Help! I Set Off the Fire Alarms When Searing Meat!

published Sep 29, 2010
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Q: This weekend my wife and I tried pan-searing beef. We used butter and oil and a cast-aluminum fry pan. We used high heat initially and then medium to finish cooking.

Our problem is that so much smoke is produced from the pan that the second try set off our smoke detectors and prompted a visit from the fire department! What are we doing wrong here?

Sent by Joe

Editor: Joe, we have a couple of guesses here:

• The heat is too high.
• You are using an oil with a low smoke point (such as olive oil).

There will always be some flaring and spitting when you are searing a piece of meat. You want the meat to brown, after all! But this browning doesn’t need to happen all at once; you can cook it for a few minutes (4 or 5 at least) on each side over medium-high heat to get the color you want.

Also, it sounds like the fat in the pan may have been burning — not the meat. Olive oil is particularly bad for a recipe like this. Try grapeseed oil or another oil with a high smoke point. Also, depending on the cut of beef, you need very little extra fat — just a smear of oil.

Here are a couple of posts that may be useful.

Help! I Am Having Problems Searing Meat

Readers, what advice do you have for Joe?

(Image: Faith Durand)