For those of you who are new to cooking meat, or who want to get better at it, searing is where it’s at. If you walk into one of our stores during retail hours and talk to our staff about cooking a steak or a pork chop or pretty much anything, searing is going to come up. It’s the backbone of cooking meat.
Searing is cooking quickly on high heat. Our favorite way to sear is in a hot pan with little or no fat. Our pan preference is French steel or cast iron. For thin cuts of meat, like cutlets and minute steaks, once both sides are seared, it’s done. For thicker cuts, like ribeyes or sirloin top, we pan-sear and then oven-finish. This is the method we describe in our perfect steak recipe.
Searing creates a nice crust on the outside of a cut as well as a juicy interior, though it does not “lock in” any juices as many people believe. We briefly talk about the myth of searing and moisture retention in The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, and many others have experimented with and discussed it at length in other books and publications. These experiments prove searing can result in a moisture loss. The real point of searing is to create texture and enhance flavor.
One of the tricks to searing is to let your meat be for a full two minutes per side in a hot pan. Don’t poke it, don’t move it, don’t try to peek under a corner. Leave it alone. Also, when the time comes to flip, don’t use a fork to turn your steak; use tongs or even your fingers. You don’t want to pierce the meat.
SEARING ON A GRILL
You can sear extremely well when grilling over an open flame, but then you need to move your cut to indirect heat. If you don’t move it, you’re going to ruin a perfectly good steak, which is part of why we prefer pan searing and oven finishing. But it’s not hard on a grill. If you’re using gas, just turn off (or way down) the side you’ve got your steak on after searing. Charcoal takes a little more planning: bank your coals on one side of the grill and leave the other coal-free, so you’ve got a nice spot with no fire underneath to move your meat to when the time comes.
If you’ve been to cooking school or are a research or science buff, you might be aware that the color that you see on a cut of meat as a result of searing is referred to as a Maillard reaction. Louis-Camille Maillard was a French chemist who figured out the reaction between amino acids and sugars in food when exposed to heat that results in browning and specific flavor. Obviously humans have been searing meat over fire forever – long before Maillard came on the scene in the early 1900s.
TIME TO SEAR
There are cooks who enjoy nitpicking about words (what should be called searing vs. browning vs. caramelization) and process (does the pan need fat, how many minutes per side?). We prefer eating over nitpicking. So we’re inclined to turn on the stove and get to it.—and we hope you will be too. Take in this basic info and jump right in.
If you’re looking for searing inspiration or encouragement, here’s a haiku from our Chief Product Officer Matt Unger.