Help! I Am Having Problems Searing Meat

Good Questions

Q: I've been experiencing difficulty when it comes to searing meat on the stovetop, whether it's chicken breasts, pork chops or steak. I follow recipes exactly and wind up burning what I'm cooking. I have an electric range and I'm using a stainless steel skillet. It's nothing fancy, a KitchenAid brand, but seems to be made well enough.

The problem is food is blackened on the outside, raw on the inside and the whole house smells badly. Do you have any tips or suggestions as to what I could be doing wrong? Last night's episode of parmesan and breadcrumb crusted pork chops just put me over the edge! Are there certain oils which are safer to use if I'm having this problem? Could I really just need a better pan? Help! Please!

Sent by Smoky in San Francisco

Editor: Smoky, it sounds to us like there are a couple problems in your technique. We wonder especially if you are compensating for having an electric stove by turning up the heat too high.

If so, that may be your problem. Meat does not generally need to be seared at top heat (flame and smoke on Top Chef and Iron Chef aside; all that flaming and dramatic high heat cooking is quite deceptive to the general public, in our opinion!). Medium-high does well; you aren't looking for an instant crust or blackened exterior. Even high-heat searing should take several minutes over medium-high or high heat. If things are smoking almost right away, then you have the heat too high. You need to give the heat time to make the chemical changes in the meat to create that golden brown color and grilled taste.

Also, an electric stove will get just as hot as a gas stove; in fact, it's going to retain the heat even longer, and you don't have quite as much control. Try starting the heat lower than you think you'll need it first and go from there.

Secondly, even if you're searing your meat first, it will probably need a little more time to cook fully on low heat. For instance, with chicken breasts, the way we like to do them is to sear until they're golden on each side. This takes a 2-3 minutes each side on medium-high heat. Then we splash in a little wine or stock, turn the heat down to low, and cover the breasts to let them cook slowly, until they are moist and tender.

For steak, here's the method we like to use, and it involves the oven:

How To Broil a Steak in the Oven

Readers, what advice would you give Smoky in San Francisco? Did we miss the problem entirely, do you think? Can you help Smoky sear a good chicken breast?

Related: Kitchen Magic: How to Cook Moist and Tender Chicken Breasts

(Image: Faith Durand)