In this ultimate griller’s guide to salting your steak, I’m going to be giving you the best techniques for salting steaks before grilling.
When is the perfect time for salting steaks before grilling? I can’t count how many times I have seen this question asked online, or how many contradicting answers I’ve come across while trying to find the answer.
With all the conflicting info, I decided I needed to find out what works best. Not only for my own peace of mind but to share with anyone else who may have asked this same question. And judging from the many forum comments I have read on this topic, there are a lot of you.
What was frustrating me the most was that you could do a search and read five articles on this topic and it would be highly likely that you would find five different opinions on when to salt a steak.
Should you add salt the day before grilling and let it sit overnight? Six hours before? An hour? Should you only add salt right before you put your steak on the grill? For that matter, is there really a wrong way to salt a steak?
I’ve come across every variation of these suggestions and much more while looking to find an answer.
If this all seems a little confusing, then welcome to the club. This conflicting info wasn’t working for me, so I set out to get a definitive answer through research and trial and error.
Well, it turns out there definitely IS a “wrong way” when it comes to salting a steak. I also found out during my research that there is more than one way that it can be done correctly.
I’ll be sharing all this with you in a minute, but first, let’s talk a little bit about why you would want to use salt on your steak in the first place.
Table of Contents
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Why Use Salt on your Steak?
We all know that too much salt can be bad for your health, but did you know that salt is an “essential nutrient” for all humans? Not only does it make most foods taste better, but your body also actually needs it, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Salt is considered the single most important flavor enhancer of all seasonings. While technically not a spice, salt is an organic mineral found in nature. Used correctly, salt helps balance sweetness, reduces the bitterness in flavors, and physically opens taste buds. Just a small quantity can bring a lot of life to any dish. It also helps to retain moisture during cooking and can tenderize meat if left to work its magic.
Here is a great article about “The Science Of Salt” on one of my favorite sites written by Meathead Goldwyn. It is a very good read to help you understand exactly what salt is, and how it interacts with meat. He covers the different types of salt and their proper uses, and why it is an “essential nutrient” for humans.
This is a good read because once you understand the science of salt, what it does, and how it interacts with meat, you will have a better understanding of the proper way to use it when cooking.
What does Salt do to a Steak?
To start with, salt ramps up the taste of your steak. Salt is a big flavor enhancer and when applied correctly, it will do so without making the food taste too…well, salty. But be warned, add too much salt and it will overwhelm the food and make it inedible.
But what does it do to a steak?
Once applied, salt immediately starts to draw water (not to be confused with flavor,) out of the meat which is then absorbed into the salt. Given the proper time, the salt will then dissolve in the water and form a briny liquid. The moisture and juices are then reabsorbed back into the meat bringing the salt with it while adding its flavor and tenderizing the meat.
Even though the salt has been absorbed back in with the juices, this mixture stays near the surface of the meat where the moisture is needed the most. That’s because the surface is where your steak will be getting the most heat while grilling.
This process also tenderizes the tough fibers of the steak by relaxing and denaturing the proteins in the meat and helping them to hold in moisture. This, in turn, produces a more tender, juicy, and flavorful steak.
So how do you get great results by salting steaks before grilling every time you cook one?
First, let’s Talk about the Wrong Way to Salt your Steaks Before Grilling
I explained earlier that when you season a steak with salt, the salt immediately starts to draw out moisture from the meat. Salting your steak anywhere between the 10 to 59-minute mark before cooking results in the moisture being drawn out and absorbed into the salt.
This is exactly what we want but the problem is, the salt has not had enough time to dissolve and be sufficiently reabsorbed back into the meat. The process to reabsorb the salty moisture usually takes at least 60 minutes or more.
When placed on a hot grill when much of the salt and moisture are still sitting on the surface, most of that moisture and salt evaporate and are burned off by the heat and flames. Yeah, that’s right. Hasta la vista baby! Say goodbye to a super juicy steak.
What’s the solution? I recommended that you wait to salt your steak right before adding your meat to the flame if you don’t have the time to wait the 60-plus minutes it takes for the moisture and salt to be reabsorbed back into your steak.
Just remember that salting anywhere between 10-59 minutes before cooking is a no-no! You’re better off preparing earlier and giving the salt the time to work its magic. If you are short on time, it’s best to wait until right before grilling to add your salt.
