The Air-Drying Technique That Transforms Basic Grocery Store Meat

Did you know that you can get Instagram-worthy browning on your meat at home and all you need is a little air-drying? That may sound like a bad infomercial, but in this case, it's actually the truth. You've probably cooked a piece of steak or pork chop, exactly as directed in the recipe, but been confused or frustrated when it ended up looking nothing like the gorgeously crusted dish you were promised. Maybe you blamed the recipe, or your pan, or the mid-tier cut of meat you got from the supermarket, but any of those things can be overcome, and you don't need any special equipment or fancy technique to do it.

That nice brown crust isn't just for looks either, that is where a lot of the flavor of your seared meat comes from. A little chemical reaction you might have heard of, called the Maillard reaction, happens when the proteins in meat come in contact with high heat. That reaction forms not only the brown crust but tons of new flavor compounds that make your meat much more tasty and complex than it was before. So when you are cooking any piece of meat, no matter how expensive, you want to maximize that browning to get the best possible result. That is where air-drying can come to the rescue, and make even your grocery New York strip look like it came straight from a steakhouse.

Leave your meat uncovered in the fridge to get better browning

For browning, moisture is your biggest obstacle. If the outside of your meat is wet, or if it starts dripping juices while cooking, that's going to inhibit the browning that gives you flavor. The liquid in your pan will steam the meat instead of searing a nice crust on it and keep the temperature of your pan lower than it should be for ideal browning. Fighting moisture can be as simple as patting your chicken breasts dry with a paper towel, but for the best results you'll need to employ your fridge. 

By putting your meat uncovered in the fridge, ideally on a wire rack over a pan, you can naturally air-dry it, driving away the moisture that stops browning and gives you that picture perfect crust you've been looking for. The amount of time you leave your meat to air-dry can vary. Even just a few hours will make a difference, but overnight and up to 24 hours is ideal for most cuts. 

As an added bonus air-drying can be combined with another simple method for amping up the flavor and juiciness of grocery store meat — dry brining. Salting the outside of your meat and leaving it in the fridge overnight allows the brine to spread throughout the entire cut, which both flavors your meat and makes it more tender and moist. Combine a refrigerator air-dry with a dry brine and your meat will never disappoint you again.