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I tried cooking a steak a few days ago. Having watched quite a few videos on YouTube, many of them suggested to salt the steak and leave it uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours or so, on a cooling rack.

Any video I've seen says to salt liberally, and that if you think that you've put enough, you didn't. I salted my steak liberally, and I don't think it was too much, it certainly seemed to be a lot less than what those videos showed. The idea is that with a very long period with the salt, it will draw out moisture, and some of the moisture will be reabsorbed, but with higher salt content, thus seasoning the deeper part of the steak as well.

At the end I managed to get a beautiful crust and an incredibly salty steak. It wasn't disgusting, but it was on the upper limit of what I'm willing to eat.

I am guessing that the main failure is the difference in weight. Most of the videos are cooking one of them huge steaks, 500g slabs of meat, or even more (I'm not counting the weight of the bone in tomahawks, clearly). My steak was about 250g or so.

Is there a formula, or some suggestions, as to what would be a good amount of salt based on the size of the steak, so that the next time it won't be terrible? And how would that formula change based on the length of the dry brining process? I understand that an hour on the counter is very different from 24h in the fridge.

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  • Consideration of the thickness of what you're cooking when seasoning is rather important. I once lightly seasoned some chicken skins that I was crisping up while cooking the rest of the chicken separately, and they were basically a salt lick when I was done as it had no real volume to it. (so I crushed them up and used them like bacon to season other dishes) – Joe Dec 16 '20 at 17:43
  • I generally try to only cook steak that are thick. Last few times I was ordering online from a local butcher, but when I got to the store I usually ask for a very thick cut so I can reverse sear instead of pan frying. – Ink blot Dec 18 '20 at 11:42
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    Dry brining is an odd term. It just sounds like what I would call curing. Brining must surely involve water. – Neil Meyer Dec 19 '20 at 16:43
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I've seen reference to 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound. For a steak, I'll do a few hours at most, but more often salt right before cooking. For a roast chicken, I salt and leave uncovered in fridge for up to two days. For the steak, salting far in advance leads to a more "cured" texture that I don't enjoy. For the bird, salting in advance gives me a more enjoyable texture, flavor, and crisp skin.

Perhaps semantics for some...but it is not brining, which, in my book implies a liquid environment...it is simply salting. I do realize that good folks will differ on my interpretation, but all you have to do is look up the definition of "brine."

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  • Thanks. I've seen videos with comparisons of 24h, 1 hour, and 15 minutes prior to cooking, and the 24h was a clear winner. I do enjoy the texture, which I guess is a personal preference (I understand that for a thinner steak it might be too much, but my steaks are usually 2 or 3cm thick). As for the term, well, that's the term I've seen being used "dry brining". I'm not a native English speaker, so I won't comment on that. – Ink blot Dec 15 '20 at 22:07
  • There are a lot of terms in cooking that don't make sense. (like Americans calling griddle cakes "pancakes"). You don't have to like the term 'dry brining', but that's what they're calling what Inkblot is asking about. – Joe Dec 16 '20 at 17:08
  • @Joe..."they?".... Plenty in the cooking community call it "salting." As I mention in my response, "good folks will differ." IMHO, accuracy is important. It's not a brine. – moscafj Dec 16 '20 at 18:07
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    @Inkblot SeriousEats suggests (and my personal experience supports) that the best results come from salting a steak either less than five minutes or more than 40 minutes before cooking. As you suggest in your question, if the salt is allowed to sit on the steak for a few minutes, it will draw out some water and then dissolve into it and slowly reabsorb. If you cook the steak after the water has been pulled to the surface but before it can reabsorb, you won't be able to get as good a sear – BThompson Dec 17 '20 at 19:07
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    @Inkblot Huh. For some reason I had it in my head that you were salting them for like half an hour. Rereading this post, I'm not sure where that came from. Regardless, hopefully that tidbit helps some other future steak-researcher. Happy eating! – BThompson Dec 18 '20 at 14:08
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If a cure has the effect of too aggressively salting the meat then you can consider making a softer cure. You make a cure softer by adding a certain amount of sugar too it, but to be honest if your meat has too harsh a taste of salt it probably means you cured it for too long.

Generally time is the thing you need to control. For an immersive cure you need enough salt to completely immerse the meat in curing agent, this can at times be quite a lot, but the time it sits in the salt is the important part

Curing for 24 hours seems like way too long. When I make Biltong, the beef is cured for 2 hours and then it is doused with a spice mixture for flavour and let to rest overnight.

If you use kosher salt you can see when the cure is complete when the salt-crystal turn a dark color. As the cure removes moisture from the meat, the moisture turns the crystal a darker color.

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  • I'm not sure that what's true for biltong (which is very thin) is true for a 3cm thick steak. Even the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt experiment said that 40 minutes or longer and even overnight in the fridge is fine. He's not a man who's known to be wrong about these things. – Ink blot Dec 19 '20 at 20:54

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