Now that we understand a little bit about how the salt interacts with the meat and the basic timing involved, let’s talk about the dry brining process.
What does Dry Brining or Deep Seasoning Mean?
Dry brining, “pre-salting” or “deep seasoning” is a term used for the method of salting and then resting foods before you cook them. Dry brining is my preferred method over wet brining for adding deep seasoning and juiciness to meat. You can find out why in the link to my dry brining vs wet brining article below.
Numerous sources credit chef Judy Rodgers at her San Francisco restaurant Zuni Café as being the one who popularized the “Dry Brining” technique after the recipe for her famous roast chicken was published in her cookbook.
The secret is to rub salt or a salt and herb mixture on meat for a set amount of time before cooking it. It is then allowed to penetrate the meat while resting on the counter or fridge for at least an hour or more depending on the method used and the size and thickness of the meat.
This technique has become very popular when cooking whole chickens and is frequently used when preparing Thanksgiving Turkeys.
For an in-depth look at the dry brining process, you can read my guide How Does Dry Brining Work – A Grillers Guide To Dry Brining
You can also see my guide on Dry Brining vs Wet Brining – Which To Use, When, And Why
I’ve already covered how salt interacts with meat once applied and what dry brining means. So next, we are going to jump into choosing the right salt to use for brining steaks. And yes, there is a right salt to use.
What is the Best Salt to use for Salting Steaks?
Kosher salt is the best salt for salting and dry brining steaks. Kosher salt has large grain, and coarse flakes and is not as salty as table salt. Two great examples are Morton’s Kosher Salt and Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, with the second being my preferred choice. But both work very well.
Kosher salt has many benefits for dry brining which include:
- Kosher salt’s flat and grainy crystals dissolve better in liquid and creates a crystal-clear brine that is perfect for steaks.
- The large flat texture makes it stick better to the meat.
- The larger flakes don’t clump like table salt and give you better control over your seasoning.
- It is purer than table salt.
- The large flakes are not as salty making it harder to over-salt.
On the other hand, table salt is much finer than kosher salt and packs together tightly. That means that using a tablespoon of table salt will have twice the salting power and be much saltier than the same tablespoon of kosher salt.
If you must use table salt, you should understand that you should always measure salt by weight instead of volume. A good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of table salt as you would kosher salt.
Unlike kosher salt, most table salts include trace amounts of iodine added to them which can cause a slightly bitter taste to your food. Not everybody notices it, but if you are sensitive to it, you will.
While table salt may be a good choice for wet brining, stick to kosher salt when dry brining your steaks.
Now that we know the best salt to use for salting your steaks before grilling, let’s talk about the three different methods I tested.
Dry Brining Method One: Salting Steaks Over Night
This method is going to require a little patience. 1 to 3 days of patience to be more exact.
You want to start with a steak that is at least one inch thick. Pat both sides dry using a paper towel to remove the excess moisture.
For this method, the salt crystals need to be larger than your standard table salt. As we talked about in the section on the best salt to use for dry brining steaks, I suggest using kosher salt.
You’re going to want to be much more precise with your salt when using this method.
Measure out a ½ teaspoon (can be reduced to ¼) of kosher salt per pound of meat and coat each side of the steak. If you are used to using standard table salt, this will look like a huge amount of salt. Just remember, kosher salt flakes are 2-3 times the size of standard table salt and do not pack together as tightly.
Place the steak on a wire rack above a foil-lined tray so that air can circulate around the entire steak. Leave it uncovered and place it into the fridge.
With this method, you’re really going for deep seasoning. You’re going to leave the steak resting in the fridge for 1-3 days.
I set up three steaks using this method. I took the first one out after 24 hours and grilled it. I grilled the second steak on day two and the third steak on day three.
I found that all three produced great results with the three-day steak being the best. That was my personal preference, but let’s be honest. Leaving an uncovered steak in the fridge for three days is not very convenient, not to mention the wife is not very fond of this.
I think for most people, letting the steak rest overnight is the perfect option.
No Need to Rinse the Steak Using this Method
There’s no need to rinse off the excess salt before cooking with this method as the meat has drawn it all in. If you plan to add additional seasoning before you grill up your steak, look for low-salt options.
As I mentioned earlier, the wire rack is perfect for allowing air circulation to flow around the entire piece of meat. If you don’t have a wire rack, it is ok to place it directly on a foiled tray, but it is a good idea to flip the meat halfway through the rest period.
