The Most Important Step In Prepping Meat, According To Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat — Oakland-based chef, cookbook author, and Chez Panisse alum — is best known for her book, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," and as the star of the adapted Netflix series by the same name. The book and show explore what she calls the four fundamentals of cooking. In the "Heat" episode, for example, Nosrat does a deep dive into building fires, the temperature of your oven, and how to properly grill a steak. Two of the most important ingredients when making a perfect steak, she said, don't actually include beef. In fact, they are the most important factors in cooking just about anything: temperature and time.

When slow-roasting a tri-tip, you roast it at a low temperature for a longer period of time so the outside doesn't brown before the center is cooked through. When searing a steak, on the other hand, you want the grill or pan to be ripping hot, briefly kissing the steak at a high temperature to develop a brown crust and medium-rare center. An improper balance of time or temperature will result in an underdone steak — it takes two to tango.

But in addition to the temperature you set your oven to, or the level of flame on the stovetop, the temperature of the meat itself makes a big difference in how it cooks. Nosrat explains how to properly prep your meat so it yields a juicy, crusty, perfectly cooked steak.

Tempering your meat is key

Nosrat's number-one tip for preparing meat is to bring it up to around room temperature before cooking, a technique also known as tempering meat. "You have to pull it out from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for an hour or longer depending on the size. When you go straight from the fridge into the oven, it will never cook evenly," Nosrat said in the "Heat" episode. This is especially true for thick cuts, like a big pork chop or a whole chicken. Basically, if you throw cold meat on the heat, the outside will start to cook right away, whereas the center will stay cool, leading to meat that's dry and overcooked on the outside, yet raw on the inside.

You may be thinking that it would take a long time for meat coming from a 40 degree Fahrenheit fridge to reach a comfortable 72 degrees. Thankfully, though, it doesn't actually need to reach room temperature, and you probably shouldn't leave it out for that long anyway. Still, your cut of meat can stay unrefrigerated for longer than you may think. According to sous chef James Wilschke, you can keep a cold piece of meat out for up to four hours (via Food & Wine). Next time you roast a chicken or grill a steak, take your meat out of the fridge as you prep your other ingredients. By the time you're ready to go, the meat will be in good shape for nice, even cooking.