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Why doesn’t my steak sear? (Explained)

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It’s been a long week, and you want to surprise your partner with a homemade meal of steak. Your wine and oven-roasted vegetables are ready, and now it’s just the steak remaining.

But as you start cooking, you notice that the steak isn’t searing nicely or as the online guide suggests. What could be the problem? Take a look at some of the reasons.

The Meat Is Too Cold

You can’t just get meat from the fridge, put it on the pan, and start cooking. The outcome will be horrible. The meat will start cooking outside while the inside is still cold.

Instead, remove your steak from the fridge an hour before cooking and allow it to sit at room temperature. One hour is too short for the meat to start going bad.

When it’s ready, pat it with a dry paper towel to remove excess moisture. This is a crucial step because if water is present in your steak, it will form steam, and browning won’t occur.

That steam released will also cool the pan or grill’s surface, which you want to avoid. If you like marinating your steak before cooking, ensure you have completely eliminated excess marinade before placing the meat on the pan.

Or better yet, go with a dry rub if you want additional flavors. You’ll still have a juicy steak without having to worry about moisture.

Just when you’re about to cook, you can now season your steak with salt and pepper. Do not season the meat too early. The salt will draw moisture from the meat, and you want it dry. However, some chefs also season the meat 30 minutes before cooking, then pat dry again.

Just make sure the steak is dry by the time you’re placing it on the pan.

Your Pan or Grill Isn’t Hot Enough

If you want to get that ideal caramelized, dark-brown sear on your meat’s surface, you need to use high temperatures. Plus, a cold pan just makes the meat dry and eliminates all the tasty flavors. For this kind of cooking, stick to a cast iron skillet or stainless-steel pan.

They are the best, and when heated to high heat, they will help sear the steak rapidly and evenly. While Dutch ovens and enamel-lined pans can be used, they require slightly lower heat because enamel can crack.

Never use non-stick pans for this kind of cooking.

You’re Using a Thin Coating of Oil

With searing, oil isn’t so much for cooking but a way to ensure even surface contact between the pan and the steak. This will ensure the meat gets a uniform appearance and prevent some spots from appearing brown while others look pale.

While the oil is heating, swirl it around to achieve a thin layer at the bottom of the pan. It is advisable to use vegetable oil as it has a higher smoke point, making it perfect for high heat searing. Keep in mind this isn’t dip frying. The oil should be as little as possible.

Don’t get spooked when you notice the smoke. A well-seared steak usually produces some smoke. Just turn on your exhaust fans to help circulate the air in your kitchen.

You’re Crowding the Pan

Depending on the size of steak you’re preparing, you need to ensure the pan is large enough to accommodate the meat. If the pan is too small and you’re preparing two pieces of steak, you may have to cook twice.

But if the pan is large enough, place the steaks on the pan and ensure there’s a small space between them. The meat should also not touch the sides of the pan. Overcrowding your meat results in steam instead of searing.

You Aren’t Allowing the Meat to Cook

Once you place your meat in the pan, let it cook. Understandably you may want to lift the steak and see if it is cooking, or move it around. But resist that temptation and let the meat cook uninterrupted for a couple of minutes. This is what allows the meat to sear properly.

Once you place the meat on the pan or grill, it will stick. Don’t be alarmed, as this contributes to the searing process. If you try to flip or poke it, you’ll interrupt the flow.

But once the meat is ready, it will be released from the pan, and you can turn it.

Don’t forget to cook the sides, which usually have a fatty piece. Most people forget this, yet melting that fat will help the meat develop more flavor.

Just use the tongs to tilt the meat sideways and let it cook for like two minutes or until it has that nice brown you’re looking for.

Once your meat is well seared, you can remove it from the pan and proceed with the rest of the cooking process you had in mind.

Let Your Steak Rest Before Serving

The last part, which is essential yet most people forget, is allowing the meat to rest. As much as you’re hungry and the steak looks mouthwatering, give it a few minutes to rest.

This step allows the juices to distribute evenly in the meat. Your steak and partner will thank you for this step.

Final Thoughts

It can be frustrating when you’re planning to surprise a loved one or even yourself with a well-prepared steak only to get a bad outcome. If you avoid the mistakes mentioned and follow the suggested tips, you’ll end up with a well-seared steak.