Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Searing meat seals in the juices

This old saw has been around for ages, partly because meat cooked over low heat will exude liquid while meat cooked over high heat—seared—appears not to. When you cook meat, the collagen fibers contract and this squeezes liquid out of the meat regardless of the cooking temperature. With high heat, the liquid boils away immediately and you never see it, while at lower temperatures the liquid accumulates in the pan.

Another reason for this myth may be because searing meat that will be stewed, roasted, etc. does indeed give much better results. It has nothing to do with sealing in the juices, however. Careful experiments were performed in which identical pieces of meat were cooked with and without searing. If searing did seal in juices, then the seared meat would lose a smaller percentage of its weight during cooking than the unseared piece. In actuality, both the seared and unseared meat lost about the same amount of weight.

Searing, or more specifically browning, is important because of the Maillard reaction. When the proteins and sugars in meat are exposed to high heat (searing) a large number of chemical reactions take place, resulting in the creation of lots of new flavor elements. It is these flavors, both in the browned surface of the meat and in any pan juices that result, that make searing such an important step in some recipes.

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8 responses to “Searing meat seals in the juices

  1. Pingback: In the Mailbox « Cooking • Through • The • Ages

  2. Alex July 31, 2011 at 5:00 am

    Not everyone agrees with how the two samples loose the same weight as proof of this:

    http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/cookingmethods/a/sealinjuices1.htm

  3. kitchenmyths August 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for the article. I am afraid I can accord it much respect because it is not very well thought through. First of all, I agree – as stated in my original myth-that searing results in much better taste, so there’s no disagreement there. But, “sealing in the moisture” means more than just water-it means whatever makes a steak juicy, and that includes fat. And indeed, as the article notes, fat loss should be taken into account.

    So, we cook 2 steaks, one with and one without searing. They both lose the same amount of weight (we know this already). Assuming that only water and fat are lost, we have 3 possibilities:

    1) The seared steak looses the same amount of water and the same amount of fat as the unseared steak.
    2) The seared steak looses more water and less fat as the unseared steak.
    3) The seared steak looses less water and more fat as the unseared steak.

    We don’t know which of these is true. But, in any of the 3 cases, searing did not seal in more “moisture.” The only logical conclusion is that “searing meat seals in moisture” is, indeed, a myth.

  4. Elton John February 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Hmm So reading your post above you say that “moisture” would be classified as the water and fat content in the steak.

    If that’s the case than we can probably assume that if scenario #2 is actually correct then there is more “fat moisture” than water moisture.

    I think most people would agree that the fat would provide more flavor so if searing the meat actually does lead to scenario #2 we can assume (like you said) it makes the food taste better.

    Basically I think the confusion is over your definition of the myth. When people said “sealed in the moisture”, or “sealed in more moisture,” they really mean “sealed in the moisture that provides flavor” (and as we stated if scenario #2 is correct, this is exactly whats occurring).

    It’s hard to believe people would be claiming that water was the source of a dishes favor (and I think many people are familiar with this “myth”).

    Let me know what you think as it seems like there could be truth to this myth if scenario #2 could be proven (and as you stated its an important factor, and just as likely as the other two scenarios).

  5. chefchez February 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I see it this way, Searing meat evaporates water from the surface of the meat leaving behind concentrated juices on the surface hence it is still with the meat, Where as if it was not seared it would loose juice and not just water.

    An other good myth is: “Fat equals flavor” Go get that one! Here’s a hint, Fat can carry flavor.
    And thanks for the myths!

    • Poe chef wanna be November 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Fat and water do not fix, meat is mostly made up of water. so there is no way the fat is going to flavor the meat, unless you eat a piece of fat with the some flesh

  6. télétravail May 17, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a
    really well written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of
    your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  7. Susan J Freed December 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Slice the pork into managle pieces.

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