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What exactly is the difference between pan-frying and searing? They both use the same principles -- high heat, oil, flip once or twice -- and they both create the same result, namely that wonderful golden crust.

Is there a difference?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Pan-Frying is a complete cooking technique. When something has been 'pan-fried' it is done and ready to serve.

Searing is an incomplete process, a step in a larger process. Searing can happen before roasting, braising or other finishing method. It is even good to sear before marinading.

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If that's true, how are the techniques different? I cannot identify a clear difference between the two. –  ashes999 Jul 24 '11 at 9:19
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Also, searing does not have to be done in a pan. It can also be done on the grill, in a griddle pan or even over an open flame. To sear something just means to brown/caramelize its surface. Since a pan is the most convenient method, most searing is done in a pan. –  Henrik Söderlund Jul 24 '11 at 10:11
    
@ashes: they're not. Simply you don't say I pan-fried the roast, but rather I seared the roast before putting it in the oven. –  nico Jul 24 '11 at 10:56
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@ashes, the "clear difference" is time and motive. Because searing is "incomplete" it is merely a "surface treatment". Whether done in a pan or on grill. Searing is done 'quickly' and only affects the surface. (thanks to Henrik & nico for adding clarity to my answer) –  Cos Callis Jul 24 '11 at 12:00
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I disagree with "Searing is an incomplete process". For some things (like Pittsburgh Rare steaks ), it is the only process. –  jwernerny Jul 26 '11 at 15:04
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