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Searing meat in nonstick pan

I was taught to avoid nonstick pans for searing because you couldn't get the meat browned. So I sear meat in my All-Clad 2-qt. straight-sided saute pan or, if it's destined for a braise, my Le Creuset dutch oven. The saute pan especially can lead to burning, excessive mess to scrape up (beyond what I want for a fond), etc.

Then last week I attended a cooking demonstration where meatballs were seared in a nonstick skillet before being finished in the oven. They browned nicely—and the pan looked easy to clean—making me rethink this supposed rule. Would it be impossible to get fond from a nonstick pan? Would it be a good choice if I was *just* searing and didn't need to make a pan sauce/braise/whatever?

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  1. My scan pan delivers an amazing sear.

    1. I definitely get less fond in a nonstick pan (which, as you note, is not necessarily a bad thing), but the searing itself is fine.

      1. It IS possible, but may shorten the life of the pan and may create a health hazard. Most nonstick pans are not designed for use over really high heat, which degrades the coating and might release its chemical compounds into the food. I think there's a distinction to be made between browning and searing, the latter creating more, and darker, fond. If you are making, say, a pork tenderloin or beef burgers, a nonstick pan will do a good job, and can even turn out a decent pan sauce.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greygarious

          I can definitely appreciate your caviats. I'm wondering though with the newer generation "green" nonsticks, aside from trashing the coating, is toxicity an issue? I haven't researched this issue. I'm on my first pan that is touted to be one of those "green" nonsticks and I don't recall the accompanying literature mentioning anything about it (and someone in our kitchen has already "degraded" the nonstick quality - it's not a f-in' wok - argh!).

        2. When I'm browning batches of meat for a braise, I don't hesitate to use a wide non-stick skillet. The browning goes faster due to better evaporation, and there's less of a chance of burning the accumulating fond at the bottom of a regular pan. And you can still get very nice browning if you don't move the meat around too much--the brown stuff that would have been your fond simply sticks to the meat instead of the pan. And since the meat's going in the braise anyway, I don't think it matters much where the fond is.

          In situations where I want a extremely hot pan to form a real crust on a piece of meat without overcooking it (e.g. a burger or a steak), I would use my seasoned cast iron over the non stick pan--better heat retention (important when hitting it with a cool lump of meat), and I can get it hotter without damaging the non-stick surface.

          1. I am interested in the responses here as I've wondered this as well. I've thought of trying it but usually I sear meat and transfer to the oven and with a cast iron I don't have to switch pans which I think might be another downside for searing in nonstick other than the toxic chemical risk which I am not sure how significant it is.

            6 Replies
            1. re: fldhkybnva

              But there's a downside to searing in cast iron, unless it's enameled, and that is that you can't tell how dark the fond is, so burning is more of a risk. On the other hand, the naked cast iron, if well-seasoned, adds flavor to a braise (as long as there's little or no acid liquid included in the braising time). Weigh your priorities.

              1. re: greygarious

                Very true, I've never thought of that though I do have that problem with my favorite roast chicken recipe for which the drippings are useless for a sauce because the fond is burnt.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  You refer to roast chicken - I assume the fond is burning because you are roasting on high heat. If you put liquid into your roasting pan you won't get any fond but there will be flavorful drippings. Or strew sliced onion, carrot, and celery (I add an apple, too) to the bottom of the pan. They will exude enough moisture to keep the chicken drippings from burning, and will provide an excellently-flavored combo of juice and fond to turn into a sauce.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Yea, it's the Zuni chicken recipe which is at 475F. Thanks for the tip. It's a shame to not have a good drippings for a sauce.

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      Have you tried the one-pan ATK roast chicken parts with roast vegetables? It's also 475, for 45 minutes. No wings or back, though. Breasts in the center of the sheet pan, to protect them a little. Swabbed with melted butter, and herbs, S&P. 1"-ish chunked shallot/onion, potato, carrot, Brussels sprouts, tossed with oil, S&P. Sprouts clustered around breasts for some insulation. If you omit the BS's, use broccoli stems or cauliflower, or steam a green veg separately. The chicken, skin side up, gets very brown and all the juices mix together, just spoon them over the meat and veg. Not sure if they called for turning the veg but I think not, and I haven't done that. I've also used plantain, parsnip, and sweet potato.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Nope, I've never tried it but it sounds great. I'm definitely saving that for later.