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Salt baking requires a lot of salt. I want to use ice cream rock salt for salt baking because it normally comes in bulk size. But I've been told that the rock salt used for ice cream is not fit for consumption. However, is it safe to use it to salt bake other foods? I.e. Shrimp. The salt isn't being consumed on the shrimp, so I'm curious whether this is safe or not.

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Reading through the transcript on that episode of Good Eats it seems that he intended for the recipe to be done with the ice cream type rock salt:

I also like plain old rock salt. Not only is it good for de-snowing, de-icing your, your front stoop, it's good for, of course, making ice cream, and believe it or not, for baking stuff.

That being said, I would personally feel fine using the rock salt since it doesn't come in direct contact with the edible portion of the shrimp. But if I were buying bulk salt specifically to salt bake I'd err on the side of caution and purchase pretzel salt which has very coarse grains and is safe for consumption.

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  • I think you could be right, but it's really not clear from the transcript if he's actually saying that you can use the same rock salt for all those things. I'd be happier with a slightly more direct reference.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 20, 2013 at 3:40
  • I went and found a video of the episode on YouTube, and the rock salt shown at this point isn't in a package, so it's hard to say what kind of salt it was, but for what it's worth, it looks a lot brighter and clearer (more pure, presumably) than the stuff I've gotten in boxes for ice cream.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 20, 2013 at 6:02
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    Okay, and I don't want to edit your post to change the meaning, but there's another section in the transcript: "KB: ...that isn't a very good example of what we would select for food grade. AB: Why? KB: ... This, this example right here has too high a concentration [of trace minerals] in it. AB: So some trace minerals taste good, and too much gets just bad. So what would you use this for? KB: This would go for de-icing or livestock." This definitely suggests that the stuff you use for de-icing is not what you want anywhere near your food.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 20, 2013 at 6:14
  • FYI, I've edited in the direct link to the transcript. You can get that by right-clicking the transcript link and hitting 'copy link location'. Or several other ways.
    – derobert
    Feb 20, 2013 at 13:25
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    The fact that the same stuff used for sidewalks is used for livestock indicates to me that it is a taste factor, not a personal safety one when kept in reasonable quantities, and ice cream salt is not treated with the additonal chemicals found in road salt. Regardless, I'll stand behind my pretzel salt suggestion as an alternative to trying to find rock salt sold as edible.
    – Emily Anne
    Feb 20, 2013 at 13:43
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There are some kinds of rock salt that are meant for consumption ("food-grade"), and recipes like that salt-baked shrimp intend you to use that sort. While you're not directly eating the salt, it does come into contact with the shrimp, and there's water there to spread things around, so really, you are eating a bit of it. Even if there's not a safety issue (some things could conceivably be toxic) it might well taste bad, and some of the flavor does get into your food. You wouldn't be able to count on this being reliably the same from box to box, either; if it's not food grade, there could be plenty of variety in what the extra minerals are. Sometimes it might be fine, and sometimes it might taste awful.

It can be hard to find food-grade rock salt, though, so if that's an issue, you might consider switching to other salt-crusted recipes that use kosher salt. Especially with shrimp, this should be manageable, because it'll be on the outside of the shells, so though the salt will dissolve more easily, once you peel them it shouldn't be horribly salty.

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  • The salt baking doesn't leave a layer of salt around the outside. However, I am using shell on shrimp. Also kosher salt is way too fine for salt baking.
    – monksy
    Feb 20, 2013 at 0:08
  • @monksy I'm aware of how it works with rock salt, and it doesn't leave visible chunks of salt stuck to the food, but it does transfer some salt nonetheless. It could well be little enough that unsafe rock salt wouldn't hurt you, but since there's no telling what might be in it, you don't really want to chance it. Kosher salt works for a different kind of salt baking, but it accomplishes some of the same goals.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:37
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My food-grade bulk inexpensive salt is water softener salt - the granular stuff that's similar to rock salt, in shape and size, but clean - not the "pelleted" stuff. This would match @Cascabel's description in a comment above. You do need to buy 40 lbs at a time but it keeps well if you keep it sealed and dry, you can share with friends, etc

Oddly enough, it's often cheaper than rock salt (and melts ice just fine if you need that.) It can be ground down for additive free pickling salt, too. Since I have it, and it's often cheaper, it's also what I use for ice cream salt when using that ice cream maker.

To the question: I would not personally "salt bake" anything in common rock salt. Most of what's not salt in that is literal dirt, from what I have seen when I used to use it, and I'm not fond of having to get dirt off my food after cooking. Then again, what got me looking for info on salt baking was my inherent doubt that it did anything to speak of (other than looking showy and making it more complicated) for roasting vegetables, and I found an article that claims Harold McGee concurs for that case.

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  • I was wondering about dishwasher salt (which of course is doing the same job of softening water). That touches things that touch food so should be food safe. It's probably the same stuff as water softener salt, but comes in smaller packs.
    – Chris H
    Jul 29 at 5:40

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