How to Sear on a Grill

  • Juicy steak being seared on a flaming grill.

  • There’s a reason grillers aim for sear marks on most of what they cook. Searing creates caramelization, a chemical process that turns sugars into brown crust packed with flavor and texture (we also put the sound of a nice sizzle up there with classics from Mozart and Bach). This all-important technique requires high heat around 500 degrees Fahrenheit and takes just minutes to complete, making it the go-to cooking method for steaks, chicken breasts, veggies, and sometimes burgers.

    Though there are particular ways to create searing conditions on different types of grills —we’ll outline those below — you must preheat your grill no matter what kind you’re using. Food placed on cold grates will stick, not to mention that it may cook throughout and potentially burn by the time your grill reaches searing temperatures. Be sure to preheat the entire grill because cold grates can rob precious heat needed for bold sear marks. Once your grill is ready to sear, we recommend you arrange dual grilling zones so you can finish meat that has gotten a nice outer crust but isn’t quite done cooking.

  • Juicy steak being seared on a flaming grill.

For best results when searing, let your meat come to room temperature before throwing it on your roaring-hot grill grates. Cook time will vary depending on the thickness of the meat and your preferred level of doneness, but most cuts need only 3–5 minutes per side to receive succulent sear marks. Speaking of sear marks, achieving a beautiful crosshatched pattern is as easy as rotating your food 45 degrees midway through the cook on each side. Keep in mind that food that’s been properly seared should easily release from the grates when moved.

Now, who’s ready to get some sear-iously good flavors?

  • Searing on a Gas Grill

    Gas grills are generally the best option for searing because they maintain high levels of heat with little effort. You can harness enough of that heat by preheating your grill on high for about 15 minutes, and it doesn’t hurt to season your grates with oil that has a high smoke point (we like grapeseed and palm oil). Conventional burners produce awesome sear marks, giving you food that looks as good as it tastes.

  • Searing with an Infrared Burner

    Searing is all about hot-and-fast cooking, but infrared burners take that concept to another level. Some can reach 1,000 degrees or higher in just 5 minutes! And because infrared heat travels in direct waves that warm your food instead of the surrounding air, you’ll get an all-over sear for extremely tender and juicy results.

    As stated above, it’s important to preheat your entire grill even if you’re just using the infrared burner. Don’t forget to set nearby burners to low or medium heat, which you’ll need to bring up the internal temperature of your food after searing the exterior at such high temps. Never use your infrared burner for anything other than searing — “well-done” doesn’t even begin to describe food that’s finished over that sort of heat.

  • Meat on a gas grill rotisserie
  • Searing on a Charcoal Grill

    The key to creating searing temperatures on a charcoal grill is to light your coals from the bottom. This allows the fire to ignite each coal as it climbs upward, and more lit fuel equals higher temperatures. Once the coals have a thin layer of ash, put the lid on the grill, open the vents, and let your pit preheat for about 10–15 minutes.

    Some charcoal grills give you the ability to raise and lower the grill grate or the charcoal itself, which can be quite a useful feature when searing. By bringing your food on the grates closer to the flames, you’ll create better overall searing conditions.

  • Searing on a Kamado Grill

    Just like with a normal charcoal grill, you should bottom-light your coals and allow the kamado to preheat for about 10 minutes with both the top and bottom vents fully open. It’s important that you remember to “burp” the kamado each time you open the lid when the grill is lit. To do this, open the lid about 1 inch and hold it there for 5–10 seconds before opening it the rest of the way. If you skip this step, a rush of hot air (referred to as “flashback”) or even actual flames can roll out of the grill and cause serious harm.

    You’ll need to lower the temperature in your kamado to finish seared food that needs a bit more time in the grill.

  • Meat on a gas grill rotisserie
  • Searing on a Pellet Grill

    Though these grills are designed mostly for smoking at lower temperatures, some are capable of searing as well. Different grill brands have particular mechanisms that allow you to remove the heat deflector from atop the fire pot, which then gives you access to the direct flame needed for searing. Camp Chef, for example, has Slide & Grill technology that makes searing possible. Be sure to check your manual to see if your pellet grill includes a similar option.

    Start by preheating your pellet grill then dialing in a high-end temperature. Most of these grills top out around 500–550 degrees, but the temperature at the grill grates is usually hot enough to provide some nice sear marks.

  • How to Reverse-sear

    Searing is traditionally done at the beginning of the cook, with food then being brought to completion over low heat if necessary. But reverse-searing has recently gained popularity, and it’s exactly what it sounds like — all you have to do is cook your food over low or indirect heat until it’s close to the required internal temperature, then transfer it to high heat for a sear at the end.

    Fans of reverse-searing claim this technique results in a more evenly cooked piece of meat that’s remarkably tender and juicy. We encourage you to try every method listed here and find your favorite!