6 of the Best Salts in America
Few items are more valuable in a pantry than quality salt. From bourbon smoked to chile spiked, here are six of the best from top American makers.
On every table, in every takeout bag, on every pantry shelf: shakers and packets, boxes and bags. Salt: ubiquitous and placeless. It’s everywhere, so it comes, it seems, from nowhere. But the funny thing about salt, is despite the industrial-scale machinations that dust it so liberally into our lives, it’s damn low-tech to make. One part seawater, two parts sun. Oh yeah, and the most important part — a person. At Bull’s Bay, that’s Rustin and Teresa Gooden, who wade out into the South Carolina seashore (a national wildlife refuge no less — the water’s filtered by delicious Bulls Bay oysters), to harvet seawater they then dry under the southern sun and smoke over oak chips. After all that work, these crystals deserve a proper setting: like a homemade artisanal pretzel.
The secret to steak is salt, and the secret to this salt is smoke. Made to taste like a summer bonfire, it’s cured over a mix of sweet and spicy woods, and adds a flame-slicked touch to anything from meat (make a quick rub with fresh-cracked pepper) to salad (sprinkle liberally), transforming the blandest to barbecued heights. Don’t believe us? Try cauliflower: slabs of the white-bread veggie turn downright steak-like when grilled. Just slice thick, drizzle with oil and salt, grill, covered, until nicely charred, and serve with your choice of sauce
Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt is slow smoked in small batches by hand, using repurposed bourbon barrel staves. It’s rich, smoky flavor will upgrade anything from a burger to a pan of baked sweet potatoes.
Proper peppers should pack more than just heat — and no one knows that better than the Chili Lab, an iron-tongued group of adventurers who scour the Scoville scale for the world’s best, boldest sauces and salts. Swahili for pepper, piri piris have an herbacious, citrussy bite — thirty times as hot as jalapeños, but infinitely brighter and more nuanced. Give your grill some jungle vibes by tossing on a few salted pineapple slices, and serve diced with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
It starts, of course, with spice. And when it comes to the best tacos, it’s never as simple as amping the Scovilles. The powders may seem basic — any spice rack has ’em, and any home cook can shake in an extra kick of cayenne — but the blend’s the thing, and the perfect mix is as sublimely intangible as that one, transcendent bite. The pros’ secret is out. This chef-owned company, long known for supplying the best in the biz, brings their expertly curated concoctions to the home skillet. Their Chile Lime blend is a taco-night favorite, with sweet-sour orange peel, lime zest, and a sprinkle of brown sugar to balance the heat. It’s perfect on grilled corn with butter, sprinkled over griddled chicken while it sears, or simply ringing a michelada beer glass.
Every state’s barbecue has its secret touch, from Kansas City’s sweet sauces to Texas’s slow-cooked brisket. Most, unfortunately, stay that way: tight-lipped pitmasters keep their tricks close to the vest. Not here. This gas-station-turned-grill is a mecca for Georgia’s famous dry-rubbed ‘cue, and lucky for you, happy to share. Their Soul Dust makes a perfect marinade, a lip-tingling replacement for the salt on your cocktail glass, or, if you’re crazy, both. Soak shrimp in olive oil and Soul Dust for twenty minutes and grill; then rim a glass with more Dust, fill with your favorite bloody mary, and garnish with shrimp.