Sometimes you want a good steak, but the weather isn’t cooperating enough for you to be able to use the grill. Or maybe you need some chunks of meat properly caramelized and browned for a stew.
What do you do?
You use a pan searing technique, of course! And you turn to a trusty skillet to get the job done.
Given the option, I sometimes prefer a pan-seared steak over a grilled version. The meat’s natural flavors are allowed to shine through, with a little help from the caramelized sugars and the nutty goodness of a brown crust produced via the Maillard reaction.
Because this taste-boosting technique is all about building up the flavors of the meat, it is critical to apply the proper searing method to achieve the most flavorful outcome.
In addition to understanding how to perform the technique, it is also vital to make use of the best possible tools for the job. One of the questions I am often asked is what kind of pan to use for this technique.
Stainless Steel Clad or Tri-Ply Cookware
If you already have a set of stainless clad or tri-ply cookware, or at least a skillet made from one of these materials, then you probably already have what you need to get a good sear. These types of pans allow the heat to spread evenly throughout the pan, and the cookware will not be harmed when it is used at a high enough temperature for this process. Plus, you can deglaze stainless steel cookware (see below for more information about deglazing, and why it isn’t a good idea with cast iron).
All-Clad 440465 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe 4-QT Weeknight Pan
What do we recommend for a starter pan?
This is a pretty easy choice. The All-Clad Weeknight Pan is an all-in-one item that lets you go from searing to braising (i.e. pot roasting) all in one step. It’s basically a frying pan that has deep sides, patterned after the French “country pans.”
Brown your meat like in any conventional skillet, deglaze, and cover. For a pot roast, you can either leave on the stove on low heat or place it in the oven. It also serves double duty as a southern style chicken cooker.
Since it’s All-Clad, the Weeknight Pan is a bit pricey. But it’s pretty much a lifetime investment, and it is one of the most versatile piece of cookware that you could purchase. Oh, and it’s induction compatible, if that matters to you.
Cast Iron Frying Pans and Grills
I am a sucker for the classic iron skillet that was given to me by my grandma—already seasoned! I also have some other iron skillets, which I have worked very hard to season myself. Cast iron cookware retains a great deal of heat, and because of that is a natural partner to browning and searing meat.
A basic Lodge 12 In pre-seasoned skillet will do the job and is very versatile
Also, cast iron is compatible with every kind of cooktop available today: gas, electric, glass top, and even induction stoves all offer splendid results. The best part – they are very inexpensive, even ones that are made in the USA.
One of the few drawbacks with iron is that the high heat can sometimes draw the seasoning out of a pan, which you’ve worked so hard to put in! Some people who prefer to sear in cast iron will keep a separate pan just for that, and maintain a lovely seasoning on another iron skillet for other uses.
The Lodge L8SGP3 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Square Grill would be an excellent choice for dedicated searing pan – especially if you like grill marks
Moreover, you shouldn’t deglaze a bare cast iron skillet – the acidic nature of most deglazing solutions will strip a seasoned cast iron pan down to bare metal.
The Le Creuset Signature Enameled 3-1/2-Quart Round Braiser is an excellent choice for a “deglazing safe” cast iron pan
This was one of the reasons that French companies such as Staub and Le Creuset first introduced enamel porcelain coated Dutch ovens, and other enameled pieces of cast iron cookware. Besides providing a more natural nonstick surface, the porcelain also allows for the use of acidic sauces (such as those including tomatoes) without fear of stripping the finish off of the vessel when deglazing.
Carbon Steel Skillets
Carbon steel skillets and frying pans are the lesser known (at least in North America) siblings of cast iron. They are seasoned the same, look similar, and have many of the same properties, plus they are great for searing.
Carbon steel skillets are lighter in weight, and this makes them ideal for the older person. They work great for those folks that are “less robust,” or for anyone that doesn’t want to pack around the heft of a cast iron pan. You can read more about the differences between cast iron and carbon steel in our comparison article.
Foodal recommends the DeBuyer 12″ Mineral B Element Iron Frypan
Carbon steel is available in several thicknesses, but you should choose one of the thicker grades to ensure that you are able to take advantage of the heat retention properties that make this form of cookware an asset in your searing endeavors.
Mauviel M’steel Frying Pan, 14-Inch
We like DeBuyer’s Mineral B line as well as offerings by Mauviel. Both of these high quality companies produce their goods in France.
The Lodge CRS12 Pre-Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet is pre-seasoned and made in the USA!
If you’re looking for something made in the USA, Lodge now makes a line of carbon steel skillets. And, you can’t go wrong with the Canadian-made Palderno brand.
