What’s the Difference Between a Sear and Sauté, Anyway?

Flipping through the pages of your faithful cookbooks, observing the brilliant array of evocative edibles alongside their charming plates and place settings, you notice the embellished titles of the recipes: Pan-Seared Lambchops in a Pomegranate Balsamic Reduction, Sauteed Scallops over Buttery Angel Hair Pasta, Blackened Shrimp Tacos with Roasted Garlic and Tomato Salsa…. Do these words even mean anything? Is there really a difference between pan-frying and pan-searing? Why yes, there is! No need to pull out the culinary dictionary; your vocabulary lesson lies right here in this article!


Pan Searing is a method using a pan, with only a tablespoon or two of oil, over the stove top heated to medium-high. The goal of - is to give food a crispy crust outside while maintaining a tender texture inside. Appropriate foods for this method include filets of fish, poultry, and meat, and really any fruits or vegetables.

Pan-Frying also requires a pan, but more oil (about a quarter to a third of a cup) and lower heat from the stove-top. Foods prepared with this method are actually cooked primarily through steam, and due to the lower heat, will need a little more time in the pan than searing. The crust on a pan-fried food is not be as crisp as if it were pan-seared. The same foods that can be cooked pan-seared can also be cooked pan-fried.

Pan-Roasting is actually a two-step process that involves pan-searing over high heat and then oven-roasting at a lower heat. Best for thick cuts of meat, this method assures for a crispy flavorful crust and a tender, juicy middle once finished in the oven.

The word Sauté means “to jump” and refers to cooking in a pan with little oil over heat high enough to make your food “jump”. Sauteed meats or vegetables should be cut into uniform, bite-sized pieces or smaller, and should finish cooking with some browning on the outside. A potential problem with this method is the tendency for cooking oil to smoke as the heat becomes too high- should this occur, simply take the pan off the heat and stir the food bits around before bringing them back to the stove top set to a lower temperature.

Grilling differs from pan-searing in that food cooked with this method are over medium-high heat on a grill rather than a pan. Grilling gives food a smoky flavor that can’t be achieved by searing on a pan, although this method is less convenient considering that grilling is usually done outside and requires charcoal or gas for the heat source.

Blackening is a method that involves coating the food in butter or oil, coating it with a spice blend, and then cooking it over medium-high heat for a crispy, spicy crust. This method can be done inside with a pan over the stove-top, however since this process can produce a lot of smoke, the outdoor grill is frequently the preferred medium.


Eager to put your new culinary wisdom to good use? Test out your pan-searing technique with our Porkchops, Grits with Arugula, Fig and Muscadine Salad, or your sauté skills with our Gnocchi with Chicken, Pesto, and Snap Beans- both meals featured next week!