How To Sear Meat Properly (2023)

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by Emma Christensen

Emma Christensen

Emma is a former editor for The Kitchn and a graduate of the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts. She is the author of True Brews and Brew Better Beer. Check out her website for more cooking stories

updated Aug 15, 2022

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(Video) The No-Fail Way To Sear Any Meat Perfectly | Epicurious 101

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Searing meat is 100% about building flavor. And oh, what flavor it is! When that meat hits a scorching hot pan, the surface instantly begins caramelizing. In your stew or braise or roast, this translates into the kind of deep, savory flavor that we crave on an almost a cellular level. This is the flavor that makes us want to lick our plates clean. No sear, no plate-licking good times. Here’s how to do it.

Searing meat might seem like an unnecessary and time-consuming step in a recipe. After all, you’re not actually cooking the meat here — that usually happens in the oven or as the stew simmers. You’re also not sealing in juices — that’s a myth. You’re not really doing much of anything, in fact — except building that sublime flavor.

How much can some caramelization action affect the flavor of your finished dish? Quite a lot. Imagine a steak that gets grilled over high heat: all those complex savory, nutty, deeply caramelized flavors! Now imagine a steak cooked over medium heat: grey and moist, tasting….utterly boring. That same flavor (or lack of flavor) is what we’re talking about in a braise or a soup.

I strongly feel that searing meat is worth the effort. It’s an extra bit of work that results in a huge pay off in the flavor of your finished dish.

Convinced? Not convinced? Let’s discuss in the comments. Meanwhile, here are some key pieces of advice to keep in mind:

(Video) How To Perfectly Sear Anything Ft. ChefSteps

Make sure your pan is hot

High temperatures are needed to get a truly caramelized, deep-brown sear on the surface of the meat. Use a stainless steel or a cast iron skillet for this kind of cooking; avoid nonstick skillets. Add a few teaspoons of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoke point) and set the pan over high heat. Pat the meat dry as the pan heats — this helps keep it from steaming instead of searing. When the oil starts to shimmer and smoke just slightly, you’re ready to add the meat.

Use a thin coating of oil

When searing, the oil is less of a cooking medium and more of a way to get uniform surface contact between the meat and the pan. This will give you a nice, even caramelization and prevent some spots from burning while other spots are still pale. As it’s heating, swirl the oil around to get a thin coating over the bottom of the pan.

If you’re cooking one large piece of meat, make sure to use a pan large enough to hold it. If you’re cooking smaller pieces of meat, like for a stew, leave a few inches of space between the pieces of meat. This also ensures even cooking and prevents crowded meat from steaming instead of searing.

Resist the temptation to fuss

Once you’ve put the meat in the pan, let it be. I know how tempting it is to take a peak under the meat or move things around like we do for a sauté, but try to resist! Meat needs a few minutes of uninterrupted contact to properly sear — it will actually stick to the bottom of the pan at first and then release naturally when seared. After a few minutes, shake the pan. If the meat releases from the pan, it’s ready to be flipped to another side.

Once you’ve seared all sides of the meat, you’re ready to transfer the meat to your braise, put it in the oven to roast, or continue with whatever cooking method your dish calls for.

(Video) How to Sear a Steak in a Cast Iron Pan

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Pat the meat dry with paper towels. (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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How To Sear Meat

Ingredients

  • Beef , pork, lamb, chicken or any other meat
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cup red or white wine, broth, or water, to deglaze the pan

Equipment

  • Heavy-bottomed stainless steal or cast iron skillet
  • Tongs
  • Stiff spatula

Instructions

  1. Choose the right pan: To properly sear meat, a stainless steel or cast iron skillet are the best. These can be heated to very high heat and help sear the meat evenly and rapidly. Enamel-lined pans and Dutch ovens can be used, but err for slightly lower heat as the enamel can crack. Do not use non-stick pans for searing.

  2. Prepare the meat: Prepare the meat in the manner you're planning to cook it — chop large cuts of meat into bite-sized pieces for a stew, tie up a roast with twine, and so on.

  3. Pat the meat dry: Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This improves the contact between the pan and the meat and creates less steam during cooking.

