Browning my meat

The thread about beef stew has got me ready to do a batch this weekend.

I am a very comfortable and confident cook, but one thing that I never seem to get right (or if I do, it’s accidentally) is browning meat, which, as I generally understand it, is done at high temperatures.

The problems I run into are the following:

[li]The meat sticks to the pan[/li][li]The edges/corners of the meat brown (and then some), while the center of the surface area is maybe not hot enough, or lifts off the pan and doesn’t brown[/li][li]In an effort to have a hot enough surface, I end up burning oil[/li][/ul]

So, dopers, help me out! What’s the proper method for browning meat? Does it change if I’m doing a bunch of little cubes as opposed to a larger piece? Am I just not settling into the right temp?

Sticking: a little sticking is normal. Once it browns, it’ll unstick. Be patient.

Edges/Corners: it’s ok if it’s not 100% evenly browned. It’s hard to get every part of an oddly-shaped piece of meat to brown. As long as a lot of it is, that’s fine.

Temp: If your oil is burning, it’s too hot. You should be able to set the temperature so that browning occurs, but not burning.

Browning takes a while; 5-10 minutes at the right heat. You also can’t crowd the pan, otherwise you steam the meat more than brown it. That’s why a lot of recipes recommend browning in 2 or 3 batches. Do that; it makes a difference, really!

Also, you want a little stick to the pan - at the end of browning, you should have some dark pieces left in the pan. Not burnt-dark, but pretty close. That’s the good stuff, and you want it in your food.

The biggest issue I see with browning is crowding the pan, by far. Heck, I do it myself sometimes when I’m trying to make things go faster. Try to quell that feeling; just let it take the time. Sit back and sip a glass of wine while it browns, or do a little more prep, or clean up the kitchen. Just don’t hurry the browning!

Wait…this thread ISN’T about tanning??? :smiley:
It looks like you are consistently cooking at too high a temperature.

Generally speaking the bigger the piece of meat you are cooking the lower the temperature you need to have.

When it is a large piece of meat the surface area is low compared to the total volume. So if you use a high heat you will burn the outsides without effectively cooking the insides. Keep in mind this is desirable in some cuts of meat. For example a nice leg of lamb should be fairly charred on the outside, but medium rare on the middle.

With smaller pieces of meat a higher heat is okay because the faster you cook it the more tender the meat will be.

Also, when it comes to sticking, make sure you heat the oil you are cooking with before the meat makes contact with the pan. Also, as Athena mentions, some sticking is desirable. The best cooks will add just a little liquid (wine, vinegar, etc) to the pan afterwards and scrape the browning for a finishing sauce with INCREDIBLE flavor.

Also, if you’re not getting a consistent browning on your meat, it may be that the pan you’re using isn’t heavy enough and you’re losing heat too quickly. Make sure you’re using a pan with a thick, heavy bottom, or even better, use cast iron.

If it’s an option for you: I’ve gone to browning meat for stews on my outside grill. I heat the cast iron pan on the grill until it’s blazing hot, oil the meat, and throw it in there. That way I don’t have to worry about smoke, splattering, etc.

What sort of pan are you using? Non-stick doesn’t really work for this. If you’re using stainless, heat the pan first at about the medium setting. Let it get good and hot, then add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil starts to shimmer after about 10-15 seconds, add some meat, but don’t crowd the pan. Let it brown until it releases, then turn it.

Also, browning is not ‘cooking’. Meaning, when you brown you don’t want the meat to be all the way done (ground meats excepted) as it will finish cooking in your stew.

Wait…this thread ISN’T about Penis Stuck in Toaster??? :smiley:

If you’re browning the meat in the same pan that you’re going to cook the finished dish in, I wouldn’t worry about sticking too much as long as the meat’s not actually sticking so hard that it comes apart. That brown crud on the bottom of the pan after browning the meat is “fond”, some of the most flavorful stuff around. It’ll make your stew taste better.

Beyond that, make sure the meat’s oiled well before you put it into the hot pan, and keep it moving. That’ll keep it from sticking too badly.

I’ll echo Athena’s recommendation to do small pieces in batches – it takes longer but makes all the difference in the world, almost to the point of being critical to success.

My green chile, which has pork shoulder in it, went from good to great when I started browning the cubed/diced pork in smaller batches.

If I am using my non stick electric skillet I set at about 350 for browning and as said above do small batches. If I am browning on the stove with my cast iron skillets I get the oil pretty hot then turn down to a medium flame when I add the meat. As said above a little bit of sticking is a good thing when browning.


As far as the pan goes, I’ve used kind of all of them. Why does non-stick not work? I’ve got both stainless steel and cast iron; as long as it’s thick enough to retain heat, does it matter which I use?

