Introduction: DIY Dry Aging Fridge
I haven't seen a lot of information in a centralized location in regards to building a Dry aging fridge. The total cost of the entire project was less than $400, and it can be even less depending on where you source some of the supplies. I built this about a year ago and now finally have time to create a guide, so if I am missing anything just drop a comment and I can try to help.
I've done about 2 roasts in this fridge so far, a full strip loin and a ribeye roast. I had to cut both in half, but it worked out well. I lost about 50% of weight after dry aging for 60 days. The outer shell called the pellicle is great for grounding with fresh meat to make excellent dry aged burger patties, you can also even render the fat trimmings to make some lard. I've even used some of the pellicle as dog treats. If you're not up for eating all your dry aged steaks at once, you can vacuum seal them and throw them in the freezer.
There are some cons with using the kind of fridge that I am using in this tutorial, but it hasn't been a huge issue. The fridge in my supplies list is a cold plate refrigerator, so ice may build up on the plate which doesn't happen with evaporator type systems.
I have a Germ Guardian UVC device that helps circulate some of the air and keeps bacteria at bay and helps with purifying the air. Along with the Germ Guardian, I have a USB fan hooked up as well to help push even more air around. The Germ Guardian is plugged into a GFCI outlet that has been sealed and rate for the outdoors, and various devices are powered through a USB hub that is connected to the Germ Guardian.
Disclaimer: Please note that I cannot be held responsible for any mistakes, issues, damages, sickness, etc. that may happen if you don't know what you're doing. This is purely informational and is meant to give an idea of how to build a simple dry aging fridge.
Dremmel or saw
breaking knife Amazon
boning knife Amazon
Great stuff insulating foam
Whynter BR-1211DS Amazon
GFCI Weather-Resistant Receptacle Amazon
old work box for outlet Amazon
Germ Guardian Plugin Amazon
USB hub 4-Port Amazon
24cm USB extension cable Amazon
120mm USB Fan Amazon
LED light Amazon
Salt block Amazon
E-Ink humidity and temp sensor Amazon
Govee wifi hygrometer Amazon
Stainless steel sheet pan Amazon
3ft Power cord Amazon
Step 1: Purchasing a Fridge
If I could go back in time, I would have probably went with an evaporator type fridge. True GDM is usually what a lot of folks get, but I was able to pick up the fridge I'm currently using for super cheap and so far I'm happy with it. As I mentioned in the intro, my back plate does freeze up at times but it hasn't been significantly detrimental to what I'm doing. Really, any fridge would work, but it needs to be dedicated for the process, not be constantly opening and closing, and be able to hold temps below 40 degrees but above 32 degrees. So for me, ideally around 35-37 degrees was perfect for dry aging. Some will people will also mention humidity being a factor, I haven't played enough with it enough. The humidity in the fridge averaged about 45-50% the entire time I was dry aging.
The biggest roast I've done was a 17lb roast, I'm sure you can do even bigger. Because of the size of the roasts, I've had to cut them in half. I've seen some people hang their roasts, but with my setup it's kind of hard to do that.
Please stay away from wine fridges, they do not get cold enough.
Step 2: Installing the GFCI Outlet in the Fridge
This step involves working with high voltages, so please make sure that the fridge is not plugged and there is no power to it before you do any cutting or work with it. When looking for a place to cut a hole, please consult the manual to see if it shows where coolant lines may be running, in the case of my fridge they run along the walls only. If you cut into the wrong wall, you risk cutting the coolant lines.
This was probably the most involved step when it came to setting up the dry aging fridge. Some people just buy a surge protector with a flat cable that they run inside their fridge, but I wanted to contain everything inside the fridge and not have cables hanging out of the door. For this you'll need to look around the fridge for a suitable area to cut and carve out a hole to fit the work box. On my fridge the best place that did not have any coolant lines or any potentially important parts was the bottom left hand side of the fridge. With my current setup I am running two power cables, one will be solely to provide power to the newly installed outlet and you'll have the power cable to the fridge itself.
I proceeded to measure and cut out a hole using my dremmel tool. I'm sure it would have been easier with a saw.
I then carved out the insulation until I could fit the work box in snuggly.
Cut off the end of the power cord that usually goes into the computer and strip the wires.
I crimped connectors on the wires, but some people just tin them. This is to give the wires a solid connection.