  4. Season with salt and pepper: Just before cooking, sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Wait to do this until you're ready to actually put the meat in the pan, otherwise the salt draws moisture out of the meat and you'll need to pat it dry again.

  5. Heat the skillet to medium-high: Set the skillet over medium-high to high heat. After you've seared a few batches, you'll know how high you can push it with your particular stove and your particular skillet. (On my electric stove, I start at medium-high and end up adjusting to down a few notches as the pan gets hot.)

  6. Coat the pan with oil: Coat the pan with enough vegetable oil to film the bottom of the pan. When it shimmers and flows smoothly, it's ready.

  7. Add the meat to the pan: Gently set the roast or pieces of meat in the pan. The meat should sizzle on contact and become "glued" to the bottom of the pan. If you are cooking pieces of meat, arrange them in a single layer an inch or so apart; cook in batches if necessary.

  8. Let the meat sear without moving: For the first minute or two, do not move the meat. Do not try to pry it off the pan; just let it sizzle.

  9. Flip the meat: Once the first side has completely seared, it will release easily from the pan. Shake the pan gently every so often to see if it has released. When it does, flip the meat (or pieces of meat) to the other side. The seared surface should be caramelized dark brown. → If the glaze on the bottom of the pan starts looking very dry or you smell the odor of burning, lower the heat and add a little more oil to the pan.

  10. Continue searing the meat: Again, do not move the meat as the second side sears. It will release easily when it has seared. If you are cooking a roast, continue to cook on all sides. For smaller pieces of meat, cook the sides if desired, or transfer them to a clean plate and continue searing the remaining meat in batches; deglaze the pan between batches (see below) and add more oil as necessary.

  11. Deglaze the pan: As the meat sears, a sticky brown glaze will start to build up on the bottom of the pan — this is called the "fond." Once you have finished searing, transfer all the meat to a clean plate and pour 1 cup of wine, broth, or water into the pan. It should bubble and boil immediately and start dissolving the glaze. Scrape the bottom of the pan to work up any tough bits. If you're making a stew or braise, add this liquid to the rest of the liquid being used in the recipe. If you're making steaks or other quick-cooking meat dish, this liquid can be reduced even further to make a pan-sauce to drizzle over the top of the finished dish.

(Video) How To Sear Meat

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(Images: Emma Christensen)

FAQs

What is the best way to sear? ›

Aim For A Brown Sear

Start by placing your meat into the pan fattiest-side down—or in the case of chicken, skin-side down. Unless you're seeing smoke, don't move the meat! Let it sear undisturbed for a couple of minutes and it should naturally curl and lift off the surface of the pan as the tasty sear forms.

What is the proper way to sear a steak? ›

Preheat the pan on medium and brush with oil. Using just 1/2 Tbsp oil reduces splatter. Sear steaks – add steaks and sear each side 3-4 minutes until a brown crust has formed then use tongs to turn steaks on their sides and sear edges (1 min per edge).

What is the searing method? ›

Searing is a cooking technique that exposes ingredients (typically meat) to a high temperature to create a crisp browning on the outside. This method enhances the flavour of the dish and is often done in a small amount of oil, butter or fat.

What does a good sear look like? ›

It should be dark brown—but not black. Remove the seared meat from the pan and continue how ever you have planned for the rest of the cooking process. Don't forget to deglaze your pan for a lovely sauce (unless you're using seasoned cast iron)!

What does it mean to sear a meat? ›

Searing (or pan searing) is a technique used in grilling, baking, braising, roasting, sautéing, etc., in which the surface of the food (usually meat such as beef, poultry, pork, seafood) is cooked at high temperature until a browned crust forms.

How do you sear without overcooking? ›

A couple things to try:
  1. Cool down your meat before searing. You could sink it in an ice bath for a few to drop the temp a bit so the inside doesn't cook up when you sear it.
  2. Speed up the searing. For this I highly recommended getting a Searzall setup. ...
  3. Lower the sous vide temp. ...
  4. Increase the sear temp.
9 Jan 2017

Do you sear with or without oil? ›

For searing steaks, do you sear with or without oil? Oil usually allows for better contact with the meat, but if you are able to get the pan really hot - that's going to be above the smoke point for most oils.

