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As long as I can remember when people have fried steak, they have flipped it after the first say 20 seconds to sear it and "seal in the juices", then cooked the other side, then flipped it back to the first side again to finish it off.

However, recently I heard someone claim that the concept of sealing in the juices doesn't work at all and is pointless - so does it really work or not?

My experience is that the technique has been applied to beef steak in particular, but maybe other meats too.

  • It is called searing. It does not work. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Searing – picakhu Apr 19 '12 at 13:21
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    Discussed in depth on Cooking (though not to Skeptics standards): cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2218/… – Yamikuronue Apr 19 '12 at 13:30
  • I searched the Cooking SE site, but not with the term searing, so obviously missed it. The Wikipedia article looks great, @picakhu; it was simpler to answer than what I thought it was going to be! – Highly Irregular Apr 19 '12 at 20:13
  • Also addressed at Cooking.SE in this answer, but also clearly not to the standards of this site. – Flimzy Apr 20 '12 at 21:33
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No, searing doesn’t seal in the juices. Probably the only rigorous analysis of this has been done by Kenji López-Alt for Serious Eats.

If searing does in fact "lock in juices," then we would expect that the steak which was first seared then roasted should retain more juices that the steak that was first roasted then seared. Unfortunately for old wives' tales, the exact opposite is the case.

Roasting meat graph
[seriouseats.com]

Wired Magazine offers the explanation – albeit without giving any references – that the perceived juiciness in seared meat comes from our saliva since it looks juicier to us and we salivate more in anticipation. Well … I take that with a grain of salt. And maybe some pepper.

Either way, the actual reason for searing is to create flavour through the Maillard reaction, as well as aesthetics.

  • The flip once cooking approach is also best to heat the meat through. Searing can't physically seal the pores in meat, especially as the meat expands with added heat. – Tim Scanlon Apr 20 '12 at 6:17
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    @TimScanlon There are no pores in meat, this is a pretty common misconception. – Baarn Nov 10 '12 at 10:37
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    @Informaficker I was just using the term pore to indicate that the meat has holes and dents in it, i.e. it is not a solid, flat and dense substance. So yes, no pores, but that wasn't strictly my meaning. – Tim Scanlon Nov 13 '12 at 8:21
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    It would probably be a good idea to cite the actual reasons why steaks are seared, as discussed on Seasoned Advice and Wikipedia. Otherwise people may get the impression that searing is entirely pointless. – DJClayworth Mar 13 at 17:18

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