What Does "Sear" Actually Mean?: The Maillard Reaction

Searing Meat in a Pan | Well Seasoned

We always talk about searing food, but do you know what searing actually means? It may seem obvious, but understanding the Maillard Reaction can help you get a better sear and as a result better tasting food!

Let's get scientific for a second. 

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor.


Allow us to break it down for you.

When you sear a piece of meat (or many other types of food), you are in control of the two main factors of cooking: heat and time. When you apply heat to a piece of meat over an extended period of time, you are causing a browning reaction called the Maillard reaction.

First discovered by a French physician named Louis Camille Maillard around 1910, these reactions occur between a sugar molecule and an amino acid (protein molecule) when a food is heated. The flavors that result from Maillard reactions are more complex than those of caramelization (a similar reaction that occurs when you apply heat to sugars alone) because of the involvement of the amino acids, which contribute new molecules and aromas.

Why should you care?

Because seared foods with a nice brown crust are delicious! This reaction creates flavors and aromas that aren't possible to achieve otherwise.  Plus, a properly seared steak will impress your friends and loved ones at your next dinner party! So, read on to learn how to get the perfect seared crust on your meat.

How to do it: Controlling Heat, Moisture and Time

First let's talk about heat. 

In order to get a good sear and initiate a Maillard reaction, you need a hot pan with hot oil in it. 

Want to learn more about pre-heating your pan? Check out our post here.

Want to learn more about the right oil to use for searing meat? Check out our post here.

Next, let's tackle the enemy of a good sear, moisture. The problem with water is that it boils at 212 degrees, which is much less than the 300+ degrees you need to get a good sear. So what do we do? First, pat your meats dry with a paper towel to reduce surface moisture right before you add the meat to the pan. If you are salting the food, do so right before adding it to the pan as salt draws out additional moisture from the food very quickly.

Finally, let's talk about time. Once you have a pre-heated pan with hot oil in it, the goal is to apply high, direct hear to the food surface until the browning reaction occurs. That means no peeking and no moving the meat around! This takes time to master, but give the meat and the pan a couple minutes of uninterrupted searing time for the best result.

The best way to practice is with a big box of delicious pre-seasoned meats! You can Build Your Own Box of amazing meats right now, and lock in FREE STEAKS FOR LIFE with a subscription. Click to Shop Now!