Do you sear with lid open or closed? ›

Grilling with the lid on or off – Leave the lid open when you're searing steaks and need to keep a close eye on it. Once you move it to indirect heat, you can close the lid and let the smoke do its thing. Quick-cooking foods can usually be cooked (fish, veggies, hot dogs) with the lid open the whole time.

How many minutes do you sear meat? ›

Sear the steaks for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. After the steaks have been seared on both sides, remove from heat, and brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil. This will help form the crust that adds the touch of perfection.

How do you roast a perfect sear? ›

Sear before roasting

To guarantee a well-caramelized crust, sear the roast in 1-3 tablespoons of oil for two to three minutes per side, either in the roasting pan or a skillet, before putting it into the oven.

Do you sear on high or low heat? ›

Get the pan hot.

High temperatures are necessary to get the deep-brown sear you want. Preheat your pan over medium-high heat for 3–5 minutes. You'll know it's ready when the oil begins to shimmer and moves around the pan like water.

How do you sear without burning? ›

Make sure your pan is hot

Use a stainless steel or a cast iron skillet for this kind of cooking; avoid nonstick skillets. Add a few teaspoons of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoke point) and set the pan over high heat. Pat the meat dry as the pan heats — this helps keep it from steaming instead of searing.

Why do you sear meat first? ›

Searing meat is an essential step if you want to make the most flavorful roasts, steaks, chops, and more. When you sear meat, you caramelize the natural sugars in the meat and brown the proteins, forming a rich brown crust on the surface of the meat that amplifies the savory flavor of the finished dish.

What oil gives the best Sear? ›

For high-temperature searing, it's best to use a refined oil with a higher smoke point. Let your favorite fruity EVOO sit this round out; it's canola's time to shine. Safflower, peanut, sunflower, and soy oils are also good options.

What is the perfect sear temp? ›

The searing process (also known as the Maillard reaction and carmelization) begins at temperatures as low as 300°F, and the effective searing range is about 300°F to 500°F. Searing at temperatures beyond 500°F can dry out food excessively fast, and usually result in disappointing, burnt food.

What is the best oil for searing meat? ›

The best oil for searing steak has a high smoke point and does not overpower the natural flavor of the meat. Avocado oil, refined olive oil or light olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil are best for searing steak.

Does sear mean fully cook? ›

The purpose is not actually to cook the food all the way through, but rather to develop a dark brown, caramelized crust on the outside. Even though this technique is very similar to “browning“, searing is actually one step further than browning.

How do you sear meat before slow cooking? ›

How Do You Sear a Roast Before Slow Cooking? You heat olive oil in a skillet or Dutch oven on the stove, then sear the roast for about one minute per side before transferring it to the slow cooker.

How do you sear meat without sticking it? ›

How to Prevent It. Follow these steps: Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until it is just smoking (on most stovetops, this takes 2 or 3 minutes). Sear the meat without moving it, using tongs to flip it only when a substantial browned crust forms around the edges.

Why am I not getting a good sear? ›

The reaction you need to sear meat can only happen at very hot temperatures between 300 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. So, make sure you give your grill or pan enough time to heat up and act quickly to make the most of that heat once the necessary temperature is reached.

Do you use butter when searing? ›

Butter is not good for searing anything. It has a low smoke point and milk solids that will burn and taste bitter. Use avocado oil, grapeseed oil or even canola oil.

How hot should oil be for searing? ›

The surface temperature range to aim for when searing is 400-450°F (204-232°C). Choose a cooking fat with a high enough smoke point to withstand the heat.

Is oil or butter better for searing? ›

As you can see, between butter and oil, butter has a dramatically lower smoke point. Because of this, if you heat up a pan hot enough to sear your steak, putting a dollop of butter in first means it is likely to burn up.

How long should you sear each side? ›

Sear each side for approximately 2 minutes. Flip no more than 2 times to produce a mouthwatering crust and those grill marks everyone loves. Use an instant-read thermometer to accurately gauge temperature and doneness.

