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Is it better to sear or bake scallops?

Scallops are a delicious and popular shellfish that can be prepared in various ways. Two of the most common cooking methods for scallops are searing and baking. Both techniques result in tender, juicy scallops with a lightly caramelized crust, but they each have their own advantages and best uses.

What is searing?

Searing involves cooking the scallops in a pan over high heat for a short time until a brown crust forms. Typically, a small amount of oil or butter is used to help facilitate browning. The high heat quickly caramelizes the natural sugars on the exterior while leaving the interior raw. Once seared, the scallops can be served as-is or finished by baking in the oven.

Benefits of searing scallops

  • Forms a flavorful brown crust on the exterior
  • Retains a moist, translucent center
  • Can be done quickly on the stovetop
  • Gives scallops attractive presentation

Searing is ideal when you want that nice contrast of a crispy exterior with a tender, mildly cooked interior. The Maillard reaction that occurs when proteins and sugars are subjected to heat generates complex flavors. So searing gives the scallops a richness and depth of taste. Visually, the golden brown crust also makes for an elegant presentation.

What is baking?

Baking refers to cooking the scallops in the oven, usually in a baking dish. The scallops are exposed to ambient heat that gently cooks them through until fully opaque. Baking temperatures generally range from 350-450°F. A small amount of oil or butter can be used to prevent sticking. Herbs, spices, breadcrumbs, or sauce are sometimes added for more flavor.

Benefits of baking scallops

  • Cooks the scallops evenly throughout
  • Easy hands-off method
  • Allows flavors to permeate the scallops
  • Good for larger batches

The even, ambient heat of the oven gently cooks the scallops all the way through to an opaque, milky white color. The slower cooking allows them to retain moisture and absorb any seasonings or sauce added. Baking is great for cooking large quantities of scallops with minimal effort. It also facilitates easy mixing and matching of flavors.

Key differences

Here are some of the main differences between searing and baking scallops:

Searing Baking
Cooking method Dry heat from stovetop Ambient oven heat
Crust formation Golden brown crust No crust
Cook time Very fast, 2-3 minutes 10-15 minutes
Internal texture Translucent center Opaque and milky
Flavor Enhanced depth from Maillard reaction More uniform mild flavor
Best uses Individual portions, appetizers Main dishes, casseroles

How to sear scallops

To sear scallops properly:

  1. Pat scallops dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  2. Season them with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat oil in a pan over high heat until shimmering.
  4. Add scallops in a single layer with space between them.
  5. Don’t move them right away so a crust can form.
  6. After 2-3 minutes, flip and sear the other side.
  7. Remove from pan and serve once nicely browned.

The dry surface helps the scallops brown. Resisting the urge to move them allows the crust to properly form. Be careful not overcook them. 2-3 minutes per side is usually enough for a good sear while keeping the centers rare.

How to bake scallops

For baked scallops:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Pat scallops dry and arrange in a baking dish.
  3. Drizzle scallops with oil or melted butter.
  4. Season with desired herbs, spices, breadcrumbs, etc.
  5. Bake 10-15 minutes until opaque.
  6. Can add sauce or lemon juice after baking.

Make sure not to overload the baking dish, as that can steam rather than bake them. Spacing them out allows for even cooking and prevents sticking. Test doneness with a knife to ensure they are fully opaque within.


Both searing and baking are great options for cooking scallops. Searing yields a crispy crust and tender interior, while baking cooks the scallops more gently all the way through. For appetizers or individual servings, searing maximizes the browned exterior and succulent texture. Baking works better for entrees and casseroles to deliver uniform doneness. Whichever you choose, make sure not to overcook the scallops. Used properly, both techniques will result in delicious, restaurant-quality scallops.