Here’s the Chef Trick to Getting Restaurant-Quality Results When Cooking Meat

Air-dry meats in the refrigerator for browned crusts and crispy skin.

Raw steaks

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Achieving the perfect, golden brown crust on a thick and juicy ribeye steak, a crispy and lacquered skin on a whole roast duck, or a smoky and juicy side of salmon is easier than you think. The key is to start with a completely dry surface, and you can achieve that simply by letting the meat chill in the refrigerator uncovered for a few hours prior to cooking.

Why should you air-dry meat before cooking?

Most meats sold in grocery stores are packaged in airtight containers, which are great for locking out unwanted odors and slowing the rate of oxidation. The problem is that these packages also trap in moisture, which is the enemy of browning and crisping. 

A dry surface is more likely to crisp, brown, and caramelize. Moisture on the surface must evaporate before browning is able to happen, and if you wait until you cook the meat for it to dry, oftentimes the protein will be overcooked by the time the surface is dry enough to take on color. 

What meats benefit from air-drying?

Beef, pork, and lamb form a better crust, while keeping the interior juicy and tender, when the surface has been air-dried for at least a few hours. This works for both large cuts like prime rib and also small individual cuts like lamb chops or pork chops. The same applies to skin-on poultry, such as chicken, turkey, or duck, both whole birds and smaller cuts like skin-on thighs or breasts. 

If you’re planning to smoke meat or fish, air-drying is extra important. The meat will form a dry, slightly tacky, surface called a pellicle, which allows the smoke to better adhere to the surface of the meat for smoky ribs, brisket, fish, and more. 

Even meats that have been soaked in a wet marinate benefit from a few hours of air-drying before they hit the grill. This encourages grill marks and flavorful charring, rather than steaming.

How to air-dry meat 

Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the protein dry with paper towels, place it on top of the rack and transfer it to the refrigerator uncovered. The rack allows the air to circulate and dry the surface of the meat on all sides. Large cuts of meat with greater surface area should air-dry in the fridge for one to three days. Smaller cuts of meat only need to air-dry for about four hours, or up to overnight. Once the surface of the protein is dry to the touch, it’s ready to be roasted, grilled, smoked, or seared to perfection.

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