Safety Warning: If you loved the flavor after resting for three days and you’re tempted to try for longer the next time, don’t. Rest a steak like this any longer than three days and you will be getting dangerously close to food safety issues and bacteria growth. Don’t be the guy (or gal) who gets their family and friends sent to the hospital for food poisoning.
Dry Brining Method Two: Salting Steaks the Same Day
The second method is the one I find myself using more often than not mainly due to time and the convenience factor.
Start by following the same steps as method number one, but you’re only going to let the steak rest for 1 to 3 hours. The time is completely up to you so use what you have to work with. If you’re planning to let it rest for more than 1 ½ hours, though, put it in the fridge uncovered. If less than 1 ½ hours, then it is ok to leave it out of the fridge at room temperature.
Here is an easy breakdown of this method:
- Use kosher salt.
- Place the steak on a wire rack above a foil-lined tray.
- Measure out ½ teaspoon (can be reduced to ¼) of kosher salt per pound of meat and evenly coat each side of the steak.
- Let rest for 1 to 3 hours. Refrigerate if resting for more than 1 ½ hours.
- After resting, use a paper towel to wipe off excess salt.
- Use a no-salt or low-salt seasoning and grill.
When you’re ready to grill, use a paper towel to wipe off any leftover salt, season, and cook. Remember, you do not need to add any additional salt and should use seasonings low in salt.
As I mentioned above, this is the method I use most often, and am always perfectly happy with the results.
Dry Brining Method Three: Dry Brining to the Extreme
Using this method, you are going to completely cover your steak on all sides with coarse kosher salt. I know this sounds extreme, but bear with me.
Spoiler Alert: This is the method I recommend the least as the other two methods I tested provides a lot more room for error and produce fantastic results. But when done properly, this method can transform a cheap, tough steak into something much better.
I have seen several videos of people testing this method like this one: Poor Man’s Filet Mignon, and it blew my mind. I just couldn’t understand how using that much salt didn’t make the steak inedible.
It took some trial and error when testing this method out, but the final results surprised me.
Let me break it down for you.
As before, you want to start with a steak that is at least one inch thick. Pat both sides dry using a paper towel to remove the excess moisture.
Using this method, you must use coarse-grained salt. Again, I highly suggest kosher salt. I used table salt one time and it was so over-the-top salty that I couldn’t eat it. I used coarse salt after that, and it turned out much better.
I want to stress again, for this method, the salt crystals need to be larger than your standard table salt. I suggest using either kosher salt or you could use sea salt. I personally prefer kosher salt.
To start, generously coat each side of the steak with kosher salt. When I say generously, I mean use enough salt to where you can’t see the steak. Place it on a wire rack above a foil-lined tray, leaving it uncovered.
You are going to let it rest for about an hour for every inch of thickness of the steak at room temperature. Remember, if you are resting for more than 1 ½ hours. Then stick it in the refrigerator.
Here’s an Example of How Long to Rest the Steak Using This Method
As with all these methods, patience is your friend. Resting the steak before cooking is the key to letting the salt work its magic. Below are my recommendations for how long you should rest the steak before it’s ready.
- 1-inch thick steak – 1 hour of rest time
- 1.25-inch thick steak – 1 hour and 15 minutes of rest time
After only 20 minutes, you will already be able to see the salt becoming wet and soaking up the liquid. See the above picture for an example.
Don’t let it rest for much longer than an hour for every inch of the steak or may become too salty using this method. Timing is crucial here.
If you put it in the fridge, once the resting period is over, take it out and let the meat come up to room temperature.
You Must Rinse the Salt Off before Grilling
When the rest period is over, rinse both sides of the steak in cool running water to remove the excess salt. When rinsing, rub down the surface of the meat well. Gently pull and stretch the meat to remove most of the outer salty residue from all the nooks and crannies.
And I stress, you need to do a good job of rinsing or the meat will end up tasting too salty. After rinsing, the meat should be a darker color and you should be able to see more open ridges where the meat has been tenderized.
Pat the meat thoroughly dry with a paper towel and let it rest for 15 minutes while you season it up. Avoid adding any seasoning with additional salt included. I prefer only using coarse ground black pepper and garlic powder personally.
