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Before cooking a steak, you're supposed to let it sit out at room temperature. You're also supposed to salt it. What is the proper timing for these steps? How long do you let the steak come up to temperature, and how long before you cook it do you salt it?

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Is this from frozen, or assuming it's already been thawed in the refrigerator (or never frozen)? –  Aaronut Jul 9 '10 at 20:25
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Fresh. The reason to let it come up to temperature is so that it takes less time to cook (in the center). Otherwise it will be well done on the outside and rare in the middle. –  user73 Jul 9 '10 at 20:28
    
Actually, you don't need to put it out of the fridge before cooking. There is really only a very small difference in temperature after two hours, and this is negligible in the cooking process. –  Mien Jul 20 '13 at 9:42

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In this thread, Lorenzo notes that steaks may end up raw in the center if you only leave 'em out for 10-15 minutes to come up to temperature. I recommend 30 mins, but it will probably vary on what room temperature actually is for you.

From Weber's Way To Grill, which recommends salting right when you take them out of the fridge, here's Mr. Purviance's take on why you should consider salting early:

It's true that salt draws moisture toward itself, but over the course of 20 to 30 minutes that's a good thing, because the salt begins to dissolve into that little bit of moisture. When the steak hits the hot grate... [you] create a delicious crust. Any moisture you might lose is well worth the flavor of that crust.

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I usually take it out of the refrigerator an hour prior to cooking and salt 30 minutes prior to cooking. I think I heard these numbers from a Good Eats episode, but I could be totally mistaken on where I picked up this habit.

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this will make the meat dry –  Daniel Moura Jul 9 '10 at 22:58
    
prior cooking you should add for barbecue or baking in an oven, but that is just immediately cooking, not 30 minutes before. –  Daniel Moura Jul 9 '10 at 23:03

I don't salt my steaks / marinades until after they've been served - just put salt and pepper on the table. Salt does add to the flavour, but it also sucks out moisture. By skipping the salt the steaks stay juicier and the meal is more friendly for those of us with high blood pressure.

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I usually marinate my steaks, so take 'em out about 2 hrs before and toss them in a zip-top bag coat 'em with a fair bit of worsteshire, then add in some soy sauce, seal, massage it, and leave it on the counter.

Needless to say, I don't add any extra salt, but I do pat 'em dry before cooking.

...

Also, I'd think that what temperature you keep your home at might be a factor (which tends to be a cultural thing) My kitchen might be anywhere from 65F to 90F depending on the time of year.

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Your home gets to 90?! –  hobodave Jul 19 '10 at 2:34
    
@hobodave : Not the whole home -- just the kitchen; I don't cool it in the summer time (major source of heat + trying to compete w/ overworked air conditioning), so I only cool the main living area, not the kitchen. As it was up to 106F last week and I have a 70 year old home with negligible insulation, even with the large shade trees near the house, yes, the kitchen gets up to 90F. Especially when cooking. –  Joe Jul 19 '10 at 3:34

I leave them out at least 15 minutes. Salt the down side just before cooking and then the upper side just before turning it. The flavor penetration is very different from salt added after cooking and the meat stays juicy.

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Kenji Alt has done experiments in the The Food Lab: 7 Old Wives' Tales About Cooking Steak That Need To Go Away, and determined that bringing the steak to room temperature prior to cooking does not actually have any real effect.

It turns out that even an hour or two on the counter makes little difference to the temperature in the center of the steak.

The limiting factor for browning is the evaporating all of the surface water so that the temperature can rise above 212 F / 100 C. Due to the significant energy required for evaporation, the energy required to warm the steak from refrigerator temperature becomes insignificant.

On the other hand, when and how you salt does make a difference in the quality. The best options are to salt at least 40 minutes before cooking, or right at the time of cooking.

The reason is that if you salt 40 minutes ahead, the salt dissolves, and then the juices are reabsorbed. With less time, there is not time for reabsorption, so you would be better off waiting until the time of the cooking.

Kenji's conclusion is:

Don't bother letting your steaks rest at room temperature. Rather, dry them very thoroughly on paper towels before searing. Or better yet, salt them and let them rest uncovered on a rack in the fridge for a night or two, so that their surface moisture can evaporate. You'll get much more efficient browning that way.

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