We are always warned when cooking with dry spices (e.g. chilli powder, cumin, coriander etc.) not to let the spices burn when cooking as they will turn bitter.

If one wishes to use a dry rub (e.g. garlic powder or curry powder) what is the best way to seal the meat yet at the same time not burn the spices? If you keep the oil temperature low so as not to burn the spices, surely you will not achieve the temperature required to kick off the Maillard reaction? Or is that the whole point of using a dry rub?

(I'm thinking here of meat that is partially coated with spices rather than with a thick coating or dredge sealing the meat completely).

2 Answers 2


The simple answer is you don't sear after rubbing, because you can't prevent spices from burning. You use a dry rub method for low to medium temperature cooking.

You are probably confusing maillard reactions and caramelization. Maillard reactions happen at a lower temperature, starting at 120°C, low and slow cooking is what develops them. Caramelization starts with sucrose sugars at about 160°C.

You could in theory sear, then rub spices on meat, however that will mostly prevent the flavors from penetrating.


Generally, I would try and avoid using delicate dry spices when searing with direct heat (in a frying pan/over a flame on a grill). When I want to impart the flavors of dry spices into meats that I intend to sear, I'll normally introduce them in a marinade of some sort. That way I can allow the flavor to penetrate the meat and then rub off the surface coating. This has the added benefit of allowing the flavors to penetrate a few mm into the meat, as opposed to just being a surface coating.

If you're adding the seared meat to a sauce, like in a stew, dropping the spices in for a minute or so after the meat has been seared off, then adding your liquids is an excellent way to incorporate the spices. You're able to sear the meat and toast the spices without burning them.

If I'm using indirect heat (oven/smoker/cold side of a BBQ), it tends not be an issue - my go-to rub for a barbecued whole chicken is a 4-3-2-1 of paprika, sugar, cayenne and salt. The low and slow cooking will still dehydrate and 'seal' the exterior of the meat, the sugar will caramelize slightly and give the appearance of a seared crust. The outcome is an exterior that hits all the same key parts of a good, high-heat sear. Namely, darkened color, slightly dried and crisp surface with rich savory flavor.

Sometimes however, the burning (or at least 'blackening') of spices is somewhat desirable. For example, the technique known as Blackened/Blackening. The intentional charring if spices while pan-searing meats produces a flavorful crust, not too dissimilar from direct-flame grilling.

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