Even before I subjected myself to the ridiculous strictures of a farm-only diet I spent a lot of time thinking about cooking meat. No, not like that Onion article - for at least the last decade I’ve taken great joy in snobbishly disabusing people of the idea that searing meat seals in anything.
But that’s not the horse I want to flog today. I’m here to talk about the term “dry brine.” Brining involves putting food, usually poultry or pork, into a bath of salt and sometimes sugar dissolved in water. The salt penetrates the meat via osmosis, where it alters the structure of some proteins, allowing the meat to retain more water when cooked. If sugar is present, it adds its hygroscopic abilities to the equation. I like this technique, and I like the term brining. Brine, after all, is salty water, so it makes sense that brining something would involve immersing it into such a solution.
Hopefully it is now obvious to you why the idea of dry brining something makes my head hurt. It’s usually done to steaks and other tender cuts of grass-fed beef that should not be prone to drying out, since they should not be cooked very far into the triple digits. Dry brining consists of sprinkling salt on one of these cuts and letting it sit for a while prior to cooking. I cannot think of a single instance where anything would be clarified or any time would be saved by having a recipe demand that I dry brine something rather than simply telling me to lightly salt it and then let leave it alone for a couple hours. Try to justify the term if you must, but I will judge you if you come to its defense.