Skip to Content

Why doesn’t my steak sear? (Explained)

Why Doesn’t My Steak Sear?

Searing a steak invokes a type of food chemistry known as the Maillard process. The powerfully, complex flavor particles created on the surface of the steak require heat, the presence of protein, carbohydrates, and other conditions to make a perfect seared crust on the steak. 

If one or two factors in this steak searing equation are off, it can be difficult to get a rich sear on the surface of even the highest quality steak. 

The two most common causes of poor searing tend to be moisture on the surface of the steak or insufficient heat created by the grill. 

Patting a steak dry, or gently removing some of the wet marinade will go a long way toward ensuring good contact between the surface of the meat and the grill grates. Moisture also tends to steal heat energy as it evaporates, which can also interfere with the searing process. 

You also need to make sure that you’re giving your grill grates time to sufficiently preheat. The thicker the metal of the grill grates the longer they need to preheat over a robust flame. 

What to Do If Your Steak Isn’t Searing?

If you lay your steak on the grill grates and you don’t hear the telltale sizzling sound of searing, or you flip the steak and there are very poor grill marks, it’s best to remove the steak until you can troubleshoot the problem. Wrapping it in heavy-duty aluminum foil will help it stay warm

Increasing Temperature

A lot of times, insufficient preheating, or a low flame is the underlying cause of grill grates that won’t sear a steak. The thicker the metal of the grates, the longer they need to preheat, with a target temperature of at least 350 to 400 degrees. 

For narrow 4 mm chrome plated grill grates you might only need to preheat them for 5 to 7 minutes to be able to get a good sear on a steak. 

Whereas thick 7 mm stainless steel grill grates and robust porcelain-coated cast iron grates can take as much as 15 to 20 minutes to absorb enough heat energy to properly sear a steak. 

Placing It Over Fire

A steak often needs to be seared over an open flame to develop traditional grill marks and a flavorful exterior crust. If you have a wood pellet grill, the indirect heating method might not develop much of a powerful sear. 

In a scenario like this, you have a few options. If your wood pellet grill has a broiler plate, you can slide it open to sear over direct flame. Otherwise, you’ll need to move the steak to a separate gas grill or side table sear station. 

Adding More Seasoning Before Hand

Patting down a steak to remove some of the moisture before searing can sometimes remove some of the surface seasonings. So, it helps to give the steak another light dash of salt, and pepper right before bringing it to be seared on the grill. 

If you have an extra 15 to 20 minutes you can soak your steak in a light baking soda and water solution. This will slightly modify the pH of the steak’s surface to promote searing. You can then pat the steak dry and apply other seasonings right before grilling. 

Final Thoughts

We’ve all had a time or two when we rushed to put a steak on the grill. If you’re not hearing the telltale sound of sizzling within a few seconds of your steak hitting the grates, or a quick peak reveals very poor grill marks, it’s best to remove the steak from the heat. 

You can tent it in some heavy-duty aluminum foil to let it hold in some of the heat while you figure out what went wrong. Usually, it’s just that you didn’t let the grates preheat long enough, and you need to turn up the heat for a few minutes before laying the steak back on the grill. 

If the surface of your steak is wet with sloppy marinade or perhaps some leftover wet brine, you’ll need to pat the steak dry before you’ll get a good, strong sear. Anytime you pat a steak, you’ll take away some of the seasonings from the surface, and you’ll need to apply some more. 

Once the steak’s surface is dry, and the temperature of the grill grates is at least 350 to 400 degrees, you can put your steak back on the grill to finish searing and cooking the interior through.