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Cooking School Day 19: Broil & Sear

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
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  • Today’s Topic: Broiling and Searing
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We’ve brought up searing here and there over the past few weeks, and today we’re going to spend a solid lesson making sure you understand exactly what this term means. Broiling is a close cousin to searing, so we’ll cover that too — plus we want to make sure you know how to use every part of your stove and oven before graduating from our Cooking School. Let’s get right into it: what does searing mean and why it it so important to our cooking?

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Day 19 Lesson: Broil & Sear

What is searing? Searing means cooking food — usually meat — at very high heat with very little oil in the pan. The purpose is not actually to cook the food all the way through, but rather to develop a dark brown, caramelized crust on the outside. It’s one step further than browning, which just lightly cooks the outside of the food.

Why bother searing? Searing meat is all about building flavor. The caramelized flavors that develop in the crust while searing give both the meat and the overall dish a deeply savory flavor — what’s known as “umami.” A dish cooked without any searing lacks a certain oomph and often ends up tasting a bit bland and one-note. Searing is that extra step that takes your cooking from good to amazing. (Side note: Searing does not, in fact, seal in juices or anything else; it’s just about flavor.)

How to sear meat: Use a hot pan over high heat. Add a thin layer of oil and let it warm until a flick of water evaporates immediately upon contact with the pan. Add your meat in a single layer without crowding. Let it sizzle without moving for a few minutes — when the meat is ready to be turned, it will release easily from the pan and show a dark brown crust on the bottom. Continue searing the meat on all sides. Check out the link in the Homework below for more step-by-step details on this process.

How to sear vegetables: Same basic principle as searing meat — hot pan, high heat, a little oil — but instead of developing a crust, we’re aiming for charred spots on the outside. Don’t stir too frequently in order to give the vegetables plenty of contact time with the pan — a stir every minute or so should do the trick.

Pro Tip!

Did you know that you can use your grill to sear? While searing on a grill doesn’t leave a pan full of tasty brown bits you can deglaze into a sauce, it can infuse your meat with deep, smoky flavors. Plus, if you have a lot of meat to sear off, the wide surface area of a grill, plus the fact that you’re cooking outside and spattering grease isn’t as much of a cleaning issue, makes searing on a grill easier and less messy than doing it in your kitchen.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What is broiling? Think of your broiler as an upside-down grill. The idea is the same: very high heat aimed directly at your food. You even get similar charring. You can use your broiler to quickly cook a dish, like a fish fillet or even a steak, or you can use it at the end of cooking to crisp the top of a dish, like a macaroni and cheese casserole. You can also use it to quickly roast a whole tray of vegetables — I particularly like the broiler for making a whole batch of roasted red peppers at once.

Searing with the broiler: If you have a large cut of meat, like a leg of lamb or a big pork roast, it’s much easier to sear it under the broiler than on the stovetop. Place the meat on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and position it so that the meat is a few inches below the broiler element. Let it sit under the broiler (set to high, if you have that option) until the top of the meat develops a dark brown crust, then flip it to another side. Continue until all sides are seared.

What pan to use for broiling: You can certainly use a broiler pan, but any oven-safe skillet, roasting pan, or baking sheet will work (though be careful: if your baking sheet is thin and light, the high heat can cause it to warp during cooking.)

How to use your broiler: When a recipe directs you to broil something, start by positioning an oven rack several inches below the broiler element — go closer for more char and crisping, move the rack further away for more even browning. Turn on the broiler and let it heat up for a few minutes. A broiler doesn’t need to preheat quite as long as your oven does — remember broiling is all about intense, direct heat rather than the more cozy surrounding heat we want when baking. (If you have “high” and “low” broiler settings, think of them like direct and indirect heat on a grill; “low” will be slightly less intense than “high.”) Keep an eye on your food while it’s under the broiler. The heat is so intense that foods can easily go from nicely charred to burnt.

(Image credit: Emily Han)
(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you’ve already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Study: Go figure out where the broiler is in your oven and how it works. In most ovens, the broiler is set into the ceiling of the oven, but sometimes you’ll find it in a drawer underneath the oven.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Practice: Broil a batch of vegetables. Cut up any vegetables you have, toss them with a little olive oil and salt, and “grill” them under the broiler. Keep an eye on them and toss occasionally. Pull them out when they’ve developed charred bits on all sides. If they’re not quite tender enough for your liking, switch the oven to 400°F and roast the vegetables on a lower oven rack until they’re cooked through.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Improve: Make a batch of beef stew, and be sure to sear the meat thoroughly before you start. Stews are a kind of braise (see Day 18 Lesson) and take an hour or two to finish, so give yourself some time for this one. If you’re in the mood to experiment, split the recipe in half and make two stews side-by-side. Only sear the meat for one of the batches, then see how the flavors compare at the end.

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

The Kitchn Cookbook & Searing

The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbookand there’s plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.

Today’s tip: Want to practice searing, broiling, and roasting in one delicious dinner recipe? Check out the Lamb Loin Chops with Chimichurri on page 199.

5 Recipes to Practice Searing & Broiling

The Kitchn’s Cooking School

The Kitchn’s Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we’ll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!