I have to admit, the first time I tried this method, I used table salt and my steak came out tasting way too salty. I couldn’t understand why I’d seen so many positive reviews and comments about this method. I thought to myself, do these people really enjoy eating a salt lick? Did I do something wrong? What am I missing here?
I figured it wouldn’t be the first time I didn’t get the results I was after so I set out to try it again.
Sure enough, the second time I tried it, I used kosher salt and I did a much better job of rinsing the surface. This time, it came out just like all the reviews claimed. The right salt and a good rinsing of the steak were key (something not always mentioned).
The steak was very flavorful, although you must be a salt lover for this method. More importantly, it transformed a cheap chewy steak into a much juicier and more tender one.
Although this method turned out well in the end, it was messy and a lot of work. Would I use this method again? Not a chance. There are easier ways to get these results.
The easiest way to get a juicy and tender steak is to spend on quality meat, but if that is not always an option, then this method might be worth a try. Otherwise, I would stick to one of the first two methods as they provide good results.
Lastly, just a reminder. If you don’t have the time to wait for any of these methods, I recommend again salting your steak right before you start your cook. Anything between the 10–60-minute mark will be doing your steak a big disservice.
Salting Steaks Before Grilling FAQ
If you still have questions, I’m here to help. My goal is to arm you with enough information to salt your steak before grilling perfectly for the best results every time.
Below I provide answers to a few frequently asked salting steak questions to help you out.
Be sure to check back on this guide, as we often add questions and update the answers with new articles!
Do you Rinse Steak After Salting?
You do not need to rinse your steak after salting or brining it in most cases. There are a few exceptions though. If you notice there is leftover salt on the surface after brining your steak for a few hours, it is a good idea to simply wipe off the excess with a paper towel.
On the other hand, you should rinse the steak after salting if you used the technique where you completely cover the steak in a salt brine and let it rest for an hour per inch. In this case, the salt left on the surface will be overpowering unless you rinse the steak before cooking.
A good example of this is my method above: Dry Brining Method Three: Dry Brining to the Extreme.
How Much Salt should I put on my Steak?
You should use ½ teaspoon (can be reduced to ¼) of kosher salt per pound of meat applied on both sides of the steak. This measurement can be reduced or increased by ¼ depending on your preference. I would recommend starting with ½ teaspoon first and adjusting before your next cook.
Do you Salt both Sides of a Steak?
Yes, you should salt both the top and bottom of your steak and the sides as well. You want to make sure there is a visible layer of salt on every surface. The only part of a steak that does not need to be salted is the visible fat.
Salt will penetrate the fat but not the meat right under the fat. It will flavor the fat but not the meat under it. Is it still worth salting the fat then? I say yes, just don’t overdo it.
Should you Oil Steak before Seasoning?
You do not need to oil your steak before seasoning, especially if you have a quality, marbled cut of meat. And if you use Kosher salt, and I recommend that you do, its large flat texture makes it stick to the meat really well.
If you do decide to oil your steak before seasoning, brush a light coating onto the meat, not the pan if using one to ensure you have an even coating.
Final Thoughts on Our Salting Steaks before Grilling Guide
Knowing when and how much salt to use when salting steaks before grilling will help take your steak game to the next level. That is because salt is the ultimate flavor enhancer. Not only does it help the steak retain moisture and make it more tender, but it also makes for a much more flavorful experience.
After testing out all three methods, I suggest starting small the first few times. Work on perfecting the same-day steak salting technique and dial in the amount that works best for you. Once you nail your perfect steak, move on to perfecting an overnight rest and move on from there.
If you’re feeling really brave, you can even try the Dry Brining to the Extreme method. Just keep in mind, it’s the hardest technique to perfect. I would personally skip this method unless I was desperate for a steak and the only cut of meat available was a below-quality cut. Otherwise, stick to method one or two.
I really want to hear about your experiences testing out any or all of the three methods of salting steaks before grilling I described above. Leave me a comment or question below so we can get the conversation started.
Now that you have Perfected Salting Steaks before Grilling, Now what?
Well since you asked, I suggest finishing your steaks off using my highly recommended reverse sear grilling method. You can follow the instructions easily using my guide. Just set your grill up using the two-zone grilling method (direct, and indirect) to create a reverse sear. The results are worth it. You will thank me later.
Now It’s Your Turn
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Have you used a charcoal smoker and have any tips to share?
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Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.
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