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When should you salt meat?

I’ve heard there are two times you should salt meat:

  1. Just before it’s going to be cooked, and no sooner. Salt draws moisture out of the meat, and it will be dry if you salt it too early.
  2. As early as possible; at least a day in advance. Salt draws moisture out of the meat, but then the moisture is re-absorbed with the salt due to osmosis.

*Of course, option 3 is to use a brine.

I’ve been a fan of option 2 ever since I read Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Or, more accurately, since I cooked her delicious Zuni Roast Chicken recipe, where you salt the chicken at least 24 hours ahead of time. But which way is right?

Here is a fascinating article in Food+Wine that takes on this question. A professional chef who was taught that BOTH ways are how it must be done. In two different kitchens, which both produced great food. He decided to find out for himself – when should you salt meat?

The Juicy Secret to Seasoning Meat [foodandwine.com], via [lifehacker.com]

*The short form of his answer is…it depends. On the type of meat. I won’t steal his thunder; read the article to find out what that means.

Update: OK, I will summarize.
*But read the article anyhow.  It’s quick and entertaining.  
Chicken, Lamb – salt early if at all possible.  Steak – it doesn’t seem to matter, or it’s a matter of taste; both work.  Pork – salt as late as possible.

The last one surprised me, but matched my experience with a rack of pork I cooked at Christmas (early salting = dry).  I think the summary should be: “Pork = use a brine or salt as late as possible”.  Darn, this means I will have to revisit some of my recipes to see if they work better with a brine.  Are ribs on sale again?

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Filed under: Ramblings


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.

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