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Tips & Tricks

How to Sear in a Cast Iron Pan

By: Lodge Cast Iron / May 28, 2021

Why does pan seared food taste so good? Our brains are hardwired to enjoy the smell of cooking food, and nothing smells better than food sizzling on cast iron. Pan searing is a great option for cooking delicious meat, seafood, and veggies. Plus, it’s a quick and simple way to infuse your dish with flavor and texture!

How to Sear in a Cast Iron Pan
What is pan searing?

Pan searing is a cooking technique used to brown the surface of food (often meat) in a small amount of fat over a high heat before using another method, such as braising or roasting, to finish cooking.The key to pan searing is the high temperature that creates the Maillard reaction. This is a chemical reaction that gives browned foods their distinct color and flavor. Excess water inhibits this reaction, which is why we recommend patting your food dry before cooking. Don’t worry! The fat in your food and high temperature keep your food tender and juicy. 

How do I pan sear with a cast iron skillet?

Higher heat settings, as well as a properly heated cast iron skillet, yield the best results. When you cook foods in a cast iron pan or carbon steel pan try not to move them around too much so a crust can develop on the food. The Maillard reaction begins at about 285° F. We recommend heating your skillet to at least 400° F before adding your food. Excess water on the surface of the food will inhibit the Maillard reaction. To encourage this process, pat foods like, steak, scallops, and chicken, with a paper towel before adding to the hot pan. For a little additional help, check out these articles: 

 

Which pan should I use?

Cast iron has excellent heat retention, making it the preferred cookware for achieving the perfect sear. However, cast iron’s cousin, carbon steel, is perfectly capable of achieving similar results. Carbon steel heats up and cools down faster than cast iron, so you won’t need to preheat the pan as long. Whichever pan you choose, make sure it has low sidewalls and enough room to cook your dish without overcrowding.

What foods are best to pan sear?

Searing food adds complexity to flavor and texture. Meat, poultry, fish, veggies are all perfect for searing. Steaks, scallops, and shrimp are all made better by the addition of a hot cast iron skillet. Pan searing duck breasts or chicken thighs, creates a delicately crispy skin that’s indescribably good.

Here’s what we love about cast iron and carbon steel:
How to Sear in a Cast Iron Pan
Cast Iron:  

Cast iron is a poor distributor of heat, and that’s a good thing! A cast iron pan will be slow to heat up and slow to cool down, and it is much less affected by the addition of food. This means the surface temperature of the skillet won’t drop significantly when cool food is added, making it the perfect tool for pan searing.

Carbon Steel: 

Carbon steel is thinner than cast Iron. This difference in thickness causes carbon steel to be ready to  sear in a fraction of the time. The temperature of a carbon steel pan can be more sensitive to changes in heat and the introduction of food to the pan, but rebounds quickly to efficiently brown food.

 

Not sure what to pan sear?

Try a few of our favorite recipes: