BALTIMORE, MD - Roseda Farm Strip Steak, Pommes Dauphinoise and Black Garlic Butter at La Cuchara photographed in Baltimore, MD.  (Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
Why You Should Always Sear Before Grilling Your Steak
By Ryan Cashman
Think of searing as insurance, so even if you've missed another step or are less than confident about your steak grilling ability, getting the sear right will help everything else fall into place. To sear your steak, you will need three main "ingredients": heat, salt, and patience, which will ensure that you achieve the perfect crust.
Getting the sear right begins with proper preparation, so salting your steak before throwing it on the grill is essential. Legendary chef J. Kenji López-Alt recommends no less than 40 minutes of seasoning and sitting, because salt draws out the moisture from the steak, both helping with caramelization and preventing pockets of burnt crisps of salt from sticking to the grill.
There is a common misconception that searing locks in moisture, when in reality, it functions oppositely. The proteins in the steak constrict during searing and actually expel more water when reacting to the heat, creating that trademark sizzle you hear when the steak hits the grill.
The crust is a result of what's known as the Maillard reaction, a chemical process that occurs between sugars and amino acids — the building blocks of all proteins — and arises from the loss of moisture, not retention. The Maillard reaction helps achieve that crust by browning the meat at high temperatures, creating an extra layer of flavor that didn't exist before searing.
Searing is excellent for flavor but doesn't prevent the escape of moisture. Martha Stewart advises resting your steak for a while (ideally half the length of the cooking time) once it's off the grill, allowing any escaped juices to retract back into the meat, making for a perfect steak and crisp sear.