Salt drawing juices out of meat

I was having a discussion with a colleague over how to cook a standing rib roast. I use a rub, which includes salt. He said never to use salt, because it takes “all the juices” out of the meat. Well, yes, salt does absorb some moisture, but it seems to me ridiculous that the relatively small amount of salt used in a rub could have any significant effect on the juiciness of a seven-pound roast.

OK, so now tell me I’m right. :slight_smile:

You’re right. The salt will help to pull water-soluble proteins out of the meat which will provide a ‘golden brown and delicious’ crust when properly seared. My source is Alton Brown told me on TV.

Offhand, I would say you are indeed right. “Juices” is a really funny term. There is some clear implication that the juices are some mystical good thing. But meat is, just meat, and most of it is just water. Not juice. Cooking meat however is a desperatly misunderstood thing.

Placing salt on the meat, in whatever manner will cause water to migrate from the cells that make up the meat due to osmotic pressure. The only liquid that will so move is just plain water. Not some mystic “juice.”

When meat cooks the various proteins in the meat irreversably coagulate and the physical reduction in size that occurs also forces liquid out of the meat structure. This liquid is of course mostly water too - but does contain some meat components, and will also contain browning products from the meat - especially if it is being barbequeued. These browning products are responsible for a large fraction of the good flavour. So the liquid can taste good - and so seems to have some mystical property. But it is mostly water, and the vast majority of the good tasting stuff is left in the meat.

Where people get really worried, and there is a massive amount of misinformation is about the moistness of the cooked meat. The classic is the admonition to “sear the meat on both sides to seal in the moisture.” Which is total rubbish, and provably so. But people are taught to worry about the juices and treat them with mystical respect. The simple answer is that as the meat heats up the chemisty of cooking, and expecially the protein coalulation will reduce the volume of the meat in a powerful and predictable manner. The force of this action is vastly greater than any “sealing of the meat by searing”. (And just why should searing the meat seal it anyway? It isn’t made of plastic or some thermosetting compound.) Anyway, the upshot is that the reduction in volume is determined by the cooking process (which is a simple question of heat flow) and the final volume of the meat is pretty much determined soley by this. The initial water content will have small bearing, but any small reduction due to removal of water via the application of salt will be meaningless.

The final, little acknowledged aspect of meat cookery is that “moistness” in the final cooked dish is often not a product of water at all - it is due to fat. Well marbled meat is “moist” when cooked. And many people prefer it. But there is nothing to do with water in this mointness. Cooking poultry this is especially so. Many dishes require the addition of ham, bacon, or sometimes simple apllication of lard to “moisten” the bird. Nonsense. “Grease” the bird perhaps, but not moisten. Nice moist texture game bird will be the result of pure and simple fat.

The juiciness of cooked meat has a lot to do with doneness. The more well-done meat is, the less juicy it will be. That’s true whether you put salt on it before you cooked it or not. I’ve had kosher meat (which is salted before cooking to remove any blood) and non-kosher meat, and the juiciness or lack thereof has more to do with how well-done it is than whether it’s been salted or not.

Well, the reasoning is rubbish, but the practice is not. Searing meat creates a nice brown crust via the Maillard reaction, which provides a lot of flavor.

Here’s a picture of Louis Maillard.
The man had quite a nice 1910’s style handlebar moustache.

I have seen lots of sources that claim that kosher salt is used to draw blood out of meat, but I’ve never seen a scientific treatment of the process. I question this for the same reason as the question that I posted in the OP, and suspect that this may be a traditional process carried down with a specious rationale.

Salt on the surface of meat does not act as a “blood magnet”. How can it possibly draw out blood from inside the meat, especially in preference to any other liquids existing in greater quantity, particularly myoglobin? Most people mistake myoglobin for blood because it’s red. I would indeed challenge whether any blood remains in properly slaughtered.

There was a thread in Cafe Society a while back where someone recommended literally covering steak (cheaper cuts) in a heavy layer of salt and letting it stand for 15-20 minutes, then rinsing it off and cooking. I have to say, it makes a delicious and tender steak out of cuts you normally don’t think of as that good.

Here’s a site that gives instructions for this, as well as an illustrated explanation of what the salt does – and doesn’t do – to the meat.

But that only works if you’re cooking ducks.

Yes, but it can be done at the end of the cooking process as well. “Sear to seal in the flavor” is the misnomer, as it’s typically used to imply that it’s the “sealing” part of the process, not the searing part, that is important.

On Cooks Illustrated, or whatever that PBS show is called, a couple of nights ago they explained why salt on meat makes it “tender”. I was only half paying attention. A little salt on the surface will migrate into the meat over time and that salt, inside the meat, will cause the meat to retain more moisture. Like brining. A whole lot of salt draws out the moisture as in a cured ham. The amount and time on are important apparently.

The way I understand it, from Cooks Illustrated, is that salt draws moisture out of the meat and dissolves the salt. If you leave it on long enough, the now-salty moisture gets pulled back into the meat, seasoning the meat very nicely. Brining works the same way, I think. It works for me.

Since the thread from last year I have tried salting beef and can assure you that it works as advertised, although I left it for a day rather than an hour.

Some very good recipes for prime rib encrust the whole roast in salt 1/2 inch thick, which is then broken off the roast with a hammer after cooking…

Harold McGee’s On On Food and Cooking gives an amusing history of the idea that searing “seals in” juices. A 19th-century German chemist named Justus von Liebig is to blame for the idea’s popularity. Later, Escoffier promoted it, saying in 1902

But a 1930 study showed that slower-roasted meat lost less fluid than meat that was initially seared. Nonetheless, it’s taken several additional decades for the idea to die out.

Unfortunately, McGee doesn’t have much to say directly about the effects of salting on meat, but he does talk about the causes of the perception of “juiciness” in meat. It has two components: the actual moisture content of the meat, and the effects of “salival stimulation.” The latter is increased by both flavor and fat content. So, salt your meat and wrap it in bacon!

Alton Brown suggests cooking the roast at a low temperature (250º?) until its internal temperature is 128º, and then roasting at 500º for the nice crusty layer – which is the opposite of the way I (and most people) cook a roast.

McGee should be on everyone’s shelf. A quite wonderful book for many reasons.

My favorite Prime Rib recipe is a variation of Lawery’s
I use kosher salt, and place the roast directly on the bed of salt.
The oven is set high for the 1st phase and then reduced. I cannot find the recipe at this time, but it came from the Sunday paper years ago. The recipe for covering roast with salt and cracking shell with a hammer was also in that paper. Never tried that one because the bed of kosher salt one was wonderful.

While this is a GQ, it probably needs to be done in Cafe Society, since it’s about cooking, etc. Moved.

samclem, Moderator, General Questions