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searing 101

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
There's nothing I like better than a nice golden crust on my meat. The problem is, however, I'm not particularly good at it. Hopefully, somebody on this board can help straigten me out.

I know that to get a good sear, one needs to have a hot pan. Unfortunately, the hotter the pan, the more I splatter oil. I've read that thoroughly drying the meat's surface will help prevent splattering, and in my experience, it does, but not enough to prevent oil from getting all over the stove. Also, even if I really dry my meat well, liquid pushes up to the top surface of the meat when I sear the bottom. So when I sear side number two, there's a lot of liquid (and thus, splattering). Can splattering be avoided? Or am I destined to clean my stovetop every time I sear meat?

I've read argumunts on both sides of this. To me, it makes more sense to oil the pan, as that would allow the oil to be hot PRIOR to adding the meat. But, most steak recipes call for oiling the meat instead of the pan. I can only assume that the reason for this is to let the pan get so ripping hot, that it would far exceed the smoke point of any oil.

Even if I oil the pan (or meat) well, and have the pan nice and hot, my meat sometimes sticks. I recently discovered that moving the meat just a little after putting it in the pan helps prevent sticking. Is there anything else I should be doing?

Certain spices, like pepper, burn easitly. Yet, we've all seen a recipe that says "season well with salt and pepper, then sear). Well, how can I sear the meat at I high temp, while at the same time avoid burning the pepper? Also, many times I have to sear two or more "batches" of meat. I can normally finish the first batch without any burning, and I'm left with some very nice brown bits in the bottom of my pan (which will later be deglazed into a beautiful pan sauce). But, during the second or third batch of searing causes the golden brown to turn into more of a dark brown/black. And that just doesn't taste very good (nor does it unstick easily during deglazing). Any suggestions?

1) What's the purpose of letting the meat come to room temp before searing? Is it so the inside of the meat gets done without burning the outside? Is it so that the meat doesn't lower the temp of the pan?
2) Does seasoning the meat a good ten to 15 minutes before searing allow it to brown better? I've read that salt on the surface of the meat will pull certain enzymes to the surface of the meat, and these enzymes aid in the Maillard reaction. Of course, they also draw liquid to the surface of the meat (see splattering discussion).

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
post #2 of 9
1. Buy a decent BBQ and do your searing outdoors. Searing by nature is a messy , smokey procedure. There are measures like a good exhaust , splatter mesh etc , but these are only half measures at best. Outdoor cooking is the answer. I often sear meat on the BBQ and bring inside to the oven to finish. I would never dare searing the likes of a duck breast inside.
You can both sear on the open grill of the BBQ or for more delicate meats or meats with high fat content (that tend to catch alight) you can use steel fry pans atop the grill. Obviously gas is far more convienient.

2. I would always oil the meat , rather than the pan. You need a very hot pan and oil added in advance will tend to burn. If your using a solid like clarified butter you can melt it and brush it onto the meat.

3. You shouldn't have problems with seasoned pans and decent heat. But don't move or turn too ealry. The meat will sometimes stick for the first few minutes.

4. For hot searing any spice or seasoning is going to burn and that can impart nasty flavours . Better to season and spice after cooking (while resting) or when finishing off in the more forgiving oven enviroment.

5. I always cook meat at room temperature as it will cook more evenly. But most importantly it should be thoroughly dried to avoid any risk of stewing

6. I never season before cooking , Perhaps salt can start to draw out moisture if in contact with the meat too long . I haven't really given much thought to this ,but seasoning after or during cooking seems to work as well.

There is a detailed book on all this . I will check the title . Its an English book , I think called "meat" by Hugh someone.
post #3 of 9
The book is -

River Cottage Meat Book Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall
post #4 of 9
We were very fortunate to have food scientist Harold McGee here as a guest a while back. Here is a link to the "searing" discussion during his visit:

Try typing "searing" into the search function of this board. You'll see plenty of conversations about searing!

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Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
post #5 of 9
First off make sure the steak or meat is very thick. Nothing cooks quicker than a 1" thick piece of meat. Yuck! Then two tricks I have learned are first for a pan... turn the meat often. Keeps the juices that weep from burning and sticking to the meat. Spatter? not much you can do about that in a pan.

The second on the grill is ask the butcher when you by the meat for some fat trim. They usually give me about 5lbs of it at a time and it's also free. Just food save the rest and freeze. On your out door grill place the meat with a large piece of fat right next to it on the hottest section. This is assuming you eat the meat rare. Again turn the meat often since the same principle applies. Yeah those nice diamond marks look impressive but you want the flavor. This works for me everytime!
post #6 of 9


This is a great book and I must say I learned a lot from it.
post #7 of 9
Oldschool, why do you put a piece of fat next to the meat on the grill?
post #8 of 9
:D He must like flare ups with their extra carcinogens and burnt taste.:D

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #9 of 9
Pittsburg BABY!!!!!. It's searing not poaching. What better way than with FIRE!:D Carcinogens? Ya gotta go sometime! Hehehe

Seriously tho, this allows you to use a leaner piece of meat like a Top sirloin and still get a nice sear to the outside. Plus it's also like this. Since I do like the Pittsburg style and the knowledge of how to cook an actual steak in this style is all but lost (Out of the 20 steak houses I have dined at only 1 has been able to make it without drizzleing oil/butter all over the steak and THAT'S what gives you the "burned Carbon like" flavor. YUK!) IMHPO this is really the best way. Plus if you do this procedure properly you have the most tremendously flavorful sear you have ever tasted.
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