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Why Fattier Meat Needs More Salt

By Dan Souza Published

Fat influences how our brains perceive taste, including how well we think food is seasoned.

Throughout years of cooking in the test kitchen, we've noticed that we tend to season lean meat much less generously than fatty meat. But anecdotal evidence alone wasn't enough to convince us that we need to treat pork loin differently than, say, a strip steak or even ground beef. To bolster our anecdotal evidence with real data, we set up the following experiment.

Experiment

We rounded up five meats ranging in fat content: turkey breast, pork loin, strip steak (beef), and both 80 percent and 90 percent lean ground beef. We cooked the meat and chopped it into pieces. We then tossed 10-gram portions of each meat with increasing amounts of salt (0.1 percent, 0.25 percent, 0.5 percent, 0.75 percent, 1 percent, and 1.5 percent by weight of each sample). We had tasters try the samples blind in order, starting with an unsalted control, and had them record at what percentage the meat tasted properly seasoned. We also sent cooked samples of each type of meat to a lab to determine fat content.

Fattier Meat Needs More Salt

We tasted 6 samples each of ground turkey breast, pork loin, strip steak, 90 percent lean ground beef, and 80 percent lean ground beef, with increasing amounts of salt, and determined which sample tasted best. The results? The fattier the meat, the more salt it needed to taste properly seasoned. Why? Fat, it has been shown, has a dulling effect on our sense of taste.

Results

Sure enough, the fattier the meat, the more salt it needed to taste properly seasoned. Tasters preferred the lean turkey breast (0.7 percent fat) and pork loin (2.6 percent fat) seasoned with 0.5 percent salt by weight. The strip steak (6 percent fat) and 90 percent lean ground beef (10 percent fat) required about 0.75 percent salt by weight to taste seasoned. And finally, the 80 percent lean ground beef (20 percent fat) tasted seasoned to a majority of tasters only when it reached 1 percent salt by weight.

Takeaway

In 2012, a study published in the science journal Chemosensory Perception showed that fats in food may activate certain regions of the brain, thereby influencing how tastes are perceived. More specifically, fat has a dulling effect on taste. Our test lends credence to this.

When you season meat, keep the following in mind:

  • Use a heavier hand on fatty burgers than you would on only moderately fatty meats like strip steak and 90 percent lean ground beef. 
  • Use a lighter hand on lean meats like turkey breast and pork loin.

Taste Test Salt

Food magazines and celebrity chefs are touting the flavor of gourmet salts that cost up to $36 per pound. Do they really taste better?

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.