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Browning meat without burning

JuniorBalloon Sep 25, 2013 11:04 AM

Many braises begin by browning the meat over high heat, or so the instructions always say. I usually have to do them in batches and by the time I get the last one finished there are not just brown bits, but rather blackened and charred ones stuck to the bottom of the pan. Brown is flavor, a nice fond, but burnt is a nasty flavor. I have taken to turning the heat down to avoid this. Is there some other technique to avoid the burning? This is especially an issue when the meat has been dredged in flour.


  1. l
    lsmutko Sep 26, 2013 01:44 PM

    I use an LC round or oblong, depending, on a gas stove and I find I have to turn down my burner from med-high down closer to medium after a couple of batches. The meat never really cools it down. The pan's hot, the flame's hot and the burner grates are thick and eventually get very hot. They retain the heat and then become another heat source contacting the bottom of the pan.

    I had a glass-top with one super-quick burner in my old kitchen. I found that if I started the pot on that burner, then turned it OFF around batch 3, the glass and the pan retained enough heat that the fond would stay brown and not burn. Occasionally I'd just slide it over to a cooler part of the stovetop.

    1. Bada Bing Sep 26, 2013 01:29 PM

      Don't brown over high heat. Any recipe that says to do so for meat (dry scallops might be an exception) is not to be trusted.

      Medium-High heat, or whatever creates a quick sizzle, is what's needed.

      1. boogiebaby Sep 25, 2013 04:21 PM

        Use a bigger pan/skillet to brown the meat, so you do fewer batches. The longer the stuck on food cooks, the more likely it is to burn. If you only do 1 or 2 batches as opposed to 4 or 5, it won't burn.

        2 Replies
        1. re: boogiebaby
          C. Hamster Sep 25, 2013 04:29 PM

          Junior is already using a pretty big pan.

          Larger might not fit on the burner. And would be another pan to wash.

          Deglazing is the perfect solution since the dissolved fond will make your dish even more delicious.

          Cardinal rule; NEVER CROWD YOUR PAN.

          1. re: C. Hamster
            Puffin3 Sep 26, 2013 04:51 AM

            Forget the flour. Use clarified unsalted butter with a little refined coconut oil or grape seed oil.

        2. hotoynoodle Sep 25, 2013 03:25 PM

          in addition to learning how your stove and cookware work (vs. how they work for a recipe writer in a test kitchen), you don't need to dredge meat that you are going to braise. leave the meat uncovered on the counter for at least an hour before cooking and then just pat it VERY VERY dry.

          also be aware of the smoke points for different oils and use them accordingly. even though tv personalities seem to use evoo for everything it's not a utility oil.

          1. Hank Hanover Sep 25, 2013 02:51 PM

            I have to recommend de-glazing between batches, too. If you want you can pour it off into another vessel. reheat the pan and add it back in later after all the browning. However, just de-glazing between batches will probably suffice.

            1. JuniorBalloon Sep 25, 2013 02:44 PM

              I have a flat glass electric stove and use an 8 quart lodge enameled dutch oven. Usually takes me 3 batches to get through 2 lbs of meat. I have been using EVOO, but will try peanut oil.

              After the first few times I did this I found I have to turn it down to 4, once it gets hot, to keep it from burning and even at that temp it can be close. I usually don't end up browning every surface, though I think the more browning you can get the more flavor there will be. Probably not noticeable in an individual piece of meat, but rather in the over all taste of the dish.

              Sounds like going at a lower heat is the answer as well as possibly using a different oil. Still it's curious why all recipes say brown at high heat? Perhaps they all have a giant, humungous, oblong Le Creuset Dutch ovens?

              Thanks for the input,

              12 Replies
              1. re: JuniorBalloon
                LindaWhit Sep 25, 2013 03:18 PM

                My concern about peanut oil is it might give it a flavor you don't want, which is why I recommended grapeseed oil - similar to canola with little taste.

                1. re: LindaWhit
                  JuniorBalloon Sep 25, 2013 03:24 PM

                  Thanks I'll take note of that.


