In 2020, my former colleague Andrew Janjigian delighted carnivores with his cold‑start searing technique: Place a pair of rib eyes in a dry, unheated skillet; set it over high heat; and flip the steaks regularly as they sizzle in their own fat. The meat stays exceptionally juicy, a rich crust develops, and there’s no smoke or splatter.
Would a much leaner cut—boneless, skinless chicken breasts—also benefit from the game-changing technique?
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My first attempt in an unoiled skillet produced uneven, lackluster browning, so for the next go-round, I brushed the raw cutlets with oil in hopes that the scant amount of fat would facilitate the transfer of heat from the pan to the chicken.
I placed the glistening breasts in a skillet, set them over high heat, and cooked them for 2 minutes per side before dropping the heat to medium and continuing the flipping routine as their internal temperatures inched to 155 degrees.
Sure enough, the chicken emerged golden from edge to edge and plump with juices—and my cooktop remained pristine, thanks to the gentle approach and limited oil.
While the breasts rested, I gave them a little more love in the form of a red wine and sweet cherry pan sauce as well as a creamy Dijon mustard–caraway one.
The Science of Cold-Start Searing
The old-school method for searing chicken breasts calls for a ripping-hot skillet and a single flip halfway through cooking. It’s an aggressive way to cook a delicate protein, and invariably, the exterior of the meat toughens and overcooks while the interior comes up to temperature. With the gentler cold-start searing method, an initial burst of high heat drives off moisture so that the chicken will brown evenly; the heat is then lowered and the breasts flipped every 2 minutes. Cooked this way, the meat unhurriedly warms from the outside in so that it remains maximally juicy; meanwhile, a rich brown crust steadily develops on the surface with each flip.