How to Salt a Steak

Salting a steak is more than just a step in the cooking process; it’s key to unlocking the best flavor and texture. Based on my tests, here’s a comprehensive guide to salting steak to help you understand everything you need to know. I’ll cover why salting is important, how to do it properly, and when to do it.

Why Is It Worth To Salt The Steak?

Salting a steak makes a huge difference. Salt makes the steak more flavorful and tender. It also helps to dry out the surface of the steak, which is another big plus. A dry surface is the secret to getting that perfect, crispy crust on steak. The best part? Salting a steak is easy once you know how to do it, and all these advantages make it worth it.

When you salt a steak, the salt penetrates deep into the meat, changing the cell structure and making the steak tastier and more tender. However, it’s important to salt the steak correctly to get the most out of this process. If done wrong, it can have some negative effects. You can learn more about these by checking the results of my salting experiments below.

What are the disadvantages of salting a steak?

Salting a steak has many benefits but also a few downsides, though they’re generally not too serious. Here are the main disadvantages of salting a steak:

  • You must let the steak rest for at least 45-60 minutes after salting before cooking to get good results. For even better results, it should rest for 4-24 hours. This requires advanced planning, which can be a hassle for many people. The good news is that the actual task of salting the steak is very simple.
  • Using too much salt or letting the steak sit for too long after salting can cause noticeable visual changes inside the steak. For example, salting and leaving a steak overnight can cause a gray band to form inside the meat. While this grayness is just a result of the dry brining process and isn’t the same as the gray you see in an overcooked steak, many steak lovers might not like this change in appearance.

When is the Best Time to Salt Steak, and for How long?

Based on my tests, the best time to salt a steak is before cooking it. Ideally, season it with salt and leave it in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours. If you don’t have that much time, salting the steak and letting it rest for 45-60 minutes at room temperature before cooking is the minimum you should do.

Salting right before or after cooking doesn’t give the salt enough time to work its magic on the meat. The worst time to salt a steak is 2-40 minutes before cooking because salt draws moisture to the surface, making it too wet and ruining the crust. So, it’s best to avoid salting within that window.

Below are pictures from my salting steak tests that confirm these recommendations. I also describe how the steak’s exterior and interior change when seasoned with salt at different times.

Important: The data below is based on strip steaks cooked after resting at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Cooking the steak straight from the fridge isn’t a good idea because it cooks unevenly. For more details, check out my guide on How Long to Leave Steak Out Before Cooking.

Results of Salting Steak Immediately Before Cooking

Salting steak immediately before cooking leaves the salt undissolved on the relatively dry surface, which helps you get a nice crust. However, because the salt doesn’t have enough time to penetrate the meat, it does little to the steak’s flavor or tenderness.

Results of Salting Steak Immediately Before Cooking
A slice of strip steak, freshly salted just before cooking and perfectly cooked to a medium-rare

Results of Salting Steak 15 minutes before cooking

Salting a steak 15 minutes before cooking helps the salt dissolve on the surface and form a brine. The salt draws moisture out of the steak through osmosis. Some of this moisture gets reabsorbed into the meat, and some evaporates. But it takes longer than 15 minutes for this to fully take effect.

At this point, searing the steak is a very bad idea. The surface of the steak is wet, and the heat first has to evaporate all that moisture, which prevents the steak from browning properly. Because of this, any subtle changes in the steak’s flavor are not worth it.

Results of Salting Steak 15 minutes before cooking

Results of Salting Steak 45-60 minutes before cooking

Salting a steak 45 minutes before cooking makes a noticeable difference. By this time, the brine formed on the surface is mostly reabsorbed into the meat or evaporated, making the surface less moist. Plus, the meat ends up tastier with a slightly salty flavor.

Although the results after 45 minutes aren’t insane, this seems to be the sweet spot for those who want to improve their steak’s flavor and tenderness and get a better crust.

A slice of strip steak, salted 45 minutes before cooking and cooked to a medium-rare

Results of salting steak 4 hours before cooking

Salting the steak four hours before cooking makes the surface darker and drier, perfect for getting a good sear. The crust looks much better, and the steak develops a nice, mild, salty taste. A slightly larger gray band appears inside but isn’t too noticeable.

I like the results of salting the steak for four hours before cooking. The crust came out great, and the steak has a nice, mild, salty flavor. Plus, the gray band inside stays relatively small. This method is especially good if you plan to cook the steak the same day you buy it. It’s my favorite alternative salting option to the overnight salting method.

Results of Salting Steak 8 hours before cooking

After salting the steak for 8 hours, there are some clear changes. The brine on the surface has almost entirely disappeared, leaving the steak dry and a deeper red color. This dryness is great for searing, as it helps form a crispy crust.

Regarding flavor, 8 hours is enough time for the salt to work its magic, making the steak much tastier and slightly more tender. The only downside is a slight grey band inside the steak after it’s cooked. It’s not the same as the grey band you see in overcooked steaks, but it might still worry someone not used to seeing it.

