How many times have you heard, "Salting raw meat (or poultry or fish) will draw the juices out and make it tough?" I see this statement repeated in cookbook after cookbook as if it were a fact. 

Yet in older cookbooks, especially the ones based on European cooking techniques, salting meat before cooking is done routinely, without loss of juices. In fact, if you do it right, meat that is salted before cooking can be much juicier and more succulent than meat that isn't salted! 

So who's right? Is it the people who say don't salt, or the old-fashioned cooks who say you SHOULD salt? They BOTH are. The issue isn't the salt. The issue is WHEN you should apply salt to raw foods, especially meat, poultry, and fish. 

The basic rule is, if you're going to use salt, do it early. Never apply salt to meat right before you put it in the pan or on the grill. Salting at the last minute will definitely pull juices out of the meat. It will toughen and dry out the surface of the meat, without adding any extra flavor to the inside. 

But if you salt your meat early - even a few days before cooking - you will be pleasantly surprised at the results! Many old-fashioned cooks, especially chefs who were trained in classical French or German methods, salt their meat well in advance of cooking. They sprinkle salt evenly and lightly over the meat as soon as it comes into their kitchen. Then they wrap it carefully, and refrigerate until it's cooking time. 

This early salting will actually improve the texture, juiciness, and flavor of the meat. It has an almost miraculous tenderizing power, without MSG and without turning the meat to flabby mush. Salting is especially beneficial for cuts of meat that are firm or tough, like wild game, the chewier types of steak (such as skirt and flank steak), firm roasts, brisket, and pot roast. But you can also lightly salt tender steaks, poultry, and fish ahead of time. An added benefit is the salt will help keep the meat fresh and lively tasting, even after several days of refrigeration. 

Why does this early salting work so well? Salt reacts with the proteins inside the muscle fibers in meat. Given time, it dissolves them slightly, making the meat more tender. But what's more important, salt encourages the movement of moisture inside the meat cells. 

When salt first hits the meat, it pulls moisture OUT. That's why the meat will be dry if you salt right before cooking. But if you give salt time to penetrate the meat, the cells start to REABSORB the moisture. And because the proteins are now nice and soft, the cells absorb the salt flavor - plus any herbs or spices you may have added to the salt - deep inside the meat. So now you have happy meat that's evenly seasoned and tenderized all the way through!