dry aging of beef at home. There are too many variables that can ruin a good piece of meat, not to mention the cost i.e., constant temperature, consistent humidity, control of bacteria, etc. Other than a dedicated refrigerator (see reference above) I also suggest that you have a hygrometer to keep track of the humidity.
If you are intent on dry aging, let me suggest a couple of websites to visit that will help you along.
Dry Aging Beef, method #1
Dry Aging Beef, method #2
Remember, ONLY primal cuts can be aged, NOT individual steaks. Also, make sure the grade is USDA Choice or above, such as USDA Prime or CAB (Certified Angus Beef), IBP's Chairman's Reserve, Cargill's Sterling Silver or any other high quality private labeled beef. The primal cut should have at least ¼" of fat covering or more.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO AGE VEAL, PORK OR POULTRY!!