How to Season Meat Like a Pro

Updated: Mar. 09, 2022

It's easy to make restaurant-style steak, chicken and pot roast when you know how to season meat.

I want to be able to roast a chicken that will impress the family—who doesn’t? But every cooking show starts out with the host casually saying we’ll need to season with salt and pepper. It’s only a quick mention before they move right along to prep other ingredients. It leaves us to wonder, How much salt? Both sides?! By the time I’ve made my best guess about how to season meat, the host is already three steps ahead—and I’m ready to order pizza.

I rounded up the best tips on how to season meat so you can stop being exasperated by celebrity chefs’ advice and start cooking!

Choose the Right Salt

You want a salt that you can really grab on to and easily disperse. Chefs often season with kosher salt, which has a coarser “grain” than table salt. Because the salt has such large flakes, a whole tablespoon packs the same amount of sodium as a teaspoon of table salt.

The trick with salt is to use it liberally to enhance flavor, without making your food taste salty. Using table salt can quickly lead to over-seasoning. For now grab kosher salt (I use Diamond Kosher Salt and so does Chrissy Teigen) but any kosher salt will work.

Pick up the Pepper (or Not)

Do you love fresh cracked black pepper? That split-second of heat that zooms across your tongue and disappears? There’s no right answer to this question, but make sure you have an answer because it will help you choose what to do next.

If you like that hot bite of pepper, you’re going to wait to season your meat with pepper until right before it is sliced. This keeps the volatile oils that give pepper its pungent spice away from heat and much more potent. To tone down black pepper’s signature bite, season with it before the meat is seared. Heat will soften its flavor and impact on the overall dish.

Check out the seven mistakes everyone makes when cooking chicken.

How to Season Meat

Now you have the right salt in hand and you’ve made your decision about pepper, it’s time to start seasoning. I recommend that you season your meat first, then prep the rest of the meal. Salt pulls some moisture away from the surface on meat, which gives you the beautiful restaurant-style seared crust on steaks and extra-crispy chicken skin. It’s OK to season and leave your meat at room temp while you prep since it’s about to be cooked.

To season:

  • Pat the meat dry with a paper towel on all sides
  • With your hand at least 12 inches away, sprinkle salt on all sides of the meat. What you’re looking for is an even, single layer of salt, but if you’re into specific measurements, you can use about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat
  • Grind fresh black pepper onto your steak, roast or chops
  • Allow to rest at room temperature

Test Kitchen tip: If you’re cooking poultry with the skin on, use your hands to season between the skin and the bird. (This will make your Thanksgiving turkey!) Do your best to create an even layer of seasoning under the skin. The salt will disperse as it’s absorbed into the poultry, so don’t be too worried if there are a few clumps.

Don’t forget to let your meat rest once it’s been cooked. Then slice and sprinkle with kosher or finishing salt, and fresh ground pepper before serving. You’re all ready for perfectly crusted steaks and baked chicken with crispy skin!

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