                  1. re: LindaWhit
                    hotoynoodle Sep 25, 2013 03:31 PM

                    you can also use coconut oil.

                    1. re: LindaWhit
                      rjbh20 Sep 25, 2013 03:37 PM

                      Interesting POV -- I find the taste of canola very off-putting and prefer peanut for any high temp work.

                      1. re: rjbh20
                        hotoynoodle Sep 25, 2013 03:41 PM

                        oh, i cannot stand the stink of, or processing method for, canola oil. won't touch the stuff.

                        1. re: rjbh20
                          LindaWhit Sep 25, 2013 03:43 PM

                          Well, I'm also the gal who can't abide cilantro, so there's no accounting for my taste. :-D

                          Maybe it's the smell of the peanut oil that is more redolent for me and makes me shy away from using it in dishes where I don't want the peanut taste.

                        2. re: LindaWhit
                          paulj Sep 25, 2013 04:04 PM

                          But if the problem is with the fond burning, does the choice of oil matter that much?

                          We aren't talking about deep frying the meat. I was going to say, 'we want just enough oil to keep the meat from sticking', but that is wrong. We want the meat to stick, at least initially. Let it stick, and only turn it when it releases by itself. Meat juices have been squeeze out and evaporated, leaving behind proteins that stick to the pan and brown. The trick is to keep these from burning while you continue to brown more meat.

                          1. re: paulj
                            caganer Sep 25, 2013 04:48 PM

                            I think you're right - I've just tossed meat in oil and added to a dry pan and ended up with the fond getting a bit too dark. I assumed it was my fault for not controlling the heat properly (and I'm pretty sure I was right).
                            The oil really shouldn't mater. It's not carbonizing - the pan can't be that hot. In addition, the water based juices from the meat, being denser than oil, will naturally sit below the oil on the bottom of the pan, won't they? (physics says yes) As such, it makes sense to assume that's what's becoming too brown and the oil is not an issue.

                          2. re: LindaWhit
                            janniecooks Sep 26, 2013 06:25 AM

                            Peanut oil has little to no flavor these days. It used to have a distinctive flavor but the flavor is largely gone from the peanut oil I can find. Planter's oil was my favorite, and I always thought it was highhly flavored, but it has disappeared. Now the only peanut oil available is LouAnn or grocery store brand, both of which are almost completely neutral in flavor. Maybe Planter's oil was roasted, I don't recall, but what I use now is pretty neutral. I prefer to use it over grapeseed oil.

                            1. re: janniecooks
                              LindaWhit Sep 26, 2013 12:46 PM

                              Interesting - thanks for the info. Haven't bought it in so long, I guess I'm just remembering it from a long time ago.

                              1. re: LindaWhit
                                C. Hamster Sep 26, 2013 01:02 PM

                                Peanut oil from an asian market like lion and brand will have a heavier peanut taste.

                                I think its less refined, maybe.

                          3. re: JuniorBalloon
                            greygarious Sep 25, 2013 07:31 PM

                            Le Creuset has nothing to do with it. All cast iron retains heat very well. I think it's wrong to call for high heat but they probably do it because many cooks have pots that don't have good thermal mass, cooling off fast when the meat hits them.

                          4. j
                            janniecooks Sep 25, 2013 01:36 PM

                            Yeah, browning over high heat will burn by the time everything is browned. Despite what the recipe says, you have to adjust for your pan and stove. Using a smooth-top electric range with a LC ECI pan, I find that even at medium high - 8 on a 10-point dial - is even too high for dredged meat once the pan and oil have heated up. As Linda Whit pointed out, EVOO will burn faster than other oils.

                            I just finished browning 3.5 pounds of pork shoulder, not dredged, in peanut oil over medium high heat. After all the batches were done - took me about 35 minutes or so for all - I had nice brown, but not burnt, fond. So in the future I'll stick to peanut oil.

