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Searing Steak

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2010

Does searing a raw steak really seal in juices or is it a cooking myth?

Cooking a steak usually takes place in two stages: a quick sear in a hot skillet to brown the surface, followed (or preceded) by gentler cooking to bring the interior up to (or close to) its final temperature. Many people believe that searing a raw steak somehow “seals in” juices, resulting in a juicier finished product than meat browned at the end of cooking. Yet we’ve all seen well-seared steaks exude moisture as they rest. So is this long-held belief just another kitchen myth? We put it to the test to find out.

EXPERIMENT

We weighed eight 1¼-inch-thick rib-eye steaks and divided them into two batches. We seared the first batch in a skillet over high heat until a brown crust formed, then cooked the steaks in a 250-degree oven until they reached an internal temperature of 125 degrees. For the second batch we reversed the order, first placing the steaks in the oven until they reached approximately 110 degrees, then searing them until an equally well-browned crust developed and their interiors hit 125 degrees.

RESULTS

We weighed the steaks after cooking and averaged the results, then compared them with the average weight of the steaks before cooking. We found that both sets of steak lost nearly an identical amount of liquid: around 22 percent of their weight.

BOTTOM LINE

If searing truly seals in juices, the steaks seared first (while raw) would have had more moisture trapped inside them than the steaks seared after cooking in the oven. The notion of sealing in juices is thus nothing but an old wives’ tale.

SEARED FIRST Whether seared first or last...

SEARED LAST

...meat loses the same amount of juices during cooking.