Searing for beginners

Hello Everyone!
I’m trying to perfect my searing skills. I’ve cooked both pork and beef to the rarest possible temps. Every time I’ve seared them they become over cooked and tough. Please note that I am searing in a calphalon skillet at the highest tempature on my stove.

Thanks Epicureans!

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I’m assuming that the meat doesn’t come out of the bath already over-cooked (in which case the searing wouldn’t be to blame).

Either get a stove that achieves a higher temperature, or reduce the amount of time you sear for. Or sear with a blow torch. That transfers less heat to the interior of the meat than a frying pan.

Without being able to see your stove, pan, and degree of cooking before the searing starts, it’s really hard to hazard a guess. Most likely, the pan isn’t as hot as it should be. Or you are searing for too long, allowing heat to seep into the meet and cook it more. Or both…


You also need to dry the exterior of your meat before you sear it (otherwise the sear doesn’t start until that moisture is boiled off, but the heat is cooking your meat further).

Also, the thinness of the cuts certainly comes into play - less than 1", you’re going to have a hard time searing in a pan and preserving any colour in the meat.

High heat oils (such as Avocado) are also highly desirable when doing your sear - a good chart here:

Also, Calphalon is a brand name…really doesn’t tell us what kind of a skillet you’re using.

Me, I love my cast iron skillet - get it insanely hot, add the avocado oil, then put a dab of butter (for flavour) in the pan just before I throw the steak on - I can get an insanely thin char that way.


Not knowing more, you mentioned a Calphalon skillet. I don’t know what type of skillet but all the Calphalon I have is nonstick, so my first question is what type of pan you’re talking about. If it’s nonstick, it has it’s place, but that place isn’t searing.

I don’t like taking care of my cast iron, but it sears way better than any nonstick I have. I hear steel is also good but I don’t have any personally, and cast iron is really cheap so there’s no good excuse not to have one (except running out of storage space, I guess). Preheat the pan to get it really hot before you put your meat in the pan, and also pat your meat dry on the surface with a paper towel before searing.

If you’re already using drying and preheating, and using a good searing skillet, then see michi’s advice above. I’ve never needed anything more than a hot cast iron, but if you’re more picky than me or your stovetop doesn’t get hot enough, those suggestions may work better for you.

Thanks for the tips! I think I may try torching next time. :crossed_fingers:t2:

I’ll just toss my $0.02 worth in support of cast iron as well. My post-SV searing activity is primarily with steaks (spelled R-I-B-E-Y-E in my house), and I’ve found that 30-40 seconds per side with a little clarified butter in a cast iron skillet that’s been heated to 500ºF in the oven (so as to ensure even heating and prevent the possibility of warping/cracking) and then transferred to a cooktop burner at high heat results in the best sear I’ve been able to achieve. And cast iron’s superior thermal retention means that I can sear multiple steaks without having to wait for the pan to come back up to the target temperature in between them.

But skip the skillets with raised ridges, which so many people mistakenly use for steaks because it gives them faux “grill marks”. It’s not possible to get a real sear using them because the majority of the meat’s surface never comes in contact with the iron.


I worry about the cast iron skillet because my husband is a neat freak and feels the need to constantly wash them with soap and water. There is also our constant battle over grease spatter on the glass top stove which is my mortal enemy :japanese_ogre:

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Grease spatter is a part of searing. But there shouldn’t be too much for a single cut of meat, depending on how many you’re batching. With that said you can get spatter screens. I don’t bother with one so I don’t know how much gets through them, but they do exist.

The cleaning thing is an adjustment. You could try a steel pan instead like I mentioned, but someone else would need to vouch for whether it rivals cast iron.

The thing to remember is in either case you can get them surprisingly clean without soap, and if you’re using primarily for searing, you’re talking about 400-500 degrees with the right (minimal) oil. That will “clean” your pan while you’re preheating, before the current batch of food hits the pan, as long as you’ve done a good enough job cleaning it after your last cook.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with washing cast iron cookware in soap and water. That’s one of those obsolete bugaboos that, for one reason or another, just refuses to die. Back in the old days, when lye soap was in common use…including for washing dishes…people avoided using it on their cast iron because the lye was caustic and degraded the layers of “seasoning” that had been painstakingly built-up on the cookware. But with the advent of modern non-lye dishwashing soaps many decades ago that is no longer an issue, and your cast iron may be washed by hand as many times as you wish without harming it in any way…so long as you dry it right away, of course, so as to avoid the risk of rust. Putting it in the dishwasher is to be avoided, however, as the detergents used are not as mild, and the problem with heat and sitting in a humid environment is obvious.

I’ve been washing my Lodge cast iron skillet and Dutch oven in soap and water for over 20 years and the seasoning on both is still in excellent condition.


I’ve also always heard not to wash with soap…now you’ve got my interest and I may need to try it “for science”…

Yes, most people have heard that…which is why it persists, I expect. But have you ever heard a well-reasoned explanation for why you shouldn’t wash CI with soap?