                            Your range, pan, and the oil are the factors. Also, keep in mind that flour will eventually burn at medium-high and high heat. The solution to burnt flour when meat is dredged is to brown at a lower heat.

                            1. paulj Sep 25, 2013 12:12 PM

                              How many batches do you do? The more batches, the more time the fond has to burn.

                              Deglazing between batches might do the trick, but is more work. Browning in a larger (or more) pans would also reduce the number of repeated batches. A more evenly heated skillet should also help - multiply stainless steel, as opposed to enameled cast iron.

                              Another option is to do 2 batches with good browning, and skimp on the rest. Since browning does not seal in the juices you don't have to brown every surface - despite what some recipes say.

                              Lets say half the meat is well browned, and the rest not at all. After a hour or two of braising, will the browned pieces taste any different from the unbrowned ones? I doubt it.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: paulj
                                JuniorBalloon Sep 25, 2013 02:48 PM

                                Can you explain how you deglaze with water between batches? Do you deglaze until the water is evaporated? Unless you are removing the built up fond in between each round I'm not quite getting how this would work.


                                1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                  chefj Sep 25, 2013 03:10 PM

                                  You just add water to dissolve the Fond and tip it out into a waiting container. Wipe the pan add fresh Oil and move on to the next batch.
                                  I do it all the time when doing large amounts.

                                  1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                    rjbh20 Sep 25, 2013 03:10 PM

                                    Just pour in enough water to cover the pan, scrape the bottom with a metal spatula until all the fond is dissolved & pour the liquid into your braise. Or throw it out if you're so inclined. It takes all of about 1 minute -- not really a lot of extra work, contrary to what you may have been led to believe.

                                    1. re: rjbh20
                                      JuniorBalloon Sep 25, 2013 03:25 PM

                                      Thow it out?! Egads are you insane? Just kidding. I wouldn't toss it, but will give this a try.


                                      1. re: rjbh20
                                        greygarious Sep 25, 2013 07:22 PM

                                        Metal spatula? Not if you're using enameled cast iron and don't want to damage the pot. Use a wooden spoon, rubber scraper, or heat-resistant plastic turner.

                                        With a cast iron or other heavy pot, preheating for at least 10 minutes, and searing on medium heat, is right for most stoves.

                                        Save the deglazing liquid (which can be water, broth, wine, or beer) to add back to the pot once you've returned all the meat to it and are adding braising liquid.

                                        1. re: rjbh20
                                          Puffin3 Sep 26, 2013 04:46 AM

                                          Please don't use a "metal spatula". A wooden spoon. If I caught some one scrapping away with a metal spatula on any of my beautiful salt seasoned 'T304' stainless pots/pans I'd murder them.

                                          1. re: Puffin3
                                            rjbh20 Sep 26, 2013 06:45 PM

                                            A good reason not to use stainless to sear. Uncoated cast iron works much better and is indestructible. Even withstands the ferocious metal spatula.

                                            1. re: rjbh20
                                              paulj Sep 27, 2013 08:49 AM

                                              But deglazing tends to erode the seasoning on cast iron. Cast iron is great for searing steaks. It is not so good for browning meat as the first step in braising.

                                    2. r
                                      rjbh20 Sep 25, 2013 11:45 AM

                                      Deglaze the pan with water between batches.

                                      1. LindaWhit Sep 25, 2013 11:20 AM

                                        I don't brown on high heat - I heat the pan over medium heat for awhile, add oil and let that heat up, and then brown, which sounds like what you're doing now.

                                        HOWEVER....what type of oil are you using? If you're using an extra virgin olive oil, it has a lower smoke point, so you can't get the heat high enough without changing the overall flavor of the oil. Perhaps using either light olive oil or grapeseed oil, both of which have a much higher smoke point. I buy large containers of grapeseed oil at HomeGoods and/or TJMaxx at a decent price.


                                        1. danna Sep 25, 2013 11:13 AM

                                          You and me both. I look forward to hearing responses. My only advice is just to stand there and watch it closely...something I'm not good at.

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