Paderno Heavy Duty Carbon Steel 12.5-Inch Frying Pan
These pans are fairly low cost, so there is really no financial reason or need to go with a Chinese copy.
Results with copper cookware will be similar to the stainless steel clad as mentioned above, if they are stainless steel lined. I really enjoy copper cookware, and some people love it for searing meat. It’s also effective if you want to use it for deglazing and creating sauces.
The Mauviel M’Heritage Copper M250C 11.8-Inch Round Frying Pan has a layer of stainless steel applied to 2.5 mm of copper, wonderful for searing and deglazing.
Important note: Don’t try to sear with tin-lined copper
The tin has a much lower melting point than steel (450°F) – this is in the higher range of temperatures that you will need to use to achieve a proper Malliard reaction. Besides ruining your steak, you could ruin your pan. Most modern copper cookware pieces sold today are lined with stainless steel rather than tin.
While none of the products listed above are necessarily the best because this determination is largely based on personal preference, it is definitely true that a nonstick (think Teflon) pan will never give you the results you want when you are trying to brown meat.
Avoid Teflon and other manufactured nonstick coatings when searing
These types of pans (for the most part) were not designed to cook at such high temperatures. The high heat will not only ruin your skillet, but it will not be able to provide proper searing for your meat either. Plus, Teflon actually has been shown to let off poisonous fumes at this temperature level.
Part of the beauty of the browning technique is that the meat actually sticks to the pan a bit, and this is what provides that beautiful dark caramel color – so, a nonstick pan is the opposite of what you need to achieve this. High heat can cause the nonstick chemical coating to potentially come off on your food as well, and that’s certainly not healthy or tasty.
If you’re dead-set on nonstick, read our guide before making your selection, as these pans are not all created equally.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!
12 thoughts on “What is the Best Pan for Searing or Browning?”
Huh, I never knew you’re supposed to avoid Teflon pans when searing meat. I’ve been using cast iron for quite a while, and I love it. It comes out great every single time. The only complaint I have is that it sometimes sets off the smoke alarm lol
I’ve never liked non-stick pans for searing meat – mainly because I prefer to get the lines on the meat. It’s got nothing to do with taste, I just think it looks nicer.
Nothing gives you the sear of a well seasoned cast iron anything. Nothing. that’s my go to when I have the perfect cut of steak. If the steak is super thin sandwich style I may not care as much but if I’m spending the dough on a beautiful piece of artwork meat it’s going in the cast iron.
Yep. If I can’t have it on the grill, this is the way. I’ve also recently learned that this method works quite nicely for pork chops as well. I tend to overcook pork chops when I use other methods, but I think I’m really getting the hang of the searing thing. My husband is happy, because he love pork chops. I can’t wait to try it on something else now too. Maybe some chicken.
I stopped using Teflon years ago when I read it could be toxic. I haven’t bought a cheap set of pans since. I have a. Ast iron skillet and a stainless steel. I’m just going to have to figure out which method works for me. It’ll be nice to not to have to fire up the grill every time I want a good steak
I love my cast iron skillet for lots of things but for searing, it’s a must, especially for steaks. If we can’t grill them, this is the next best thing. It’s really the only other way I like to make them now that I have a good system for it.
I have to say that square grill pan that is shown, looks pretty great. I could probably put that to good use.
Hmm. Going through my pans might be in order. There are probably some that I should find other uses for (and make room for that nice square one).
whether pan-seared or cooked on the grill, its mostly a matter of individual preference. I don’t discriminate. I use a cast-iron pan myself for searing my steaks. I like the way you could just push on your steak and know that you’ve got every part covered.
I haven’t cooked a nice piece of meat in quite a while, because I’ve been focused mainly on casseroles and quick meals, but I will definitely try out these techniques. I have two grill pans, and am going to experiment to see which I prefer, then make that my go to option for searing and browning.
What pan, in your experience, is the best pan for searing a steak/meat at high temperature ?
1. Carbon steek pan
2. Cast iron pan
3. ECI Cast iron pan
4. 7 PLY pan (stainless steel, Aluminum and cobber)
5. Copper pan
6. 100% Aluminum pan
7. 5 PLY pan (stainless steel and aluminum)
8. None of the above…
Love your post on searing meat.
Question: In searing or cooking a 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch ribeye steak, cast iron skillet or carbon steel pan, which one in your opinion perform best? or you would reach for?
Cast-iron is hands down my top pick for searing a rib eye. Be sure to get it smoking hot first, and put on a potholder before you grab that handle!
Cast iron all the way. I deglaze mine all the time.