How and Why to Salt Meat (aka Dry Brine)

Salt is a necessary cooking ingredient that can preserve meat without refrigeration, making it an essential staple for any prepper. There are many different ways to salt meats and you should take the time before your next camping trip or barbecue to make sure you know how.

Salt is a necessary ingredient in cooking. It adds flavor and keeps the food from drying out. Salt also helps preserve meat by preventing bacteria growth, but it’s important to know how and when to salt your meat before cooking it. Read more in detail here: why salt meat before cooking.

When it comes to grilling meat, if you’re like most people, including myself until recently, you season and salt it immediately before you toss it on the fire. And it all works out well. There’s no harm, no foul, and some delicious meat. 

But, recently, I picked out a method that has completely transformed my grilling game — and, indeed, how I prepare meat for any kind of cooking — for the better.

Here’s how it goes: Apply salt far ahead of time, up to a day before cooking, and you’ll have the juiciest, most balanced piece of meat you’ve ever had. 

This practice is known as “dry brining,” and it has a lot of supporters. Matt Moore, AoM’s resident chef, informed me that he “really believes in the dry brine.”  

Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (and presenter of the excellent Netflix series of the same name), is another supporter, and it was via him that I learned about the concept.

Dry brining, on the other hand, is a contentious procedure. Those who oppose it claim that it dries out the meat too much, removing the liquid and making it harder. After all, salt is how meat was kept before refrigeration, and it’s still a key part of jerky manufacturing today. 

The impact of salt on meat, on the other hand, changes throughout time. Curing meat by smothering it with salt and leaving it to rest for lengthy periods of time will take out moisture and cure it. 

When meat is brined with less salt for a shorter period of time, however, the reverse happens: “salt will breakdown protein strands into a gel, enabling them to absorb and retain water better as they cook,” explains Nosrat. 

In her book, Nosrat delves more into this chemical mechanism, which, although a bit science-y, is worth understanding: 

Consider a protein strand to be a loose coil with water molecules clinging to its surface. When you heat an unseasoned protein, the coil unravels, releasing water molecules from the protein matrix, leaving the meat dry and harsh if overdone. Salt stops the coil from tightly coagulating, or clumping, when heated, by breaking the protein structure, allowing more water molecules to stay bound. The meat stays moister, and you have a bigger margin for error when it comes to overcooking. [italics mine]

Pre-salting meat not only keeps it juicy, but it also makes it more difficult to overcook it! That makes it a winner on its own, particularly when using chicken and pig. 

Last but not least, dry brining improves flavor dispersion in the meat. When you season just the top of a piece of meat right before cooking, you frequently end up with a flavorful outside layer and a bland inside layer. However, seasoning the cut ahead of time ensures that it is equally seasoned. The salt grains dissolve and permeate the meat over time; according to the principle of diffusion, which is a gradual process, the salt will seek chemical equilibrium inside the tissue, resulting in an equitable distribution.

 

It’s just too simple to forget to salt your meat ahead of time. I understand that you could go to the supermarket after work for some meat and then throw it on the grill as soon as you come home. That’s perfectly OK. However, if you have the meat ahead of time, season it and set it aside.

How to Brine Meat in a Dry Brine 

Any time is better than none when it comes to salting meat for cooking, and more is better than some. When feasible, season meat the day before cooking. —Nosrat

You may dry brine almost any kind of meat, including entire chicken, hog (even bigger portions like the shoulder; ham isn’t recommended since it’s already salted), beef, and even shellfish (should only be salted for about 15 minutes though). If using ground meats, such as for burgers or meatballs, salt just after they’ve been prepared (salt the outside of the burgers/meatballs rather than the whole meat) and only for a few hours; ground flesh simply reacts to salting differently since it has more surface area.    

As previously stated, this process may be used to prepare meat for any kind of preparation, including grilling steaks, slow-cooking pork, pan-frying chicken breast pieces for fajitas, and oven roasting entire birds. You wouldn’t mix a dry brine with a marinade, however. Most marinades are vinegar-based, and they affect the meat differently from what you’re hoping to do with the salt. When it comes to additional dry spices, start with the salt, then add your other steak or fajita ingredients just before cooking. You’re basically seeking to add flavor to the outside with the other spices. 

Here’s how it’s done: 

1. Sprinkle 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat equally over the top, bottom, and sides. It’s not an excessive quantity of salt, but it’s more than you’d ordinarily use. Use whatever salt you have on hand, whether it’s kosher or ordinary salt. Because salt penetrates skin, you may apply it straight to the outside of chicken with the skin still on. (The salt will also dry the skin, making it extra crispy and tasty.)

2. Place in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours, without covering (whatever your schedule and fridge space allows for). Large items, such as entire turkeys, birds, pig butts, and so on, may be salted up to 48 hours ahead of time with no negative consequences.

3. Take the meat out of the fridge and cook it! 

 

 

Salt is an essential ingredient to make meat taste good. However, too much salt can ruin the taste of your food. It’s important to use a dry brine when cooking meats so that the salt doesn’t get in contact with the meat. Reference: dry brine steak too salty.

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