How to Sear Meats for Maximum Flavor

Roast Beef Tenderloin
Photo by Chef John.

Get serious about searing.

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. The delicious result? Steaks become even more savory, stews, and pot roastshave richer flavor, and chicken gets a mouthwateringly crispy golden skin.

We'll share step-by-step tips for proper searing, using a recipe for Roast Beef Tenderloin as an example. After you learn how to sear, you can use the same technique on all kinds of meats, poultry, and seafood.

Recipe: Roast Beef Tenderloin

A beef tenderloin is pan-seared for a deeply caramelized crust, and slow-roasted on bed of mushroom pan sauce for a simple yet elegant dinner. Watch the video to see how Chef John seasons and sears the meat before making the sauce and finishing the roast in the oven.

Top Tips for Searing Meats

1. Take the chill off. Pull the meat from the fridge and set it out at room temperature for a short while before searing it. This lets the meat relax, allowing the meat's natural moisture to reabsorb into the muscle, rather than staying trapped between the meat's fibers. Dry off excess moisture with paper towels, if necessary.

2. Add flavor. Season meat with salt (and optional pepper). The seasoning will stick to the moist surface of the meat, and as it cooks it will form a flavorful seared crust. Note: If your meat has been brined or marinated, don't add extra salt. Use care if the marinade was sweet or sugary: the added sugars can burn quickly in the hot pan. You can pat-dry with paper towels to remove extra marinade before searing.

3. Heat the pan. Make sure the pan that will be used for searing is hot, hot, hot! If the pan is too cool when you add the meat, it can stick and tear when you try to turn it.

4. Figure the fat. Depending on the amount of fat in the meat, you might not need to add fat to the pan. If you're searing a lean cut — pork tenderloin or chops, chicken, lean beef — add about two tablespoons of vegetable or peanut oil to the pan. (Olive oil and butter have too low of a smoke point.) Turn the heat up to high and watch for the oil to ripple. When the oil ripples, add the meat. Note: If you're searing cubes of meat for a stew, don't crowd the pan with too many pieces of meat at one time, otherwise they'll steam rather than sear. It's always better to sear them in batches so they'll brown properly.

5. Start the sear. Place meat in the pan fattiest-side down if possible; add chicken pieces skin-side down. Take care: the hot oil will sputter and spit. Don't move the meat; let it sear undisturbed for a few minutes (longer for roasts, shorter for cubed meat or steaks) before flipping it over. If your pan was hot enough and your meat seared for long enough, the meat should lift easily from the pan without tearing.

6. Sear the other side. When one side is seared, turn the meat over.

7. Don't forget the ends. To sear the ends of a roast, use extra care: if the meat tips over, it can splatter hot grease over the stove and the cook. Use tongs to hold it up, if necessary. Round roasts tend to roll over rather than stay put. Try to lean the meat against the edge of the pan to support it while you brown each part.

9. Finish cooking. Even though the outside of the meat is beautifully browned, the inside may still be raw. Finish cooking your meat by roasting it in the oven, adding it to your slow cooker, or simmering it on the stove, depending on the recipe you're using.

10. Don't waste the crusty bits. Seared meats leave flavorful pan drippings known as fond, which can later be used to make a pan sauce by "deglazing" the pan with a small amount of liquid.

Recipes to Try

All of these recipes start with a good sear to form a flavorful crust.

Simple Beef Pot Roast

Simple Beef Pot Roast
Photo by S.E. Price.

Pork Chops with Apple Cider Glaze

Pork Chops with Apple Cider Glaze
Photo by Nicholio.

Beef and Guinness Stew

Beef and Guinness Stew
Photo by Vick Chick.

Pan Seared Salmon

Pan Seared Salmon I
Photo by KGora.

Seared Scallops with Jalapeno Vinaigrette

Seared Scallops with Jalapeno Vinaigrette
Photo by Allrecipes Magazine.

Chef John's Coq Au Vin

Chef John's Coq Au Vin
Photo by I_like_Puppies.

More: See our entire collection of recipes for roast beef, pork, pot roast, and more.

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