As a foodie, you want everything you make to be delicious and satisfying. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to cook meat, especially when it so often comes out tough or inedible. What are you doing wrong?
Before you fire up the grill, turn on the stove or heat the oven, you may be missing a crucial step: brining the meat. If you’ve never done it, it’s a simple task that takes only a few minutes and makes all the difference when it comes to producing a tender, succulent steak.
How Brining Works
Brining was used in the days before refrigeration to preserve meats like beef and pork. It involves salting the meat either in a wet or dry fashion. Whether you use the wet or dry method to brine your steak, you’ll increase its flavor and enhance its texture through a process called osmosis. It equalizes the salt levels and gives your meat a higher liquid content, resulting in a juicier cut.
Wet Brining Beef
To wet brine your beef, combine 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt. If you want to add a little more flavor to your steak, include mashed citrus fruit, peppercorns and garlic as well. Also, look up the best way to season steak to discuss what other spices would be good to include (hint: onions and paprika work well, too). Put the steak into the brine mixture, and leave it there for about an hour per pound of meat. If you leave it in the bath for too long, it will turn to mush.
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Dry Brine Steak
If you don’t want to do the wet brine, try a dry brine steak method instead. Some people swear by a dry brine steak because they say it has more flavor than a wet brine steak.
Using kosher or sea salt, spread a thin layer over each side of your steak. Be aware that you need to let your steak sit in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 48 hours before you cook it. The longer you brine it, the better it will taste. You will need the steak to stay open to air flowing around it, so place it on a rack in the fridge above a plate or flip it every once in a while.
Dry brining steak is essential, because typically, you cook steak on a high flame, which can dry it out. Tougher cuts like flank steak and hanger steaks especially need brining.
More Considerations for Brining a Steak
When you leave a brining steak in the refrigerator, make sure no other foods with strong odors are in there with it. It could permeate the meat and taint its flavor. Either remove items like smelly vegetables or strong garlic or put a box of baking soda in your fridge to eliminate the odors.
Don’t leave the steak in the fridge for longer than 48 hours. Doing so can cause you to have to deal with food safety issues, and your meat may start to smell odd or go bad. It can also cause bacteria to grow.
Once you’ve brined your steak, you’re ready to cook it. Some chefs swear by the reverse sear method to cook their steaks rare, medium-rare, medium or well-done:
- Heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the steak on a rack over a baking tray.
- Put it in the oven until it reaches the temperature that you want (125 degrees Fahrenheit for rare to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for well-done).
- Remove it at the correct temperature and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Then, you sear your steaks on each side for a minute and serve immediately. Combined with the brining, this cooking method results in a delicious, tender steak every time.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a lifestyle, food and beverage writer for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.