Throughout years of cooking in the test kitchen, we’ve noticed that we tend to season fatty meat more generously than lean meat. To bolster our anecdotal evidence with real data, we set up the following experiment.
We rounded up five meats ranging in fat content: turkey breast, pork loin, strip steak, 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 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.
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.
Our experiment adds credence to the conclusion of several recent published studies that fat has a dulling effect on taste. So when you season meat, remember to use a heavier hand on fatty burgers than you would on moderately fatty meats like strip steak and 90 percent ground beef. Use a lighter hand on lean meats like turkey breast and pork loin.