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How to Sear Your Steak Properly

Searing your steak: You know it needs to be done. But by the time you’re done reading, you’ll also know why and how to do it.

“Now give your steak a good sear.” Celebrity chefs always say this on TV. Cookbook authors tout it as the most important step in every steak recipe.

But what exactly does searing a steak do—and why is it such a big deal?

It comes down to two things, really: crust and flavor. You sear a steak by cooking it quickly over high heat. This produces a crispy, golden brown, deliciously aromatic crust, and infuses the steak with a rich and meaty flavor.

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How to Sear a Steak

Author: Dim Nikov


  • 1 Skillet cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel


  • 8.5 oz steak
  • 2 pinches salt kosher salt
  • 1 pinch pepper black pepper


  • Season the steak liberally on both sides with kosher salt and black pepper.
  • Preheat a skillet with a heavy bottom and thick walls for 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. Use a skillet made of uncoated cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel.
  • Once the skillet is hot enough, add a small amount of oil. Lift the pan above the burner and give it a swirl so that the cooking surface is evenly coated.
  • Put the steak in the pan and let it cook undisturbed for about 1½-2 minutes. You'll hear it hiss and sizzle. Wait until it forms a crispy and golden brown crust, then turn the steak to the other side and repeat.
  • Usually, steaks that are less than 1½ inches thick can be cooked entirely by searing. Thicker steaks might require additional cooking over medium heat or finishing off in a 350°F oven before they are cooked to doneness.


Avoid using butter to sear a steak. Butter has a low smoke point, and it will easily burn and turn black when exposed to high heat.
Don’t sear steak in a non-stick pan. Non-stick pans can be used at temperatures no higher than 450-500°F, which can easily be exceeded when searing. This can cause the pan to overheat and release harmful fumes.

Does Searing Lock in the Juices?

Contrary to what many cooks think, searing a steak does not “bring out the meat’s flavors” or “lock in the juices.”

Instead, the sear creates new flavors on the steak’s surface by triggering what is known as the Maillard reaction—a complex chain of chemical events that takes place when protein-rich foods are heated to temperatures between 284°F and 330°F.

The Maillard reaction, and the surface browning that it triggers on our food, is the reason why seared steaks, toasted bread, and roasted coffee beans smell and taste so damn good. Master the Maillard reaction, and you will have mastered the art and craft of making food flavorful using dry heat.

Searing can only be done with dry heat because the temperature needed for searing, which is higher than the boiling point of water, cannot be achieved when cooking with water or sous-vide. In other words, you can sear a steak with or without oil in a pan, in the oven, under the broiler, or on the grill, but not when it’s submerged in cooking liquid.

The crispy crust on the steak is formed when the heat causes the surface of the meat to dry out. The longer you keep the steak on the heat, the crispier the crust will become. But it possible to overdo it: if the steak is seared for too long, it can end up dry and difficult to chew.

When Is a Steak Done Searing?

Technically, the steak is done searing as soon as it has developed a crispy and golden brown crust on both sides.

Searing is not a cooking method meant to fully cook the steak all the way through. It works well for thin steaks, but for thicker cuts, it’s necessary to combine searing with additional cooking at a lower heat either before or after searing to cook the steak properly.

The next logical step after searing is burning. A lightly charred steak tastes great, and the light charing can actually enhance the meat’s appeal. However, if the steak becomes overly blackened and dry, it’s burnt and therefore undesirable.

How to Sear a Steak Without Burning It

If you keep burning your steak when you sear it, it means two things: First, you may be using a heat that’s too high. Second, you’re probably leaving the steak on each side for too long.

So, how hot is too hot when searing a steak?

Searing works best when the heat is set to medium-high. For instance, my induction cooktop has 9 heat settings, and I always set it to 7 for searing meat. This level of heat is high enough to create a nice browning effect without burning the steak’s edges.

Also, don’t forget that searing is a cooking method that’s meant to brown your steak, not fully cook it. If you’re working with a thick steak (usually more than 1½ inches thick), it’s best to cook it over lower heat (say, medium heat on the stovetop or a 350°F oven) either before or after the sear.

How to Sear Steak Without Burning the Butter

Butter burns easily because it has a low smoke point.

When you heat butter to temperatures higher than 350°F, and the temperature of searing is much higher, it will quickly burn and develop a bitter taste. This, as you’ve probably experienced first hand, can ruin the flavor of your steak.

To sear steak without burning the butter, follow this step: only add the butter once you have finished searing and moved the pan away from the burner. This way, the butter will melt and evenly coat your steak instead of burning.

Or you can use ghee, also known as clarified butter, as a substitute for cooking oil. Ghee is essentially butter with the milk solids removed, giving it a higher smoke point. This makes ghee ideal for searing because it can withstand higher temperatures without burning.

How to Reduce the Smoke When Searing a Steak

Searing is a cooking method that uses dry, relatively high heat. This causes the moisture on the surface of your steak to evaporate, which in turn makes the steak to hiss, sizzle, and smoke.

While a certain amount of smoking is expected when searing, there are methods you can use to minimize it. To decrease smoking, opt for a pan with a flat bottom rather than a grill pan, and make sure to add enough cooking oil to cover the entire cooking surface.

And be sure to set your range hood or air purifier to its highest setting while searing. Even if you take precautions, some smoke is bound to occur when there’s dry heat and fresh meat involved.

Why Doesn’t My Steak Sear?

Are your steaks not browning properly whenever you try to sear them? There are a couple of reasons why your steak may not be searing properly.

First, you might not be preheating your pan for a long enough time. If you’re using an uncoated pan, make sure to preheat it for 2-3 minutes (refer to our guide for telling when your frying pan is hot enough).

Another reason why your steak may not be searing properly is that you’re likely not using high enough heat. Searing requires browning, which happens when the surface of your steak reaches a temperature above 384°F. Try cranking up the heat to medium-high and make sure to preheat your pan adequately, then give it another shot.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.