How to Brown Meat Perfectly

I always thought that there wasn't much to browning a great ribeye or my pre-braised short ribs--a hot pan, some tongs, and I was ready to go. A little research has since revealed that browning meat is fairly scientific. When meat comes into contact with a hot surface under the right conditions, the Maillard reaction occurs, which means the proteins become more complex. This gives your food a beautiful color and crackling texture, but it also intensifies the flavor.

Here are a few tips that I've collected as I've browned my way through more than a few pounds of pork, beef, and chicken:

Rinse the meat before you season it (particularly if you used a salty marinade), and pat dry thoroughly.

Season with salt and pepper immediately before searing. If you let the salt sit on the meat, it may draw moisture to the surface. This will result in you steaming, rather than searing, your meat.

Use a heavy-bottomed pan, like a cast-iron skillet. Avoid non-stick contraptions.

Use medium high heat, and heat the skillet for at least two minutes before adding the oil and the meat.

Add less meat, or get a bigger pan. You want plenty of space for the heat to circulate, and you don't want to cool the pan down with lots of refrigerated beef going in it all at once.

Use tongs! They avoid splatter burns, and give you the ability to hold onto the meat to position it for optimum browning.

For large cuts like steaks and roasts, let the meat sit a full minute longer than you want to before turning. (I have to count to 60. Really. In the pic above, I should have let it brown a little longer.) You want plenty of sear on each side, and this is easiest and fastest on the first pass. Use the tongs, and brown each and every inch that you can.

For tricky items like meatballs, use the "scootch" method. When you think it's time to turn the meatballs, use the tongs and carefully press the bottom of the meatball down onto the pan and try to "scootch" it 1/3 of an inch. If it scootches easily, then turn. If it resists then let it continue to brown until it releases from the bottom of the pan.


  1. a light touch of good quality salt like a kosher or better sea salt on meat for a bit longer than you suggest is actually an integral part of the process of drawing the complex sugars and proteins to the surface - these are what brown. so immediately can be interpreted up to 20-30 minutes in advance.

  2. Ah, well a little more research suggests that salting early may improve the flavor of the meat, but I think this article is talking more about a dry brining, which should begin several days ahead of time. Either way, the meat must be dried. Water on the surface (associated w/salt) plus heat equals steam and grey meat. Booo!