I don’t like nonstick because it can’t handle the high heat. You also don’t get the stuck bits. After browning, I generally deglaze the pan with water or beef broth and use the brown liquid as the base of my stew.

If you want to be really pedantic, the proper French culinary term for the browned bits is sucs, but in the US, people generally refer to it as fond. Anyhow, I call it “fond” as nobody here knows what the hell “sucs” is.

My technique:

  1. Dry the meat as well as I can with a paper towel.

  2. Cast-iron pan, get it nice and hot over medium-high heat

  3. Add enough oil to get a thin coat on the bottom of the pan. It should not be smoking, but rather shimmering. If it just starts to smoke, it’s okay, as when you throw in the meat it will bring the temp of the pan down. But if the oil is smoking/burning during the cooking process, you’ve got too hot a fire.

  4. Add meat.

  5. Do not crowd the pan. There should be a reasonable amount of space between your cubes of meat. What’s reasonable? For stew beef cut into 2-inch cubes, I try to leave about an inch of space between each chunk of meat. Maybe a little bit less. If you have too much meat, the water starts cooking out of it and the bottom of the pan becomes wet, inhibiting the browning process, and turning it into more of a “graying” process. With space between the meat, any water that is driven out has time to evaporate and doesn’t inhibit the cooking process.

  6. Wait. Do not move the meat. I let it sit about 2 minutes or so per side before moving it to brown the next side and then the next side, etc.

Per pulykamell:

This is technically known as the Maillard reaction.

When I brown meat for use in a stew, I cut them into small pieces first. One of the tricks I’ve learned is that 75% of the cooking time is on the first side. Then you flip only when they’re practically cooked through.

This doesn’t apply if you’re browning thicker cuts like a steak or a roast, where you need more or less equal time on each side.

I’ll repeat the advice about NOT moving the meat. Do as little moving as possible. Talking about small pieces, I’d move them twice - once to flip, once to take out of the pan. With a steak, I’ll move it four times - turn, flip, turn, put on a plate.

In terms of the temperature, I heat the pan with the oil in it, and put the meat in right when the oil starts smoking. (And by smoking, I don’t mean much actual smoke, just the first evidence of vapor coming off it.) Depending on your type of oil, that’s 375-450 F; anything above 350 is enough for Maillard reaction that produces the browning. The meat will cool the pan down a little to stop the smoking. Once the meat is in the pan, you don’t want the oil to do any more smoking, so keep the heat down if you need to… but you shouldn’t need to. If oil is still burning, it may be an issue of heat distribution rather than overall temperature. A heavy pan will help there, as others have said.

Use an oil with a high smoke point. Safflower oil, grapeseed oil and canola oil are good. Extra virgin olive oil isn’t (for this purpose). Unclarified butter burns very easily.

So, I ended up doing the stew tonight. After 1 batch of meat that got a little more blackened than browned, I got the cast iron skillet at the right temp, and all seemed to go well.

The ‘trick’ was that even a setting of 3.5 on my electric range was too hot. I was able to get good browning at ~2.75.

Minor rant: I have never had a use for anything above 4 on any electric range ever, aside from getting a fast boil. What’s the point of having a 360 degree dial if only about 90 degrees of it show any variation (and less than that, because 1 and below 1 are all the same to me)?

What kind of pans do you have?

I have heavy clad or cast-iron pans, and I use the super-high-heat all the time. In fact, I wish I had hotter a lot of the time, though I’d need a high-end hood to go with it lest I face the wrath of Mr. Athena (who for some reason frowns on me filling the entire house with the smoke and odors required to get a Really Good Crust on things.)

But yeah, if you have light pans, you have to be very careful about the heat or things start to burn. I’m surprised, though, that your cast iron got too hot. I suspect something else is going on - when you say it got “blackened”, why are you leaving it on long enough to get that way? Once it no longer stick to the bottom, it’s generally browned enough. What am I missing?

It was a le creuset skillet. Not the thickest of cast iron pans for sure.

But, when I say blackened, it wasn’t ruined, it just went beyond “browned” to starting to char a bit much too quickly. When I turned the burner down a bit, it was easier to turn the meat at the right point, without constantly poking it and worrying I was leaving it too long.

I have, over the years, been given pans meant for a better cook, and have found the best advice only works with the best pans. A porcelain/iron pan I use for browning advised one never to brown at more than medium heat. One problem that has worsened over the years is the amount of water the processors inject into the meat, which is the modern version of a thumb on the scale. Pork is particularly challenging because you have to cook all that water out before it will brown. The stuff that sticks to the pan is your stock. After taking the meat out return the pan to the fire and pour half a cup of wine or stock and the fond will come right up with a spatula and can go in the stew.
Browning over the grill is great, especially cast iron on a wood fire.