Steak Myth #1: Searing Seals in Juices
Last updated 21 May 2011 at 2220 GMT
LOS ANGELES, California — Dozens of myths surround the subject of SteakPerfection.
The Steak Myth Number One is that searing seals in juices.
Fact: Searing Does Not Seal in Juices
A prevalent myth in grilling steaks is that "searing a steak seals
in its juices." Searing a steak creates no “seal” or barrier that prevents juices
from escaping from the inside.
Steaks do not have pores. Pores exist only in the skin (epidermis)
of an animal. Searing the outside of a steak does not close any
pores or create any other seal or barrier. In fact, rather than
sealing in the juices, searing the meat does almost the opposite: it
dries out and removes juices (moisture) near the steak's surface, so
searing causes a loss of moisture rather than protecting against it.
Searing Is Important!
There is an important reason to sear a steak, but it is not to "seal
in" the juices. Instead, the reason to sear a steak is to caramelize
(i.e., in scientific terms, to use the Maillard and browning
reactions) to create a flavorful exterior crust.
When a steak is grilled in the heat and smoke of a wood fire, the
result produces several desirable contrasts:
- Taste: the caramelized exterior versus the beefy interior;
- Texture: the crunchy exterior versus the soft interior;
- Juiciness: the dry exterior versus the juicy interior;
- Appearance: the dark-brown exterior versus the pinkish-red interior.
In short, searing a steak creates a contrasting exterior taste,
texture, juiciness and appearance.
Harold McGee, the esteemed author and food scientist, explains
the myth and the science, in
"On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen", p. 112:
SEARING IN JUICINESS AND FLAVORThere is one misconception about meat cookery that still enjoys
great popularity, even though it has long since been discredited. Does the gist of this description of cooking sound familiar?
"Thus as the exterior pores contract, the moisture contained in the
object cannot escape any more, but is imprisoned there when the
This quotation comes not from a blurb for convection ovens, but from
Aristotle's treatise on meteorology (Book 4). The theory has changed
little except for the terminology -- today we would say that the
food's juices are "sealed in" by high temperatures, keeping it moist
McGee then traces the history of this theory through the 17th, 18th,
19th and 20th Centuries, including the mid-19th Century explanation
of the "science" for the "sealed in" theory by the German chemist,
Justus von Liebig in his "Researches on the Chemistry of Food.
We know today that most of [Liebig's science] is simply not true. .
. . Any crust formed around the surface of the meat is not
waterproof. . . . But in its day, Liebig's account answered the
unspoken need for some rational, systematic approach to cookery. . .
. But even after Liebig's rationale for the early-searing method had
been disproven, the method itself lived on under various guises,
often rather eccentric. . . . [T]he grounds of the argument have
shifted since Liebig's time. The issue is no longer nutritional
value or juiciness, but taste. And here we are on firmer ground. We
do know for a fact that whether done early or late, searing does not
seal, but it does brown: it won't prevent flavor from escaping, but
it creates flavor via the complex browning reactions. . . . So there
is a good reason to sear meat, but it has nothing to do with
nutrition or juiciness. The many recipes and ads that perpetuate
Liebig's theory probably do so because the image it evokes is vivid
Perhaps it is understandable that laymen and amateurs wax poetic
about how high heat "sears in" the juiciness of a great
However, expert steakmasters should dispel this prevalent myth --
the Steak Myth #1 -- and
explain to others the science of SteakPerfection.
On this website,
SteakPerfection explores the truths and myths about achieving steak