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The science behind dry brining and how it makes your steak better

By Joe Heitzeberg - Co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow. I'm on Instagram at @jheitzeb.

Dry brining is a process by which meat is seasoned with salt well before cooking to greatly boost the quality of your steak with hardly any extra work.

Why dry brine?

SHOP: Pasture-raised, grass-fed craft beef from small farms.

No hormones, no unnecessary antibiotics. Dry-aged beef.

Salt is a flavor amplifier. When it’s used to dry brine meat, it not only seasons the surface, but it also starts the process pulling some water from the meat, tightening the surface up, and helping to boost the Maillard reaction when you sear it.

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs when a protein and a sugar are combined under intense heat to produce hundreds of different flavor compounds (keyword: “melanoidin”), giving your steak a complex taste, aroma and gorgeous look that says, “hey, look at me, I’m some kind of fancy steakhouse chef or something.”

How does it work?

When you sprinkle salt on meat, it dissolves in the moisture on the surface. This creates a brine that is drawn into the meat by capillary action. As the salt moves deeper into the meat, it starts to denature the proteins. This causes them to tighten up and expel liquid.

How do I do it?

This recipe works great for any NY Steak, Ribeye, Denver, Picanha, Chuck Steak or other “hot and fast” cut.

To dry brine a steak, start by sprinkling it generously with salt on all sides. How much salt? That’s up to you, and you can see from the photo that I like a nice amount somewhere between a dusting and a coating.

Next, place it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to 12 hours. If you’re in a hurry, even 20 to 30 minutes will make a noticeable difference. When you’re ready to cook it, remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before cooking.

After dry brining, there are many ways to cook a perfect steak, but my favorite method is to sear it over very high heat and finish it in the oven under medium low heat. Here are the steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

  2. Heat an oven-safe pan such as a cast-iron, carbon steel or stainless steel pan, until it is ripping-hot (medium high, 8 out of 10).

  3. Put a tablespoon of oil with a high smoke point such as grapeseed, avocado or canola oil in the pan and lay the steak into the pan just as the oil begins to smoke. Sear both sides for 2 to 3 minutes. If you have a large or thick-cut steak (more than 1 pound or so),

  4. Transfer the entire skillet with the steak still in it to the oven, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes for medium rare.

Searing a Crowd Cow steak on medium high heat


SHOP: Pasture-raised, grass-fed craft beef from small farms.

No hormones, no unnecessary antibiotics. Dry-aged beef.


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