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Sep 25, 2013 11:04 AM

Browning meat without burning

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.


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  1. 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.

    1. 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. Deglaze the pan with water between batches.

        1. 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

            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

              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

                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

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


                  1. re: rjbh20

                    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

                      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

                        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

                          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. 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.