How To Salt a Steak
You’ve read and seen how to season a steak dozens of time, you can’t seem to get it just the way you like it.
Salt is more than just seasoning. It’s an essential element for any dish, as it intensifies aroma, balances out other flavors, and tenderizes the meat. Seasoning your steak just right can help draw out the juices and create that crisp seared crust we all love so much.
But seasoning too soon or too much can hurt the steak too.
This article discusses how to salt a steak properly by explaining how much salt to use, when to salt, and what kind of salt to use.
How Much Salt
You have your steak sitting in front of you. Now, you’re trying to figure out how much salt needs to go on it. The answer? More than you think.
A good piece of steak is often quite thick. This means when you’re salting the steak, you’re only seasoning the surface, leaving a significant portion of the meat unseasoned. If you’re only eating the surface of the meat, it may be too salty. But you’re not. You’re also eating the unseasoned part of the steak.
If you’re cooking a ribeye, you’ll want to season that more than if you were to cook a flank steak. So, don’t be afraid to generously coat the surface of your steak with salt. Make sure there’s an even layer of salt on both sides. If it’s a thinner cut, reduce the amount of salt just by a little.
When To Salt
You’ve probably read a dozen articles on when to salt your steak and you’re confused if you should season immediately before grilling, 40 minutes before, or the night before. It depends on your preferences and how much time you have.
Salt does more than just enhance the beefy flavor of the meat. It draws out the liquid from a steak and tenderizes it at the same time. The longer the salt is on the steak, the more juices it’ll draw out. If you grill the steak immediately after salting, you may get a nice, crisp sear, but the juices in the meat are unseasoned.
If you let the salt sit on the steak for a while, it seeps deep into the meat while drawing the extra juices out. This doesn’t dry the meat out completely, as whatever juices that didn’t evaporate will be reabsorbed into the meat. This creates a more concentrated flavor as the salt has had time to season the middle part of the steak.
We recently dry brined a prime rib over night and the results where delicious.
If You’re Salting Immediately Before Grilling
You will still want to remove the steaks from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before salting. This brings the steak to room temperature, ensuring you’re cooking it to your desired doneness.
After 30 minutes, generously salt and pepper on both sides of the steak and gently press the seasonings into the meat.
If You’re Salting in Advance
Salting your steaks in advance is sometimes known as the dry-brining method.
Pat the steaks dry with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture build-up. Then season generously with salt on both sides of the steak. Make sure the sides of the steaks are covered with salt as well. Gently pat the salt into the meat.
Next, place your steaks onto cooling racks, cover them with plastic wrap, and then put them in the fridge. You can let them sit in the fridge anywhere from 40 minutes to 24 hours. The longer you let them sit, the more concentrated the flavor is going to be.
Remove the steaks at least 30 minutes before grilling to let them rest at room temperature. You’ll want to pat them dry with a paper towel again to wipe away juices and moisture from the salt. The steaks may look a little dry, but that’s just the surface of the steaks. The dry surface will form a crispy brown crust after grilling.
You can then season the steaks with some black pepper right before grilling.
Which Salt to Use
Try not to use table or iodized salt to season your steak. Always use coarse kosher salt. Why? Kosher salt has a larger crystal-like shape that allows for optimum absorption and doesn’t come with additives like iodine. It has a lower density, which allows it to gently season the steak. It may look like you’re adding a lot because of the granule size, but it’s not as intense as table salt.
Table salt, although superficially finer than kosher salt, is denser and will dissolve too quickly into the meat, resulting in an overly salty steak. Fine salt is meant to be used as a finishing touch to a dish and not to season one before cooking.
You may have thought to try seasoning salts like garlic salt or other flavored salts you’ve seen in grocery stores. These salts work the same as table salts in the sense they should be used as a finishing salt. With seasoning salts, you don’t have a lot of control over the final product. If you’ve used too much, it’s too salty and overpowering, and there is no fixing that. Seasoning salts are better for stews, potatoes, pasta, and other similar dishes where you can taste throughout the cooking process.
Salting a Steak: Final Thoughts
The myriad of articles and videos debating how much salt and when to salt a steak is just that – a debate. Each chef and home cook will not be able to agree on the absolute best method to salt a steak because there isn’t one.
Whether you decide to salt it immediately before cooking or 24 hours before, it’s all up to your preferences and how you want the steak to taste. Some may prefer their steaks not to have an overpowering beefy flavor, while some seek that brown crust. Try both methods and see which you prefer.
Since the environment inside a cooler is difficult to control (especially when it comes to moisture), we would recommend leaving steaks in their original packaging and salting before grilling instead of going with a dry brine in this case!
What would be your advice for salting a steak and then traveling with it. IE. Going camping, and it needing to be in a cooler?
When cooking sous vide, it is generally better to add salt after the sous vide cooking phase. It is recommended to cool the steak for 8 minutes before searing it.
What about if you’re planning to sous vide a steak? Should you salt before or after the water bath? And, if after, how long should you wait before torching or searing?
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