Is there anything better than a perfectly seasoned steak? If you're like most home chefs, you probably season your meat just before cooking, adding a sprinkling of salt for extra flavor. But could a different approach actually make your steaks even better? Check out this guide for how to salt meat and discover how adding that seasoning earlier could create the ultra-tender and flavorful results you're looking for.
When to Salt Steak
Conventional cooking advice usually recommends salting your steak just before placing it on a cast iron pan or a grill. While that method can work just fine, especially if you're picking up meat from the store just before cooking, there's another option that many chefs recommend called dry brining.
Dry brining is the process of adding salt to your steak (or other cut of meat) several hours or even a full day before cooking. It also involves a larger amount of salt than you'd use for regular seasoning before cooking. This method works for more than just steak, too. You can dry brine most cuts of beef, pork and poultry. Ground meets and seafood, on the other hand, shouldn't be salted for extended periods, and you want to avoid dry brining with any meats that are already well-salted (like ham).
How to Dry Brine Meat
The ideal time to salt your meat is 24 hours before cooking, though dry brining can start as close as two hours before placing your meat on the heat. Simply apply ½ to ¾ teaspoon of salt per pound of meat, spreading evenly over the entire surface.
Place your meat in the fridge right after applying the salt. It doesn't need to be covered, but it should be kept in the fridge until about 20 minutes before you're ready to start cooking.
For those who have their meat on hand in advance of when they plan to fire up their stove or grill, allowing it to sit with the salt for an extended period can improve flavor and texture.
What Does Salt Do to Meat?
You might think that dry brining won't work since salt can draw moisture out of meat. That's true when meat is prepared in a curing process for preservation purposes, but short-term brining with less salt (compared to curing) truly makes the meat more tender.
That's because dry brining weakens the protein inside the meat and helps them to maintain moisture as they cook. This also makes it harder to overcook the meat, ensuring a more tender texture. The longer resting period also allows the salt to further penetrate the muscle structure of the meat for a more thoroughly seasoned flavor.
What Kind of Salt to Use on Steak
You can use kosher salt or table salt to dry brine your meat. This isn't the time to use premium salts since the full flavors will get lost in the cooking process.
Just before serving, however, you'll want to add a light sprinkling of salt. This is where fancier finishing salts come in handy. For finer cuts of meat, such as American Wagyu or USDA Prime Angus beef, consider using imported French sea salt. Its light, flaky texture is perfect for finishing off your dry brined steak.
Use these tips to experience a whole new level of flavor and tenderness the next time you cook steak at home.