Do you let meat rest before searing? ›

Reverse searing is a way of cooking that first grills the meat indirectly on a low temperature (oven or smoker) until the internal temperature is perfect. Then you let it rest for 10 minutes before you quickly sear the outside of the meat to get those famous grill marks!

When should you reverse searing? ›

Types of Meat to Reverse Sear

Reverse searing is best suited to thick-cut steaks like ribeyes, tri-tip, T-bone, Porterhouse steaks, New York strip, and filet mignon. The key to a good reverse sear lies in the thickness of the particular cut: Ideally, the meat should be one-and-a-half to two-inches thick.

Do you season after searing? ›

Seasoning of meat is often performed before searing (think steaks), but this is commonly only in the form of a thin layer of salt and pepper and maybe herbs too, not a thick complete covering.

How long should you sear a roast for? ›

It will take about 3 minutes or so to cook on the first side and develop that brown crust that you are desiring. If you keep checking on it, you risk tearing the meat before it releases from the pan when it is ready. You also risk less browning. Just let the meat do it's thing and flip when it's ready.

How do I make my steak sear crispy? ›

Brush the steak with melted butter, then return (butter side down) to the hot side of the grill. Sear for 15-20 seconds, and while cooking brush the other side with butter. Flip the steak, applying more butter to the other side, then repeat. In total, the steak should have two butter bastes and two sears per side.

How long does it take to pan sear? ›

Sear each side, flipping minimally.

It should not take long for a crisp brown crust to form. Depending on the heat of your pan, it should take about 2-4 minutes (or less) for each side to finish cooking.

Is 400 degrees hot enough to sear? ›

Searing requires fairly high heat, at least 400 degrees if not more, and all that heat can be harnessed towards further cooking. If a piece of meat is seared and then left to sit on the hot surface, especially a delicate cut with a fairly uniform interior structure, the heat can diffuse inwards.

Do you add oil when searing? ›

Let your pan start to warm on the burner over medium-to-high heat, and once it's warm (but before it's hot), add enough oil to well coat the bottom of the pan. You want to keep your protein from sticking, but not add so much fat that it ends up frying.

Do you sear with lid on or off? ›

You should also leave the lid off whenever you're trying to achieve a beautiful sear. Searing takes place in a very hot pan and serves to create a flavorful, caramelized crust on the exterior of steaks, duck breasts, lamb chops, pork chops, salmon, tuna, scallops, and other kinds of meat and seafood.

How long do you sear meat for? ›

Sear the steaks for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. After the steaks have been seared on both sides, remove from heat, and brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil. This will help form the crust that adds the touch of perfection.

What is the best oil to sear with? ›

The best oil for searing steak has a high smoke point and does not overpower the natural flavor of the meat. Avocado oil, refined olive oil or light olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil are best for searing steak.

What cooking oil is best for searing? ›

The Best Oil for Searing

Since the pan's heat is likely between 400-450°F (205-232°C), you want heavy hitters here. Refined neutral oils like canola, soy, vegetable, and peanut are classic go-tos, but extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are less refined and perform just as well.

Do you sear with high heat? ›

High temperatures are needed to get a truly caramelized, deep-brown sear on the surface of the meat. Use a stainless steel or a cast iron skillet for this kind of cooking; avoid nonstick skillets. Add a few teaspoons of vegetable oil (which has a higher smoke point) and set the pan over high heat.

How do you sear without scorching? ›

Andrew offers a few rules for his technique:
  1. Use a nonstick or carbon-steel skillet, not stainless steel. ...
  2. Don't add oil.
  3. Start in a cold pan (no need to preheat).
  4. Flip the steaks every 2 minutes.
  5. Start with high heat, and then after a few flips, turn it down to medium.
1 Jan 2022

Does sear mean cook all the way? ›

The purpose is not actually to cook the food all the way through, but rather to develop a dark brown, caramelized crust on the outside. Even though this technique is very similar to “browning“, searing is actually one step further than browning.

Do you sear the fat side first? ›

Pro-Tip: Start by searing the fat cap (no need to add oil first). Use tongs to hold it in place as fat crisps up, and oil renders into your pan.

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