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 out there, I decided I needed to find out what truly works best. Not only for my own piece of mind but to share with anyone else who may have asked this same question. Judging from the many forums and comments, I have seen around this, there are a lot of us.
What was frustrating me 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 be adding salt the day before grilling and letting 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 are actually more than one ways that it can be done correctly.
I’ll be sharing all of 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.
Salt is considered the single most important flavor enhancer of all the spices. Used correctly, salt helps balance sweetness, reduces the bitterness in flavors, physically opens taste buds and 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.
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, how it interacts with meat, the different types of salt and their proper uses and why it is an “essential nutrient” for humans.
What Does Salt Do To A Steak?
First off, it 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 to…well, salty. But be warned, add too much and it will overwhelm the food and make it inedible.
Salt draws 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 and the moisture and juices are reabsorbed back into the meat bringing the salt with it and adding flavor.
Even though the salt has been absorbed back in with the juices, it stays near the surface where the moisture is needed the most. That's because this is where your steak will be getting the most heat.
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, Here Is 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 anywhere from the 10 to 60-minute mark before cooking results in the moisture being pulled up into the salt and then the salt not having enough time to dissolve and be reabsorbed back into the meat.
When placed on a hot grill like this, most of that moisture and salt evaporate and are burned off and lost forever. Yeah, that’s right. Hasta la vista baby! Say goodbye to a super juicy steak.
What’s the solution? It's recommended that you salt right before cooking your meat 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 10-60 minutes before cooking is a no-no! You're better off preparing earlier or waiting until right before grilling.
Which leads me to the results of my research and awesome successes through trial and error.
Dry Brining Or Deep Seasoning
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. It is then allowed to penetrate the meat while resting on the counter or fridge (depending on the method.) This technique has become very popular when cooking whole chickens and especially Thanksgiving Turkeys.
I’ve already covered how the salt interacts with the meat so let's jump right into the first of my three correct ways of salting a steak methods.
Dry Brining Method One:
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. I suggest using either kosher or sea salt. I personally prefer kosher salt.
Generously coat each side of the steak with kosher salt. Place it on a wire rack above a foil-lined tray, leaving it uncovered. You are going to let it rest an hour for every inch of thickness of the steak at room temperature.
- 1-inch thick steak – 1 hour of rest time
- 1.25-inch thick steak – 1 hour and 15 minutes of rest time
After 20 minutes, you will already start seeing the salt becoming wet and soaking up liquid.
Don’t let it rest for much longer than an hour for every inch of the steak or it will become too salty using this method. Timing is pretty crucial here.
When the rest period is over, rinse both sides of the steak in running water to remove the excess salt. When rinsing, rub down the surface of the meat a little bit and gently pull and stretch it to remove most of the outer salty residue. You need to do a good job rinsing or the meat will end up tasting too salty. Pat the meat thoroughly dry with a paper towel.
Again, don’t worry about using so much salt. Just enough of it will get absorbed into the meat while most of it will get rinsed down the drain. Really. 🙂
At this point, you can season as normal but I suggest not adding any more salt or using a seasoning that is high in salt. I usually only add ground pepper with this method personally.
The first time I tried this, my steak came out tasting too salty. I couldn’t understand why I've seen so many positive reviews and comments about this method. I thought to myself, do people really like eating a salt lick? Did I do something wrong? What was going on here? I figured it wouldn't be the first time I messed up so I set out to try it again.
Sure enough, the second time I tried it, I did a much better job of rinsing the salt off the surface and it came out just like all the reviews claimed. A good rinsing of the steak was key (something most people don't mention). The steak was juicy, tender and exploding with flavor.
Dry Brining Method Two:
This method is going to require a little more patience. 1 to 3 days of patience to be more exact.
Again, you are going to start with a steak that is at least one inch thick. You will also be doing the patting dry of the surface with paper towels to remove excess moisture thing again.
Like method one, you don’t want to use table salt. Again, I suggest kosher salt for this method but sea salt works as well.
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, sea and kosher salt flakes are 2-3 times the size of standard table salt.
Place it on a wire rack above a foil-lined tray. Leave it uncovered and into the fridge, it goes.
With this method, you're really going for deep seasoning. You're going to leave it like this for 1-3 days. I set up three steaks like this, tried one on all three days, and found that all three produced great results with the three-day steak being the best.
No Need To Rinse With Method Two
There's no need to rinse off the excess salt before cooking with this method as the meat has sucked it all up. The wire rack is good for allowing air circulation to flow around the entire piece of meat. If you don’t have a rack, it is ok to place it directly on the foiled tray but it is a good idea to flip the meat once halfway through the rest period.
If it comes out tasting great after resting for three days and you're tempted to try for four or more the next time, don’t. Rest 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 Three:
The final method is the one I find myself using more often than not mainly due to the time factor.
Follow the same steps as method number two, but you're only going to let the steak rest for 1 to 3 hours. The time is completely up to you and what you have to work with. If you're planning to let it rest more than 1 ½ hours, though, put it in the fridge uncovered. If less, leave it out of the fridge at room temperature.
When you're ready to grill, rinse the steak thoroughly with running water to remove any leftover salt from the surface, season and grill. Remember, do not add any additional salt or use seasonings heavy in salt.
Lastly, if you don’t have the time to wait for any of these methods, I recommend again to salt right before you start your cook. Anything between the 10-60 minute mark will be doing your steak a big disservice.
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 right here. Just set your grill up using the two-zone grilling (direct, and indirect) technique to create a reverse sear. You will thank me later.
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I hope you've enjoyed my tips on Salting Steaks Before Grilling and it proves helpful to you. I also hope that you are one step closer to joining me in “The Grilling Life”!