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3 Different Ways to Season a Steak
There are three main ways to season a steak, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. In order of speed, they are:
- Salting before cooking: Rubbing a steak with kosher salt and oil half an hour before cooking is a quick way to season your meat.
- Wet brining: Wet brining is the process of submerging a steak in a salt solution for up to 24 hours before cooking.
- Dry brining: Dry brining is the process of rubbing a steak with salt, then allowing it to rest in a chilled environment with plenty of airflow for up to 48 hours.
Why Salt a Steak?
Want perfect steak? You’ll need salt. Salt draws the steak’s internal moisture to the surface through osmosis. As the moisture rises, it dissolves the salt and creates a brine that breaks down and tenderizes the steak’s muscle tissue and allows for Maillard browning—a reaction that occurs when enzymes and amino acids in certain ingredients are subjected to high heat. In the kitchen, it refers to the crusty flavorful browning and appealing aromas that often arise from grilling, searing, and roasting certain foods.
How to Salt a Steak
The purist philosophy of seasoning a steak is to keep things simple and allow the natural flavor of the beef to shine. If you’re grilling, a little oil and salt are all you need. Try a neutral oil like grapeseed, which has a high smoke point that can stand up to the hottest points of the fire; grapeseed oil also has a mild flavor that won’t impact the flavor of the beef. Drizzle a little oil on the steak, then season the steak generously with salt well in advance of cooking. If you’re not using oil, still be sure to let the steak sit at room temperature for at least half an hour before seasoning and searing.
The rule of thumb for most home cooks is: If it feels like too much salt, it’s not. Keep going until you’ve got a nice, even layer on the surface of the meat, coating each side. Be sure to use kosher salt, not sea salt or iodized table salt. Kosher salt’s coarse grain is perfectly suited for the craggy surface of a steak.
Once it’s cooked to your desired level of doneness, rested, and sliced against the grain, finish that perfect medium-rare meat off with a sprinkle of flaky salt crystals.
What Is Wet Brining a Steak?
Wet brining—not to be confused with marinating—gives a steak its flavor by submerging the meat in a salt solution before cooking. A common brine ratio is 1 cup of salt for 1 gallon of water, and is an ideal vehicle for infusing other flavors into the meat—like smashed garlic or whole spices. This salt solution works its way into the meat fibers more quickly than it would with a dry brine, so it only needs anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours at most, depending on the cut. Wet brining steak is less common than dry brining—it’s typically used for chickens and turkeys—but it works well on a tougher cut of beef like brisket.
How to Wet Brine a Steak
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To wet brine a steak, combine 1 cup of kosher salt with 1 gallon of water and any additional seasonings you’d like. Make sure the meat is fully submerged in the brining solution, then store in the fridge. When ready to cook, remove the meat from the solution and pat down with paper towels as best you can.
What Is Dry Brining a Steak?
Dry brining is a way to brine a steak without using any liquid, relying on a coating of salt and pepper and a set period of time—anywhere from 45 minutes to 48 hours—stowed in the refrigerator to work its magic. This allows the salt to more effectively permeate the cut of meat and tenderize it at the same time. The depth of flavor achieved with a dry brine is a level up from a basic season-and-cook.
How to Dry Brine a Steak
Coat the surface of your steak with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt (and black pepper, if you’d like) per every 1 pound of meat. Thick steak cuts, in particular, require more time. Airflow is also crucial to a dry brine, so place the meat on a small rack with a pan or plate underneath to catch any drippings. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels before searing in a cast iron pan or grilling.
What Other Spices Can Be Used to Season Steak?
In addition to salt and freshly ground black pepper, you can create a rub with any number of other spices to season steak. Some delicious options include:
- Garlic powder
- Mustard powder
- Chili powder, like cayenne
- Onion powder—for a hint of caramelized allium
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