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It is advised to pat a steak dry before frying. I've used paper towels in the past for this, but sometimes parts of them stick to meat. Now and then I've used a clean cloth kitchen towel for patting and put it immediately to wash bin for hygiene reasons. This seems a bit wasteful to me.

How do professional kitchens do this? If they use cloth towels, how often they wash them and do they use different towels for different kinds of food (meat, vegetables, fish, chicken) ?

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I'm not a professional, but at home I always use paper towels (I find that they are much more absorbent than cloth towels) and I've never had a problem with paper sticking to the meat (I'm guessing this depends on the brand). I also speculate that restaurants refrigerate meat uncovered during service which should effectively dry the outside before cooking. On the other hand, refrigerating uncovered may be a health code violation in some areas. –  ESultanik May 7 '11 at 16:50
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Next time your are frying steaks dry one and leave the other as is. If you can seriously spot the difference then invest in some good quality paper towels. Otherwise relax, and bask in the glory of your resource saving! –  TFD May 7 '11 at 22:32
    
Paper towel works, but you want to use a think wad of it to prevent tearing. –  tonylo May 7 '11 at 22:33
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Also, my preferred method for thick cut strip steaks is to cook them in a low oven on a rack until they reach an internal temperature of 32°C and then I sear them in a hot pan for ~2 minutes per side, plus 30 seconds each for the thin sides. The initial oven cook will do a good job of drying the meat before the sear, so the Maillard reactions end up being great, even without pre-drying. –  ESultanik May 8 '11 at 0:37
    
Funny thing... Does nobody here wash their steak before seasoning and frying? Because I do, and then I definitely have to pat. (I use paper towels, but mine are always of the non-tearing kind) –  rumtscho May 8 '11 at 9:10
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I was not familiar with advice to pat meat dry, so I asked a chef what was going on. The answer was... complicated.

First, if you're working with meats that were frozen, you're going to want to remove any moisture which comes from the freezer (frozen humidity, which is essentially water).

For un-marinated meats, you want to be careful how you pat them. The important distinction, in all cases, is not to remove any natural fluids (blood) from the meat. This would remove both moisture and flavor, resulting in bland, dry cuts of meat. So, do not press the meat when patting; this will squeeze moisture out. You should lightly touch/brush the surface, so excess moisture wicks away. That's it.

For marinated meats, it can depend a bit on the marinade, and how much your supposed to keep for flavor. Otherwise, stick with the "remove excess moisture, but nothing else" idea.

So, long story short, if paper towels are sticking to the meat, you're removing too much moisture. Maybe try this the other way around: set a paper towel on your work surface, hold the meat in some tongs, and touch the meat to the towel as you're putting them on to fry.

As to how professional, large scale kitchens do it; they don't. They'll take a large sheet pan, place a drip rack in the pan, and place the steaks on the rack. This allows excess juices to flow off naturally, and everything is easily washable and reusable. If the meat is not cooked quickly after set to dry, you can baste drippings, marinade, or oil onto them just before cooking.

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Interesting ... though, I think how you're planning to cook the meat will make a difference as well - if I were going to fry something I'd make a bit more of an effort to get any standing moisture off the meat than if I were going to grill or bake it, for example. –  overslacked May 8 '11 at 5:17
    
True, cooking method is a bit more complexity which she mentioned, but I forgot to add. In frying, water on the meat will create a barrier between the oil and the meat. In grilling, it would drip off. Natural juices you still want to keep around, as appropriate. As I said, it was a complicated answer. –  Scivitri May 9 '11 at 20:28
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I think that paper towel would be best for hygenic reasons and convenience. In professional kitchens I have been in the paper towels are a tough thin beige type that don't pill easily. We use them to dry many foods and they don't disintegrate or stick. Asking a janitorial company about them could let you know where to purchase them. If you are concerned about using paper towel for environmental reasons or whatever your reasons are and want to use cloth, then there are a couple of foodsafe things to keep in mind. The cloths used on meats should be used only for meats to prevent cross contamination. They should also be sanitized properly to prevent food borne illness. I hope this helps answer your question.

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For large commercial preparation I wash the meat (as it is delivered cryovacted) and use a clean cloth tea towel or better yet, a chucks cloth to pat down. Then I wrap tightly in cling film to shape, portioning a day or two before they are needed. I would usually do 5-20 at a time so I do not think of the tea towel as being wasted.

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