Results of Salting Steak 24 hours before cooking

Salting a steak 24 hours before cooking makes a big difference. After 24 hours, the steak’s surface becomes darker red and dries up, exactly what we want for a good sear. It tastes noticeably better and comes out tender with an amazing, deeply brown, and crispy crust compared to just salting it right before cooking.

The only downside is that after cooking, the steak ends up with a bigger gray band inside, which might not be to everyone’s liking, especially if you prefer your steak cooked evenly throughout.

Results of Salting Steak 2 days before cooking

After salting the steak for two days, the surface becomes perfectly dry and turns a deep red color. After cooking, there’s a large gray band. This is a big difference compared to a steak salted right before cooking. Despite this, the steak stays juicy and tender. However, the taste might not be to everyone’s liking.

In my opinion, salting a steak two days ahead isn’t worth it.

Overall Summary and Conclusions

Based on my tests, the best time to season a steak with salt is 4 to 24 hours before cooking. If you’re short on time, salting it at least 45 minutes before cooking is the absolute minimum, which provides decent results. Salting right before cooking doesn’t add much to the steak’s flavor, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no other option. The worst time to salt a steak is 2-40 minutes before cooking: it just makes the steak wet and doesn’t give the salt enough time to work its magic on the flavor.

The 4-hour option is great if you want a steak with a better crust, noticeable saltiness, and evenly cooked from edge to edge without a significant gray band inside.

The 8-24 hours option is perfect for those who want intense flavor, more tender meat, and an amazing crust. The only downside is the thicker gray band inside the steak.

The longer you leave the steak after salting, the thicker the gray band will get. But don’t worry, this is just a visual change. Please don’t confuse it with an overcooked steak. Even with the larger gray band, the steak will still be just as juicy, tender, and flavorful.

Important tip: After salting the steak, put it on a wire rack so the air can circulate around it. If you don’t have a rack, use something like two forks placed side by side to let air flow underneath. However, investing in a wire rack is worth it, especially if you cook steaks frequently.

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salt seasoned ribeye steak

How to Salt Steak

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  • Author: Adam Wojtow
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Salting time:: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • Steak of choice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  • Remove the steak from the refrigerator, pat it dry with paper towels, and place it on a wire rack. 
  • Generously season the steak with kosher salt on both sides. Let it rest for at least 45 minutes at room temperature, or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
  • Cook the steak to your liking. If it has been resting in the refrigerator, remove it and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Salting Steak FAQs

Is it ever okay to skip salting the steak?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it unless you have a specific reason. For example, you might skip it if you don’t have time to let the salted steak sit for at least 45 minutes before cooking. The same goes for those who use a unique marinade or do not like the salty flavor. However, in my experience, most people find that salting brings out the flavor of the steak, especially when paired with butter and herbs.

What’s the best kind of salt to use to season steak?

Kosher salt or any other coarse salt is the best salt for seasoning steak before cooking. After cooking, it’s best to use Maldon sea salt.

Avoid using table salt before cooking the steak. It dissolves quickly, making it hard to control how much you’ve used. With its larger grains, kosher salt distributes more evenly and sticks to the meat’s surface better. It’s also easier to achieve an even coating and is more affordable. For seasoning after cooking, Maldon sea salt is perfect. It doesn’t dissolve as quickly and adds more flavor and a nice texture when used properly.

How much salt is needed to season the steak?

When seasoning the steak before cooking, it’s important to cover the entire surface with salt. The amount of salt needed depends on the steak’s weight, desired saltiness, type of salt, and flavor preference. Generally, 0.5 to 1.5% salt by weight is recommended, with 1% being a good average.

Different salts have different densities, so you’ll need to calculate the amount based on the steak’s weight and the type of salt you’re using. If unsure, you can use a calculator to help measure the right amount of salt for your steak. Start with the recommended amount for the first time, and adjust according to your taste next time.

As for seasoning the steak after cooking, it’s simple. Start with a little salt and add more gradually until it tastes to your liking.

Is it required to rinse the salt off the steak before cooking?

No, never rinse the salt off a steak before cooking. If you’re worried about using too much salt, just shake the steak to remove the excess. You can also pat it dry with a paper towel right before cooking. Rinsing the steak is a bad idea because it makes the surface moist, preventing it from browning properly, as the pan’s heat will be used to evaporate the excess moisture. In short, a wet steak surface = poor crust.

Does salt tenderize a steak?

Yes, salt tenderizes steak, but it takes a lot of time to work effectively. It’s pretty good for medium-tender cuts, though it is not enough for tougher cuts like the eye of round. The good news is you can use salt and other methods to tenderize steak simultaneously, improving its texture and flavor. To learn more, check out my guide on How to Tenderize Steak.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow is a Polish entrepreneur and writer who founded Steak Revolution in 2020 because of his passion for steaks. Adam has been cooking steaks for over five years and knows a lot about them, including the different types of steak cuts, how long to cook them, and the best ways to cook any steak.

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