How (and When) to Season Your Steak Correctly

Create the look of the perfect steak and you’re more likely to find yourself in a red and juicy interior enveloped in a savory toasted crust. Add some garlic and herbal butter to a hot cast iron skillet, maybe sprinkle some sea salt flakes, like it’s salt water style, and you’re pretty darn close to perfect. It looks so simple , so why don’t most homemade steaks taste even remotely as good as steak house chops?

The secret is not only the use of salt, but also the correct use of salt.

Salt is one of the most important ingredients in cooking. It enhances flavor, suppresses bitterness, creates contrast and imparts texture. This is not to downplay the health benefits of excessive salt intake; some of the magic of salt is in the balance it creates. You don’t need to abuse it to feel its impact, you just need to use it better . The amounts matter. Time matters. And not all salt is created equal.

Reimagine the perfect steak. The two most important qualities of a great steak are a good crust (which requires aggressive heating) and a tender and juicy inside (which requires tender roasting). As meat expert Max Grebb (aka MaxTheMeatGuy ) says , “These are two very conflicting elements of cooking, and the way we salt the steak will allow us to do it most effectively to achieve balance. … “

What happens if you add salt to a steak?

We salt the steaks primarily for flavor, but that’s not all. Salt is also needed to soften and retain moisture.

Sprinkle a layer of kosher salt over a piece of meat (or any food that contains moisture, for that matter) and you will soon see osmosis in action. After a few minutes, beads of liquid will appear on the surface, which will then begin to dissolve each salt crystal. This creates a concentrated brine on the surface of the steak. After a while, the brine will penetrate the meat again, giving it taste and tenderness. The more time it has to diffuse (given the thickness of the cut), the deeper it can penetrate.

“When you dry the salting of the steak,” Grebb says, “whatever the salt that has been completely absorbed, the meat itself binds to these molecules, making it more difficult for water to avoid and ultimately improve moisture retention within these cells. . ” This way, not only will it allow you to season the steak from the inside out, but it will also make the end result more juicy.

Why time is important when salting a steak

Explore cookbooks, read online blogs and watch celebrity chefs, and you will find many different opinions on when is the best time to salt your steak before cooking. Some swear by salting just before cooking or even while cooking. Others are convinced that a properly seasoned steak should be salted 12 or even 48 hours ahead of time, depending on the thickness of the cut. Then there are those who do not refuse salt until after the stacks are prepared. But most agree that cooking a steak 3–45 minutes after salting is a big mistake (huge). This amount of time allows the salt to draw moisture out of the steak, but not enough time for it to come back inside. Besides the fact that food is devoid of flavor and tenderness, cooking in this way will make it much more difficult to get the perfect crust.

As you know, moisture is the enemy of darkening. To get the desired Maillard reaction , the surface of the steak should be as dry as possible, which will allow the meat to be browned exponentially. Cooking for about 3-45 minutes – when the moisture has been removed from the protein but not yet absorbed back into the meat – does a huge disservice. Wait at least an hour. The longer the brine is absorbed into the steak, the deeper the flavor and tenderness will be, and the surface of the steak will have enough time to dry completely.

This means, says Grebb, that you can actually cook it at a slightly lower temperature and still get a great crust while still getting edge to edge medium rare.

Obviously, life is hard, and so is the time. If you just don’t have time for that much planning, a rule of thumb is to cook the steak immediately after the season – for example, for a minute so that the salt doesn’t have enough time to drain moisture from the steak.

How to salt a steak (and what salt to use)

“In general, people digest steaks a lot,” says Grebb, especially thick steaks. “To use the analogy with snow, if it’s a thick steak, you can use heavy snow. If it’s a thin steak, it’s best to dust it. “

As for the snowflakes, each one is unique, and the same goes for the grains of salt. Although almost all cooking salt is sodium chloride, the different textures and shapes of each type of salt will have different effects on how it interacts with food – for our purposes here, that means it simultaneously wicks moisture out and spreads back to the meat.

A coarse kosher salt form like Diamond Crystal makes it ideal for soaking up a steak (or any meat for that matter) and retaining these molecules. Since it is lightweight and bulky, it is easier to avoid. Table salt is much more difficult to distribute evenly due to its grain size, and it dissolves quickly in meat before it can properly drain moisture to create a concentrated brine. (The taste of iodized salt is also noticeably different in this context.) Since sea salt comes in many different types of grinding, I usually don’t choose it for dry brines, but there are people who trust the light gray Celtic sea salt. which already contains additional moisture. Sea salt and Maldon’s flakes are great for a light pinch at the end for added flavor and texture (and, hey, they look pretty cool too).

I will never give up my kosher coarse salt, but whatever you choose, it is important to know that salt is measured by weight, not volume; a teaspoon of one variety can be much saltier than a teaspoon of another.

Salt the steak on the wire rack

Another common mistake for those who have time to dry a steak is to think about only one side. “It’s best to leave it on an open shelf rather than wrapping it in tin foil or placing it on a plate,” says Grebb. “Where the top side can be exposed to air drying it out, but the bottom side is in the liquid and you won’t get that dry brine effect.” At this point, these hungry protein molecules inside the meat are struggling to hold on to the salty moisture. The dry brine won’t drip a lot, but we still want the residual liquid to be nice and air-dried to get the same crisp on both sides.

The last thing anyone wants, after spending a few hours drying a steak, is to discover that it is lying in a pool of moisture. The use of a grate allows air to circulate throughout the piece of meat.

There’s a reason salt cravings are a thing. Our bodies really need it (in moderation), and so does your steak. Whether you’re grilling, pan, or sous-vide, salt is a steak’s best friend. Treat him with the care and respect he deserves and this image of the perfect steak will become easily attainable.


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