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The Solution to Searing Meat

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2015

When cooking meat, including recipes like our Roasted Rack of Lamb with Roasted Red Pepper Relish (see related content), we’ve found that the best way to achieve a rosy pink interior and nicely browned exterior is to roast the meat in a low oven until nearly done and then sear it on a very hot stove.

When cooking meat, including recipes like our Roasted Rack of Lamb with Roasted Red Pepper Relish (see related content), we’ve found that the best way to achieve a rosy pink interior and nicely browned exterior is to roast the meat in a low oven until nearly done and then sear it on a very hot stove. The low oven’s gentle heat ensures a smaller temperature gradient between the center and exterior of the meat, so the meat cooks through evenly from edge to edge; the stove’s intense heat then rapidly browns just the surface so there’s no time for the meat beneath it to overcook.

Browning meat via this oven-to-stove method may be a bit more work than simply turning up the oven temperature or blasting the meat under the broiler, but here’s why it’s better than either of those methods.

Why Not a Hot Oven?

Air is an inefficient conductor of heat, so even if the oven is cranked to 500 degrees, the surface of the meat won’t brown quickly enough before the interior overcooks.

Why Not the Broiler?

Broilers produce radiant heat waves that brown the top of food rapidly. But they also heat up the air inside the oven, so the other sides of the meat will absorb that heat at the same time and overcook the interior.

Why the Stove?

Searing meat in a very hot skillet conducts heat directly to only the side of the meat in contact with the pan. The other sides of the meat aren’t exposed to additional heat, so they don’t continue cooking. The result: a great crust without a band of overcooked meat beneath it.

CONVECTION: INEFFICIENT

Transfers heat poorly so browning falls short.

RADIANT: OVERKILL

Browns well but heats the oven’s air, causing overcooking.

CONDUCTION: DIRECT

Quickly browns only what’s in contact with the pan for perfect results.