technique

Salt might just be the most important ingredient in cooking. Think of it as a kitchen superhero: It’s one of the five basic tastes, it’s a nutrient we can’t live without, and we add it to just about everything we eat—both savory and sweet. Salt also has the power to transform the flavor and texture of foods. There are three important things to remember when you’re adding salt to food: salt high, salt safe, and taste before you serve.

Follow the tips below and you’ll be on your way to becoming a seasoning star!

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Salt High

Have you ever noticed that chefs often sprinkle salt on food from way up high? They’re not just doing that for dramatic effect—it’s actually the best way to season food. When you sprinkle salt from up high, the salt covers the food more evenly.

Try it for yourself! Line two rimmed baking sheets with black construction paper.

  • Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt over one baking sheet, holding your hand just a few inches above the paper.
  • Sprinkle another teaspoon of salt over the second baking sheet, this time holding your hand about 12 inches above the paper. Can you observe the difference?

2up: Seasoning with Salt

Uneven Seasoning

Even Seasoning

Salt Safe

If you’re seasoning raw meat, poultry, or fish, pour some salt into a small bowl before you begin. That way, you can reach into the bowl more than once while you’re seasoning and you won’t contaminate the larger box or container of salt. (Be sure to discard any leftover salt and wash your hands when you’re done.)

Taste Before you Serve

Some recipes tell you to “season to taste” just before serving. That usually means adding a bit more salt (and sometimes pepper). Here’s how to do it:

  • Taste your finished recipe. Is it a little bland? Could it use more flavor? If so, it probably needs a bit of salt.
  • Add a pinch of salt, stir (if necessary), and taste again.
  • Repeat adding a pinch of salt and tasting until you’re happy with the flavor of your dish. But remember: A tiny bit of salt can have a big impact on flavor, so go slow—you can always add more salt. Once something tastes too salty, there’s not much you can do to fix it.

Which Salt Do I Use?

All the salt we eat is made of a compound called sodium chloride—one sodium ion joined with one chloride ion. Scientists abbreviate it as “NaCl.” You might see three different varieties of salt (sodium chloride) used in cooking: table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt. The exact size and shape of salt crystals depend on how the crystals are harvested and processed (click here to learn more). Use a hand lens to check out each type of salt up close. What shapes are the crystals? Here are some tips about when to use each type of salt and how to tell them apart.

3up: Macro Salts

Table salt under a microscope.

Kosher salt under a microscope.

Sea salt under a microscope.

Table Salt

  • Tiny cubes that are all the same size
  • Dissolves easily in liquids, so it’s best for brining and baking

Kosher Salt

  • Small, coarse flakes of different sizes
  • Sticks well to food, so it’s best for seasoning meat, fish, and vegetables

Sea Salt

  • Large crystals or flakes of different sizes
  • Adds flavor and texture, so it’s best for sprinkling on food right before you eat it

How Much Salt is in that Teaspoon?

Different types of salt have different crystal sizes, such as tiny cubes of table salt and medium-sized flakes of kosher salt. That means 1 teaspoon of table salt contains a lot more crystals than 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (and different brands of kosher salt have different crystal sizes). Think of it like this: A bathtub can hold more tennis balls than basketballs. The tennis balls are smaller, so they pack more tightly into the tub. We recommend cooking with table salt and kosher salt (when our recipes say “salt,” we mean table salt).

Here’s a formula in case you need to substitute kosher salt for table salt:

3up: Salt Equivalents

1 teaspoon
table salt =

1½ teaspoons
Morton kosher salt =

2 teaspoons
Diamond Crystal kosher salt