Beef is dry aged in order to make it more tender and flavorful. During dry aging, enzymes in the meat go to work on the connective tissue and muscle fibers, resulting in increased tenderness. Also, a significant amount of moisture evaporates from the meat, resulting in more intense flavor. At the end of this article, I've included links to more information about aging meat that you might find interesting.
I was inspired to dry age a standing rib roast after watching Alton Brown do one on "Good Eats" on the Food Network. Experts like Alton Brown and Cook's Illustrated magazine say that you can safely dry age beef in your refrigerator at home for 3-7 days, while others like Bruce Aidells and Martha Stewart suggest that you leave dry aging to professional butchers.
If you choose to dry age a standing rib roast, you accept the risk of ruining an expensive cut of meat, or that you won't like the resulting flavor. Some people who are not familiar with the taste of dry aged beef describe it as "gamy" or "musty". Others call it "buttery" or "rich". In the end, it's all a matter of personal preference.
In any event, you'll need to start with a high-quality standing rib roast. You'll find a short primer on rib roasts at the beginning of the Prime Rib - Herb Crusted and Standing Rib Roast - Montreal Steak Rub articles.
Here are some pictures I took when I prepared this roast on December 6, 2003.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Three-Rib, Small-End Standing Rib Roast
This is a three-rib USDA Choice standing rib roast cut from the small end (ribs 10-12), weighing 7.73 pounds. It came already tied by the butcher, and I left it that way during aging.
This video demonstrates how to tie a roast. Click on the video to play.
Dry Aging The Roast
On "Good Eats", Alton Brown drilled holes in a Rubbermaid container to create a "prolifically perforated plastic bin" (Picture 1). This allows air to circulate around the meat and protects it from spills and other contaminates, while protecting your fridge from any juices that might seep from the roast. Place the roast bone-side down on the lid and put the bin over the roast, as shown in the photo.
Alternatively, Brown suggests placing the roast bone-side down on a rack over a rimmed sheet pan and covering loosely with a dry towel, changing the towel daily.
When dry aging beef, your refrigerator should be impeccably clean and free of any items that produce strong odors, as the exposed meat may absorb these odors.
Place the roast at the back of the lowest shelf in your refrigerator, which should be the coldest location. Lower the refrigerator setting to achieve a temperature of 34-36°F. Measure the temperature near the roast using a refrigerator thermometer, or place a Polder probe thermometer in a glass of water situated next to the roast (Picture 2).
I followed Brown's advice and dry aged this roast for three days.
Picture 3 shows how the roast looked after three days in the perforated bin. At first glance, it doesn't look much different, but Picture 4 shows that some of the edges have begun to dry out. Use a sharp knife to shave off any dried or leathery spots on the roast. Picture 5 shows how much I trimmed from this roast.
Brown says, "You may also notice a slightly funky aroma. That's OK. The smell of success."
With the roast trimmed, tie at each bone using butcher's twine to prevent the outer layer of meat from pulling away from the rib eye during cooking.
Seasoning The Roast
At this point, you could season the roast and cook it any way you like. You could use the seasonings described in the Prime Rib - Herb Crusted article or the Standing Rib Roast - Montreal Steak Rub article, or any other approach that you like.
For this roast, I used a simple preparation adapted from a recipe by Chef Ann Willan demonstrated on "Martha Stewart Living" that lets the flavor of the aged roast shine through.
Combine the dry mustard, Dijon mustard, and sugar to make a paste. Apply a thin layer of paste over the meat and fat surfaces of the roast (no need to apply to the bones). Cover loosely with Saran Wrap and let sit at room temperature for one hour before cooking.
Just before cooking, generously sprinkle the roast with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Again, no need to do this to the bone side.
Cooking The Roast
For this roast, I used the Minion Method to fire the cooker, but I used only one Weber charcoal chimney of unlit Kingsford charcoal briquettes and spread 30 lit coals on top of the unlit coals.
Use cold water in the pan to help keep the cooker temperature low, and use a modest amount of smoke wood to compliment the natural flavor of the meat. I used two medium-sized chunks of dry cherry smoke wood.
Place the roast bone-side down on the cooking grate. There's no need to turn and baste the roast or replenish the water pan during cooking.
Smoke the roast at 225-250°F until it reaches an internal temperature 10-12°F below your desired final internal temperature, then remove it from the cooker. For example, I wanted a final temp of 130°F for medium-rare, so I removed this roast at 118°F.
Here's how the cooker and internal meat temperatures went during the cooking process.
Note that the vent percentages represent the way I set the vents at the time indicated.
When the roast hits the desired temperature, remove it from the cooker, transfer it bone-side down to a roasting pan, and cover loosely with foil.
As the roast sits, fire your oven to 500°F. When the oven is hot, remove the foil, put the roast in the oven, and sear for 15 minutes. This will create a lot of smoke in the kitchen, so open some windows or turn on the ventilation fan.
Note: If you used a probe thermometer to measure internal meat temperature during cooking in the WSM, remove the probe and replace it with a length of bamboo skewer before putting the roast in the oven. The probe may be ruined if placed in a 500°F oven, and the skewer will prevent juices from spurting out of the hole where the probe was inserted.
After searing, remove the roast from the oven and cover loosely again with foil. Let rest for 30 minutes before carving.
The idea here is that the "low and slow" WSM cooks the meat evenly throughout and draws juices to the surface of the roast, then the ripping-hot oven sears those juices, creating a flavorful crust.
Carving And Serving
Remove the butcher's twine and roll the roast onto its side so the ends of the bones are pointing straight up. Cut downward close to the bones using a sharp boning knife, or better yet, a good electric knife. A picture of cutting the bones from a standing rib roast can be found in the Prime Rib - Herb Crusted article.
Carve the boneless roast into 1/2" slices and reserve the bones as a tasty snack for the chef.
In my cooking log, I noted that the meat had moderate smokiness and the crust had good flavor. The roast had a smoke ring about 1/4" wide. The meat was evenly cooked inside, thanks to the low temperature in the WSM. And of course, the roast was tender as could be.
Did dry aging improve the flavor of this roast? Yes, I think it did, but it's hard to say how much without doing a side-by-side comparison. This roast seemed to have a richer, beefier flavor than others I've done.
More Beef Rib Roast Links On TVWB