Dry Aging Timeline
Courtesy of Chef John McGannon, wildeats.com
After coming back home from my recent seminars at the RMEF National Convention in Reno there was a definite buzz regarding the subject of DRY Aging. I’ve received many inquiries about how long do I leave it to dry? What size pieces of meat do I use? How much time for Deer vs. Elk etc? Here is a chart that will hopefully answer those questions. As you can imagine there are a bunch of variables when addressing those freezers full of paper wrapped packages. Use this chart as a guideline, while applying common sense. This may be intimidating to some, but once you get the first batch down…and see the results you will become much more at ease with the procedure. Just remember that all you are doing is drying out the meat. THIS IS AlWAYS DONE UNDER REFRIGERATION,
At temperatures below 40°F (Frozen meat products are not dry aging)
These birds have been plucked and eviscerated with the internal cavity wiped clean. You can initiate drying from a fresh state as well as after it has defrosted from the freezer. These time lines start when the meat is completely defrosted.
Dry Aging breasted out birds without any skin/bones to slow the drying process DO NOT APPLY to this time line. You can dry age those pieces of meat to a certain degree BUT since the meat will dry out too quickly you will loose a great deal of meat in the process. This is a slow and gradual process. You get out what you put in. Breasting is a fast and easy way to avoid plucking and cleaning but like most shortcuts comes with a price. If you do have some breasts like the ones below try placing a dry (lint-free) towel over the meat. This will slow the evaporation process down a bit and extend the time you can dry out those tough fibrous tissues.
Quail 1 day
Chukar/Partridge 2 days
Grouse 2-3 days
Pheasant 2-3 days
Wild Turkey 3-4 days
These are recommended times for whole birds with the skin attached. The skin plays a vital role in slowing down the evaporation process. As I stated before Dry Aging needs to be a slow and gradual process. If the meat dries out too fast then you aren’t accomplishing your goal of breaking down the fiber structure. You see those little tough fibers need time to breakdown as they are drying.
Planted birds require a little less time, as their muscle structure isn’t so developed.
RED MEAT BIRDS
Doves 1 day
Band-tailed pigeons 1-2 days
Teal (sm. ducks) 1-2 days
Widgeon (med. ducks) 2-4 days
Sprig/Mallards (lg. ducks) 4-7 days
Specks/Snow Geese 7-10 days
Honkers* 10-14 days
There are many things that will effect the meat quality of an animal - age, health, habitat, shot placement, manner in which it was cooled/or not, cross contamination issues, hunted during the rut (self inflicted adrenaline) and species of animal. And there are many issues that come into play when determining the amount of time needed to dry age a piece of game meat. The size of the particular piece of meat will determine the REAL amount of time that one can realistically hang/or rack that meat. The larger the piece, ie quarters, the longer you can hang the meat. The chart below is again a guideline, with the understanding that you may have to adjust the times to suit your specific situation. As I said in the Dry Aging Article, if you plan on dry aging your meat after it has been in the freezer leave those cuts as large as you can, WITH THE SILVER SKIN ATTACHED. This will give you the best yield after you finally age your meat and trim off all the darkened outer edges. There’s no sense trimming off the silver skin, then dry aging it and trimming off another layer of meat.
*Aging these very tough birds for this long will give you an incredible tender result. Once aged bone-out the breasts and treat as though they were a tender steak. Cook quickly and rare. Save the legs for chili, stew or sausage. You won’t believe how tender they can be if you have the patience! Always slice across the grain.
LARGE GAME ANIMALS
Elk, Moose (quarters) 14 days
Elk, Moose (muscle groups, i.e. top sirloin) 7-10 days
Deer, Caribou, Sheep, Antelope (quarters) 10 days
Deer, Caribou, Sheep, Antelope (muscle groups) 7-10 days
Wild Boar (quarters) 8 days
Wild Boar (muscle groups) 4-8 days
Bear** 4-8 days
If you have your meat already cut into steaks the same approach applies as with the breast situation. The meat will dry out too quickly. If you have no choice at this point you can dry age your steaks for a day or two and it will help. It just won’t have the chance to get to its full potential. You’ll know better next time.
** Dealing with bear meat can be a little tricky. If the bear is consuming garbage as a source of its diet it could be subject to parasites, viruses and microorganisms that can be harmful to human consumption. Please be careful when dealing with bear meat. I would recommend cooking bear meat thoroughly (above 165° F) before eating. This isn’t always the case but its better to be safe than sorry.
The charts above show what I feel is the minimum recommended times for aging these highly developed muscle tissues. The picture above of the tule elk was aged considerably longer. Under the correct conditions (temperature/sanitation) and being careful when cleaning the aged meat will yield the most tender, succulent meat you’d ever eat.