I then drilled a hole in the back of the fridge where I ran the power cable through
I then inserted the cable into the work box and did a fit test
Once everything fit properly, I connected the wires to the proper terminals on the GFCI outlet
Again, push the work box with the outlet and cable into the whole that has been carved out and check fit
Plug it into a wall outlet, plug in your Germ Guardian and see if you have power
If everything fits perfectly and you have power, then spray some Great Stuff insulation foam in the hole and push the work box in
Hold the work box in place until the foam cures a bit, because it expands you want to be sure it doesn't push the box out
Be sure to vacuum out all the insulation that was carved out, I also found that using a wet paper towel works well to get any remaining bits out of the fridge.
Step 3: Hooking Up Accessories and Other Information
So at this point the most difficult part of the fridge has been completed. The rest of this guide is very much just about adding on some of the accessories.
The Germ Guardian will be the only real device that is plugged into the outlet, unless you want to run anything else. The Germ Guardian device has a single USB port, which you can use to power a single USB device, but for my setup I added a USB hub so that I'd have additional USB ports to utilize. Plugging the right angled usb extension cable into the single USB port on the Germ Guardian allows you to have some more room to work. This was necessary for my setup because of where I had the hole carved. I plugged the usb hub into the extension cable and used double sided tape to hold it in place next to the Germ Guardian. I power the USB fan and LEDs through this hub without any issues. At point point I was actually running a Raspberry Pi Zero as well to do a time lapse of the meat aging.
The fans help with moving the air around the fridge, which works in tandem with the Germ Guardian to keep the air fresh and not stale.
I added an LED bar so I could have more light inside the fridge as well.
The hygrometers can be placed in various locations in the fridge. This is to help you have multiple readings of what the temperatures are and keep track of humidity. The wifi unit is especially useful because you can set alerts that will notify you when the temperatures are too high or too low.
The salt blocks are suppose to help with humidity regulation and odor control or so I'm told, but I've not notice anything special happening with it. I place the salt block in the stainless steel sheet pan in the case that it collects moisture and drips, this will help to contain any puddles that may form from humidity. I also keep a couple bottles of water in the fridge as well because I've been told that it helps to keep the temperatures regulated.
Step 4: Dry Aging Meat
Please understand that when you are dry aging meat, you will lose a significant amount of mass. The outside of the meat will dry out over time, so do not attempt to dry age single steaks or you'll have some very tough jerky.
You can dry age all sorts of different cuts. Most people dry age ribeye roasts or striploins, but I've seen people do chucks and briskets as well. I've only personally done ribeye roasts and striploins because they're easy to come by and aren't terribly expensive. Costco or Smart Foodservice warehouse stores are great places to find cheap cuts. If you're worried about your first time, get a select roast or loin and try it out. It'll benefit greatly from the dry aging even if it's not choice or prime USDA.
The standard time for aging is usually around 30-40 days. The longest I've aged a roast was about 60 days, but I hear about people aging up to a year or more. If this is your first time, I suggest doing a 30-40 day dry age to see if you like it. The longer it ages, the more you'll lose and the more pronounce flavors will become. When it comes down to it, it's up to your taste buds.
When you put the meat in the fridge, be sure to it's on a food-grade coated rack or a stainless steel food-grade rack. For my fridge, I used the stainless steel racks that were included. The meat is placed on a rack so that air is able to dry out all sides of the meat. You want the entire roast to be able to breathe and have air circulate. As I mentioned, some people setup their fridge so that you can hang the roast, but this fridge is fairly small so it's not ideal. I usually lay the roast fat side down, there are a lot of debates on which side is best but I've had a lot of success doing fat side down.
When the meat is aged to your preference, carving up the meat takes some work because the hard outer shell (pellicle). I recommend a breaking knife like the one I posted in my equipment and supplies section. It really does help when you're trimming pellicle, after I get the bigger pieces off, I use a boning knife to go through and clean up the roast. Some people leave more pellicle than others, but this is again a preference. In my experience, I usually get about twelve to thirteen 3/4"-1" thick steaks out of a 15-17lb roast
Remember to save the pellicle, I usually use my food saver and vacuum seal them and write a date and how long it's been aged. I do the same for the steaks, I vacuum seal each of them separately and date and add the age. I've had steaks that were vacuum sealed for 3 years and they still tasted great. If you're wondering about what to do with the pellicle a quick google search for "dry aged pellicle uses" will yield results from different sites about what you can do with it. Some of those things I mentioned in the intro of this guide.
This guide was made to show that you are able to build your own dry aging fridge for less than what is currently available. Instead of spending upwards of $1500 for a dry aging fridge, you can easily make one for about $400 or less.