Learn how to pan sear scallops to perfect golden perfection with these step-by-step photos and tips. The key to perfectly pan seared scallops lies in five essential, yet very simple, steps.

Photograph of golden brown scallops searing in a skillet.

How to Pan Sear Scallops

Dry Scallops

Most of the scallops you’ll buy at the grocery store are stored in, or injected with, liquid. The reason for this is to make the scallops weigh more. AKA you pay more. It’s best to seek out dry-packed scallops, if at all possible.

Use paper towels to dry the scallops, whether you find dry-packed or not, before cooking. You can either pat them dry or arrange them on a paper-towel-lined plate and let them rest 10 minutes. Drying the scallops will help to avoid steaming the scallops during cooking and will encourage a nice golden sear.

Photograph of raw scallops being patted dry on a plate lined with a paper towel.

Type of Oil for Pan Searing Scallops

It’s important to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point (such as vegetable or grapeseed oil) when pan searing scallops. If you don’t use an oil with a high smoke point you will quickly burn your oil, send smoke wafting through your house and potentially set your fire alarm off, all before even adding the scallops to your pan!

Photograph of a skillet with neutral oil

Use a VERY Hot Pan to Sear Scallops

One of the most important steps to pan searing scallops is to use a “screaming hot” pan. Just as important to patting the scallops dry, using a hot pan sears the scallops and ensures they cook quickly without steaming. (My favorite pan for just about everything.)

And the searing is the key here.

Think of it like grilling a steak. The minute you throw the meat on the hot grill grates it sears and locks in the flavorful juices, creating a charred exterior and juicy interior. The same thing happens with scallops—sear the exterior of the scallops quick enough to create a crisp, golden exterior and a tender and juicy interior.

 Photograph of raw scallops being added to a hot pan with oil

Scallops Will Tell You When They’re Ready to Flip

Scallops talk. And no, not in the same vein as lobsters screaming, rather they release themselves from the pan when they’re ready to flip. No guessing or prodding required!

The only thing you have to worry about is actually listening to the scallops. As a general rule of thumb, scallops should cook about 2 minutes per side before flipping. You’ll know when to flip when they release themselves from the pan and are golden brown and crisp on the bottom.

Photograph of golden brown scallops searing in a skillet.

Serve Scallops Immediately

Scallops are best when served immediately after cooking. They are NOT good reheated or served as leftovers.

Photograph of scallops in a bowl with green curry and black rice

What to Look For when Buying Scallops

There are a few important things to looks for when buying scallops.

  1. Scallops should be dry. For the best product, look for dry-packed scallops. However, if you cannot find dry-packed, regular will do, just keep in mind they will be more wet and may require more paper towels/drying time.  Scallops should not be slimy.
  2. Scallops should be firm. Almost like a raw pork chop, scallops should be firm to the touch (same goes for any fish).
  3. Scallops should smell like the ocean, salty and kind of like seaweed. They should not smell fishy or like a scallop.

One last thing…

Be sure to remove the “feet,” or the tendons, from the scallops before cooking. Each scallop has one crescent-shaped tendon on the side, simply peel it off and discard.  

 

Photograph of kitchen gadgets and equipment

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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