Non-stick pans are no good for a good sear. If you can’t get or don’t want cast iron, carbon steel is every bit as good (and lighter and usually cheaper for good quality).

Heat your pan dry. It may take 5 to 10 minutes to get the pan properly hot. You’ll probably want your range hood fan on high. Oil just before adding the steak. You can wipe the oil onto the pan with a scrunch of paper towel or with a silicon basting brush if you’re wary of using too much. I quite like ghee to sear with due to the flavour.

As has been mentioned before, make sure your meat is dry and seasoned. The salt will assist in Maillard reaction.

If you’re not getting the results you desire you can brush your meat with mayonnaise to promote crusting, though I have not tried it. A less drastic, but still good effect can be achieved with a light brushing of eggwhite. This is also great if you’re looking to add a herb crust to something like a roast.

Another thing that can help. When you remove your meat from it’s water bath, give it a quick chill in an ice bath. This will cool the outside and give a bit of a cooking barrier to over cooking the interior.

Most important thing of all… Practice makes perfect. :wink:

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Ah, I was also under the impression about not using soap on my cast iron, nor stoneware, as “it can remove the seasoning”. Heh. I’ll have to do some googling - need more corroboration before I dare try it! :smiley:

@Elohr Those green Scotch Brite plastic scouring pads from 3M make short work out of anything that gets on your glass cooktop.

As others have recommended, a cast iron skillet is the best tool in addition to the Anova. To avoid splatter and setting off a sensitive smoke alarm, I use the side burner on the outside grill (another nice to have addition to a BBQ grill.) But now that the rains have come back into the Pacific Northwest, I’ll sear in the oven broiler. Heat skillet to 500F, toss in meat, count to 30, flip count to 30, pull.

As to washing cast iron, I discovered a chainmail scrubber after reading an article in Cooks Illustrated. After 50 years of fighting with steel wool and other scrubbers, never again. The stainless steel chainmail scrubber is the one to get for your cast iron skillets.

And a bit of mild dish soap like Ivory has never been an issue with the seasoning.


Well, as I said…if you’re washing your dishes with lye soap like Great Gandma might have then yeah, you should keep your CI out of the dishwater. But if you’re using modern dish soap (pretty much anything sold in the past 60+ years) then your seasoning…which is a hard plastic-like shell made of layers of polymerized fats…is perfectly safe.

Even if you can wash your cast iron skillet with soap and water you simply shouldn’t need to. If there is stuck food on your well seasoned surface, run some hot water into it while the pan is hot, rub lightly with a nylon dish scrubbing brush. Empty water out. Wipe out with damp dish cloth. Return to stove top and heat to remove any residual moisture. Wipe over with oil and allow to cook before putting it away, or you can hang it up while it’s hot.

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Do you clean all of your cookware that way? If not, why not? Or, asked another way, if you think it’s good to wash your other pots and pans with soap and water, what is the rational argument against doing so with your cast iron?

Hi there, to get back to the main question of searing, the main idea is that you have to apply lots of heat very quickly to food with a dry surface. Personally, I don’t use pans for searing. Instead, i use a blowtorch and a wire rack. Works like a charm, plus it’s fun! Blowtorches and gas are relatively cheap where I live, so that was my logical choice. If you have the means to get a blowtorch, I’d highly recommend it!

Yup. I do. Well, not the stainless steel, 'cause it’s a PitA and I try to use it as little as possible because everything sticks to it like glue. But my carbon steel wok, antique cast iron skillet, carbon steel skillet all get treated the same on the very rare occasion that they need cleaning. I can guarantee that my antique bread and pie tins that I inherited from my great grandma have never seen water in their entire life.

My carbon steel skillet, which is smaller than the cast iron one so gets used almost daily, is usually sitting on the stove with the drippings from the previous use in it. It has never seen water. If I decide to get rid of the cooking residue it gets heated, to melt the fat, and wiped out. That’s it.

My philosophy is, if it’s not got stuff stuck to it why bother washing it?

Definitely agree that using a torch does a fantastic job (and, often, I’ll use my torch - with a Searzall on it - in tandem with my cast iron skillet to produce a much higher quality result).

Obviously, one of the major advantages of the torch is being able to get the sides of your steak - and all of the little nooks and crannies.

Used on its own, however, it tends to take a lot longer than a good, blistering skillet.

They work incredibly well together! :slight_smile:

What I’ve also been doing of late is using my Weber electric grill to finish my steaks (apartment dweller) - electric grills are the only BBQ’s legal for apartments here. I let the grill get to max temp (500F+), 1 minute per side, 4 exposures (so about 4 minutes total). It does a pretty good job, though not as good as the skillet + torch combination.

The “rub” with where I live though is if I’m searing in the skillet, I need to disconnect my smoke detector, close the one pocket door in the kitchen, open the sliding door and angle the floor fan to blow the billows of smoke out the door which come from the kitchen. :slight_smile: Heh. The apartment still ends up smelling like steak for two days…but how’s that a bad thing? :wink: