· Food For Thought
Why You Should Salt Your Steak

Salt is like cocaine for grilled meat, it heightens the highs and masks the lows. Sure, you can have too much salt but don't be scared of it: it can make or break a barbecued meal. If you need to cut back on salt - put down the bag of Doritos or drink your margaritas without the salted rim - don't cut back on salt during grilling. Priorities. One of the great debates in the grilling world is: do you salt your meat before or after you put it on the grill? Proponents of pre-salting argue that it brings out the natural flavor of the meat and helps to sear the outside of the food. Detractors think that it draws too much of the meat's juices from the food and dries it out. For our take on it, see our highly scientific process below.

For a brief history of salt that will make you sound like a genius at your next block party check out the Coles notes version of the history of salt on the Cargill site: http://www.cargillsalt.com/dc_salt_about_hist_salt.htm

For a more in-depth look at the history of salt you could try "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky. An entertaining look at world history through the eyes of salt (not that salt has eyes but I think you get where I'm headed with this.) Interestingly, Mr. Kurlansky has also written about world history using cod and oysters as reference points. What's wrong with kings/queens and epic battles? You'd have to ask him.

Ok, here's the tip: let your steaks sit in loads of salt prior to grilling, rinse them off and then grill them. I know, this sounds like It's right out of the Hunter S. Thompson recipe book but trust me on this. For some reason, this method tenderizes a steak and bumps it up a few grades. There's definitely a salty flavour to the finished product but It's, you know, a good saltiness. here's our recent experiment with this method (in pictures because, if I know anything, It's that a picture saves me a lot of typing):

Three steaks. Not the best grade but not the worst either. We used top sirloin.

Three steaks. Not the best grade but not the worst either. We used top sirloin.

We cut each steak in half. One half of each steak we left untreated. The other half of each steak was dredged with about a teaspoon of salt per side. Use coarse salt - not fine.

We cut each steak in half. One half of each steak we left untreated. The other half of each steak was dredged with about a teaspoon of salt per side. Use coarse salt - not fine.

After about an hour of resting, the salted steaks are leaking. Rinse the steaks, pat them dry and put them on the grill.

Egads! After about an hour of resting, the salted steaks are leaking like a Swedish goalie. Will this be a problem? Will they taste like salted shoe leather? Will we be calling the Colonel for dinner?Let's find out. Rinse the steaks (don't forget this step), pat them dry and put them on the grill.

In our experiment the pre-salted meat was much tastier and more tender

In our experiment the pre-salted meat was much tastier and more tender ("tenderer?). A perfect level of saltiness and definitely more tender than the control group. I'm no chemistry wiz so don't email me and ask "why". Just trust me - it worked.

Another tip: if you're in Calgary head down to The Cookbook Company on 11th Avenue (www.cookbookcooks.com). They've got a zillion (ok, about 40) salt varieties to choose from. Gail tells us that her favourite salt for grilling is "Maldon Salt" (www.maldonsalt.co.uk) as it adds a "textural" (her word, not mine) element to the grilled meat. And, for the record, Gail salts her meat before she grills - she likes the way the juices are released by the salt so they can caramelize when they hit the hot grill. (www.cookbookcooks.com)